There’s a reason why 20 NFL teams have never been featured on HBO’s Hard Knocks and the Dallas Cowboys are about to enjoy their third season in the spotlight. The training camp of America’s Team – for better or for worse – is always entertaining and more often than not, news-making.
From Clint Longley’s fists to Michael Irvin’s scissors to HBO’s cameras, the lead-up to the Cowboy’s season is riveting, must-see TV.
Get ready, as they are about to kick off training camp No. 62.
After a COVID detour in 2020, the Cowboys this summer take their annual pigskin drama back to Oxnard. Through the years their preseason homes have also included Forest Grove, Oregon; Delafield, Wisconsin; Northfield, Minnesota; Marquette, Michigan; Thousand Oaks, California; Austin; Wichita Falls and San Antonio.
No matter the zip code, the ‘Boys of Summer have consistently produced as much as zany sideshow as football preview.
In the 1960s, head coach Tom Landry barked through a megaphone atop a tower and made his players run five miles up a mountain after two-a-days in pads. In the 1980s, the drama was fueled by competition (Gary Hogeboom vs. Danny White, 1984) and acquisition (Herschel Walker, 1986). In the 1990s, Irvin would intentionally start on-field fights at St. Edward’s University so the defending champs wouldn’t lose their edge. And through the years training camp has seen its share of holdouts (Tony Dorsett, Emmitt Smith, Ezekiel Elliott), labor strife (1974, 1982 and 1987) and headlines from owner Jerry Jones (1989-2020).
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Coming off yet another futile season, the Cowboys in 2021 are packing optimism but also a quarter-century of failure with them to California. By the time they return to The Star in Frisco in August we’ll know more about this football team, and – as history suggests – a wacky thing or two about their football players.
The 20 most memorable moments from Cowboys’ training camps:
20. Hard Knocks, 2002 – Head coach Dave Campo made players punch time clocks and sang karaoke “My girl.”
His team was even worse on the field.
19. Asthma Field, 1989 – Okay, this was technically minicamp, but it previewed Jimmy Johnson’s pre-season iron fist on his team.
When free-agent kicker Massimo Manca arrived at Valley Ranch out of shapeand blamed his “asthma” on failure to complete conditioning drills, the coach gave his legendary directive while pointing to the parking lot, “the asthma field is over there!”
18. Toodles, Too Tall, 1979 – The Cowboys hit Thousand Oaks determined to avenge a heartbreaking loss in Super Bowl XIII, but were immediately blindsided by news of stalwart defensive end Ed “Too Tall” Jones’ retirement.
“It is my intention,” Jones said in a stunning statement, “to become heavyweight boxing champion of the world.”
17. Switzer vs. Hansen, 1994 – Not too many times has an NFL head coach “playfully” punched a member on the media on live TV, but so it was on a clownish August night with Barry Switzer and Channel 8’s Dale Hansen. Switzer accused Hansen of “fabricating stories”, to which Hansen stood by his account of a “power struggle” on the coach’s staff. To punctuate his points, Switzer aggressively slapped Hansen’s left arm three times and outright punched it once.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about!” Switzer screamed.
Retorted a semi-serious Hansen, “This is starting to hurt a little bit.”
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16. QB Competition, 1969 – When Don Meredith surprisingly retired early in camp, the job was suddenly a battle between veteran Craig Morton and a former Navy pilot named Roger Staubach.
15. TMZ Photos, 2014 – After a week of ominous silence in the wake of photos being released of him canoodling with women not named Gene Jones, Jerry finally addressed the situation by saying he’d been aware of the photos for five years and calling their release an “extortion plot.”
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14. Lilly’s Unretirement, 1973 – After grousing about being underpaid to play the grueling sport of football for six months per year, Bob Lilly told the team he was retiring and a press conference was scheduled at 9 a.m. But at 4 a.m., “Mr. Cowboy” had a change of heart and returned to camp.
13. Another Bob Hayes, 1970 – Speedy receiver Bob Hayes held out of camp, telling the team to “pay me or trade me.” Hayes’ demands? $40,000 per year. The Cowboys’ response: They signed Canadian Football League speedster Margene Adkins and branded him “another Bob Hayes” before realizing the original was, in fact, impossible to duplicate.
12. Family Feud, 2012 – After an altercation in which he was arrested by Desoto police for assaulting his mother, Angela, receiver Dez Bryant showed up to camp with his lawyer. “Did a family disagreement occur? Yes,” the attorney said. “Did Dez Bryant commit family violence against his mother? No.”
11. Hard Knocks, 2008 – Head coach Wade Phillips was continually astonished by Pacman Jones’ uncanny ability to catch – and hold – six punted footballs.
10. No Nnamdi, 2011 – A lockout led to a bizarre training camps in which teams conducted free agency.At a practice in San Antonio’s Alamodome, Jerry and son Stephen interrupted defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s drill’s to fist-bump him and tell him they’d landed coveted cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha.
Minutes later – during a live radio interview on 105.3 The Fan – news broke of Asomugha signing with the rival Philadelphia Eagles.
9. T.O. vs. Tuna, 2006 – Throughout his tenure, Bill Parcells wouldn’t refer to receiver Terrell Owens by his name, instead only calling him “the player.” He also rolled his eyes at camp when Owens’ sore hamstrings relegated him to riding a stationary bike. The receiver poked fun at himself by one day showing up in a Lance Armstrong-replica yellow Tour de France jersey. The coach, as predicted, was not amused.
8. Bad News ’Boys, 1997 – After a camp in which Nate Newton was accused of sexual assault, Erik Williams was served with a paternity suit and Leon Lett was suspended 13 games for failing a drug test, the Cowboys literally burned the house down on their way out of St. Edward’s University in Austin. They left dorm rooms with extensive damage water damage, a busted security camera, kicked-in air vents and a hallway that reportedly smelled of urine. Next summer,camp was moved to Wichita Falls.
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7. Annulled Divorce, 1971 – Duane Thomas won Rookie of the Year in 1970 and helped lead the Cowboys to Super Bowl VI. By training camp a year later, however, he no-showed and demanded a new contract. GM Tex Schramm responded by trading him to the New England Patriots, who promptly sent him back and voided the trade when they got a load of his attitude. Disgruntled and taking a vow of silence, Thomas nonetheless led the NFL with 11 rushing touchdowns.
6. Defiant Dez, 2010 – Though a rookie, Bryant brought a hefty diva attitude to San Antonio and immediately refused to take part in the rookie ritual of carrying veterans’ pads.
“I’m not doing it,” Bryant said. “I was drafted to play football, not carry another player’s pads.”
Said veteran Roy Williams, “He’ll learn the hard way.”
5. Missing MVP, 1993 – The Cowboys were preparing to defend their Super Bowl when Emmitt Smith decided to play hardball. The two-time rushing champ missed all of training camp, threatening to retire, enrolling in classes at the University of Florida and even requesting a trade. His absence dominated camp, and after an 0-2 start without him the Cowboys made him the NFL’s highest-paid running back.
4. Dubious Double-Entendre, 2012 – Lamenting his team’s prolonged lack of success, Jerry kicked off his Oxnard state-of-the-union address by proclaiming “I want me some glory hole!” Cowboys’ PR man Rich Dalrymple attempted to explain to the snickering media that Jones was referring to a term used in the oil and gas business. To which Jones deadpanned, “that’s news to me.”
3. Player Cuts, 1998 – Offensive lineman Everett McIver had the audacity to jump in front of Irvin to get a camp haircut and it cost him getting his throat cut. The Cowboys initially described the injury a result of “horseplay.” But when McIver wouldn’t leave the barber’s chair in Wichita Falls, Irvin escalated the altercation and slashed his teammate with a pair of scissors, leaving an 18-stitch wound.
2. Punching His Ticket, 1976 – You don’t tug on Superman’s cape, spit into the wind or, above all else, sucker punch Captain America. But in Thousand Oaks, disillusioned backup quarterback Clint Longley thought he should be No. 1 over Staubach. During a practice, Longley cussed Drew Pearson for running the route. Staubach calmly told Longley that, no, it was the quarterback’s mistake for overthrowing the pass. In the locker room that afternoon, Longley sucker punch Staubach in the face. He was an ex-Cowboy by sundown, traded to the San Diego Chargers.
1. Sayonara, Starter, 2004 – In 2003, quarterback Quincy Carter led the Cowboys to a 10-6 record a playoff berth. But before Parcells could further elevated his game, his career – and his attendance – evaporated. Carter left Oxnard overnight, cut by the Cowboys because of a stubborn substance-abuse problem that led to another failed drug test. He was immediately replaced by Vinny Testaverde, and played seven games for the New York Jets that season before ending his football career. The Cowboys also cut their starting quarterback in mid-camp in 2001, but that was for Tony Banks’ inept performance.
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