I recently had the great privilege to talk to former Cowboys All Pro tight end and three-time Super Bowl Champion, Jay Novacek. He was making an appearance at the Allstate Tailgate Tour on September 3rd. Here are the transcripts of our conversation...
DANNY PHANTOM: It’s fun writing for the Cowboys website on SB Nation because you get to write about things you are passionate about, but being able to talk with you today is a real treat for me.
JAY NOVACEK: You don’t get out much, do you?
[We both laugh, but I’m crying on the inside. Jay takes a dig at me right out of the gate which tells me he has a great sense of humor and that this is going to be a lot of fun]
PHANTOM: It is truly an honor to talk with you today, Jay. I appreciate you taking the time to answer a few questions. I understand you have teamed up with Allstate at the Allstate Tailgate Tour. Tell us about this event and what fans can do to participate.
NOVACEK: This is something Allstate has been doing for a few years and I’ve been associated with them for the last couple years. They go around to a lot of college teams and they put on a tailgate. You can go and register for prizes, sign up for things, and the grand prize is tickets to the National Championship game this year. I’m going to be at AT&T Stadium for the Alabama/USC game from 4 to 5 pm. I do believe Lot #4 is where it is at this year.
It’s been really neat. The majority of time that I do stuff it’s always associated with the Dallas Cowboys, but this time it’s for college football so you get to see Alabama fans which are some of the top fans and then USC, who has such an amazing history. It will be fun. I have been around a lot of the Alabama fans, but this will be the first time with USC.
PHANTOM: One of the great things about watching you play was that you had such great athleticism for the tight end position and you were a match-up nightmare. You were a three-sport athlete that also included track and basketball. And after you retired, we’ve seen these basketball stars like Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates have tremendous success in the NFL. And now, the Cowboys just drafted a power forward, Rico Gathers, who hadn’t played organized football since he was in Jr. High. What do you think will be his biggest obstacles as he learns the tight end position?
NOVACEK: I think for him to have a feel for the game of football is really the biggest obstacle. To be able to do all the athletic things he can do on the basketball court and transfer them over to football isn’t a major deal, but just that mental aspect and getting a feel for how this game is being played. Obviously he’s played a little bit. To be able to take it slow and to be able to learn the game of football and run routes, not necessary to block someone to overpower them, but to learn how to get in the way the correct way. And hopefully he’ll understand and can make than transition smoothly and become an impact player in the NFL.
PHANTOM: When the Cowboys returned to glory in 1992, it was just an unforgettable moment for us fans, and the first Cowboys touchdown in the Super Bowl that we witnessed in that game was Troy Aikman hitting you over the middle. That was just the beginning of the onslaught of Cowboys greatness that day. It wasn’t long that we could get a sense that something great was about to happen. Was there a defining moment, some ah-ha moment during the regular season where you just knew you guys were about to embark on something special?
NOVACEK: I think the major moment for us was when Norv Turner showed up as our offensive coordinator. The type of offense that he ran really fit the personnel that we had. Our offensive line just picked up our offense extremely well. To me, that was our biggest impact. I think we could have been very good with other styles of offenses and other offensive coordinators, but to me it really helped our offensive line. Also, with the impact players like Michael, Troy, and Emmitt it really all of a sudden jumped up their game and had them be a lot more precise and a lot quicker at decisions.
PHANTOM: Norv Turner really knew how to utilize the weapons he had. It will be interesting to see what Scott Linehan does with what he has at his disposal now.
Jimmy Johnson was an intimidating presence, but the results were undeniable. And then you have Jason Garrett, who often times appears emotionless, yet his players have bought into what he’s selling and really fight for him. You were teammates with Garrett for three years, was there anything you saw then as a player, or even later after he started coaching that you can share with us fans as to why he’s a good coach for the Cowboys?
NOVACEK: You know, when he was playing he was one of those guys who had to figure out how to make a team. He had to figure out the things that he could do physically and mentally and when he got a chance to play he performed extremely well. He was a great backup quarterback and he understood what it took to prepare for the game and he understood what it took to overcome the challenges that he had for himself personally. And I think that translates over well into becoming a great coach. You have to understand that everyone has their own moments and to be able to get the most out of those individuals. And it shows. To have all the injuries that they have had over the years shows he’s a good coach and to be able to get his team to perform and play with anyone in the league.
PHANTOM: One of the things about coach Garrett is he always preaches this "right kind of guy" philosophy and that ‘90s team had so many of those types of players back then. But I wanted to ask you about your favorites. When you talk about players in the locker room back then, can you give me an example of a player whose locker room presence really resonated with the team? What things did they do that had a real positive effect in the locker room?
NOVACEK: [He laughs] We had way too many that stood out. We had fun in our locker room. One of the things that was more impressive than anything was that when we were on the field practicing, competing for jobs, especially in training camp, things can get a little bit serious. People get tired or frustrated or the coaches might be yelling. There can be some fights on the field, but none of those fights ever came back to the locker room. We had a team that had a really good relationship with each other between our offense and defense. And that was the main thing, in the locker room, we were all good friends.
PHANTOM: There is no secret that you and Troy Aikman had some remarkable chemistry with each other and I remember hearing you talk about him hitting you on a route, where you couldn’t see him over the big lineman, you said you just saw his arm as he released the ball. You asked Troy about it later and asked him, "Did you even see me?" He responded with, "No, I just knew you’d be there." That’s a testament to the rapport you guys had.
But Troy wasn’t always around. There were times where you had to play with the likes of Babe Laufenberg, Steve Beuerlein, Bernie Kosar, and even Jason Garrett. So, with Tony Romo out with an injury and the rookie, Dak Prescott thrown into action, how much does chemistry come into play and what kind of challenges could this offense face?
NOVACEK: Well, I think the main thing that he has to do is to understand that he doesn’t have to go into the game thinking he has to win it. That’s where the quarterbacks get into a lot of trouble when they feel they have to go out and win the game. But if they just have the attitude of "just do my job" and play within their realm and not make mistakes, that’s a whole lot better than trying to make a huge play that can get you in trouble. That’s what he has to do. Once everyone gets comfortable with that, there’s not going to be a major downfall.
PHANTOM: He’s definitely got a great supporting cast with him and has an opportunity to not have to worry about winning the game himself and just let his teammates play.
NOVACEK: With that offensive line, if they step up and be the offensive line that they can be – they have a guy whose supposed to be pretty darn good at running back and to have him step up and play the way he can play and let that offensive line take over. That’s going help get him a few more first downs, more ball control, and keep that defense off the field and that’s what’s important.
PHANTOM: Right. It’s going to be fun to watch Ezekiel Elliott run behind this offensive line and it’s going to be an exciting time for Cowboys fans. And it was an exciting time for this Cowboys fan to be able to talk with Jay Novacek. I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me. This has been a great privilege for me to have this conversation, so thank you very much, Jay.
NOVACEK: Thanks, man. appreciate it.
That’s is. That’s me and Jay hanging out together. That’s a nice way to start my weekend. A special thanks to Dave for affording me this opportunity to talk to a Cowboys Super Bowl champion.