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Whitt's End: The Cowboys' Best-Ever Huddle; Major DFW Radio Change

Whitt's End: The Dallas Cowboys' Best-Ever Huddle and Major DFW Radio Change - DFW Sports Notebook

Whether you’re at the end of your coffee, your day, your week or even your rope, welcome to Whitt’s End  8.21.20 ...

*The best huddle in Dallas Cowboys’ history? No offense to today's roster as it works toward a big goal with what many think is a loaded group. Lotsa talk no action.

Even linebacker Jaylon Smith says, "It's been too long.''

Meaning, "too long'' since Dallas has truly been great.

But ... and again, no offense to Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Larry Allen and Michael Irvin (four Hall-of-Famers on offense) dominating in the ’90s. "Best-team-ever'' status has long been thought to be merited there.

But ... the best huddle ever?

The ’71 offensive signals were shared by five future Hall-of-Famers: Roger Staubach, Hayes, Rayfield Wright, Mike Ditka and Lance Alworth.

*Hear that? Your Dallas Mavericks are making an unprecedented playoff run on a lame-duck radio station. If the Mavericks, who shocked the heavily favored Los Angeles Clippers in Wednesday night’s Game 2, survive deep into the NBA Finals, they’ll do so on a flagship home void of both local management and daytime on-air talent. 

Game 7 of this year’s NBA Finals could be played as late as October 13. Dallas-Fort Worth-centric programming on 103.3 ESPN will end Oct. 7. 

Here’s why: 

In 2013, Cumulus (which owns The Ticket) signed an operations agreement to run the day-to-day business of Disney-owned 103.3 ESPN. The strategy was to (obviously) de-fang an opponent, gain some advertising inventory to boost The Ticket’s bottom line and also garner reinforcement for its looming battle against The Fan. 

The seven-year agreement expires Oct. 7. On Oct. 8, ESPN will retake control of 103.3 and will gut the station of DFW flavor. No more local employees. No more local sales staff. No more local hosts. The station’s remaining two shows – 9a-1p’s JaM Session with Jean-Jacques Taylor and Matt McClearin and 3-6p’s Steve Dennis and Co. – will disappear, replaced by generic, big-picture shows hosted by the likes of Keyshawn Johnson, Max Kellerman and Dan Le Batard.

Not that it ever intended to allow 103.3 to continue to be a competitive alternative in a fierce DFW sports talk landscape, but the fact is, Cumulus ran 103.3 straight into the ground. 

In 2013, it inherited respectable ratings and a distinct persona – anchored by DFW icon Randy Galloway and co-host Matt Mosley. In 2020, it has turned a powerful international sports brand into a local afterthought. 

Given its microscopic ratings and invisible marketing, back in May I predicted 103.3 was “Dead Men Talking.” Sure enough. There are 32 Nielsen-rated radio stations in DFW. In April, 103.3 ranked 28. 

The writing has long been etched on 103.3’s prison walls. Mavericks pre- and post-game host Mike Peasley was terminated in July. Long-time Dallas Morning News columnist Tim Cowlishaw ended his seven-year run a couple weeks later. (Not that any of us could envision Mavs’ games painted by any other voice, but for what it’s worth iconic play-by-play man and part-time 103.3 host Chuck Cooperstein’s contract also expires in October.) 

In the ratings period June 18-July 15, 103.3 – other than a shocking second-place finish in morning drive ahead of The Ticket – remained a distant donkey in a two-horse race. 

So, what of the Mavericks? Their contract with 103.3 runs through 2023, but I have to imagine owner Mark Cuban frantically searching for an “out” clause. Sure, there is currency in the NBA-ESPN partnership and in the Mavs being the exclusive showcase team on an ESPN station. But after Oct. 7, the Mavs would air their games on a station that otherwise would rarely talk about them. Not to mention the logistical problems of having no local infrastructure for sales, management or even engineers. 

If he can wiggle out of 103.3, Cuban has viable options heading into 2021. The Ticket? There is an established working relationship with Cumulus, and the station has added FM signal strength with the addition of 96.7. When the Mavs extended their 103.3 contract in 2017, they did not even shop around to other stations. 

The Fan? Entercom (which owns 105.3) would love nothing more than to add the Mavs to a sports stable that already boasts the Dallas Cowboys and Texas Rangers. 

The Eagle? 97.1 and its strong FM signal is sorta-sports these days with the addition of Ben & Skin

Bottom line: The Mavs’ radio game is about to be as intriguing as their games on radio.

*Depending on your local allegiance, late Wednesday night was either the high or the low of your bizarre 2020 sports year. 

At around 11 p.m., Luka Doncic hit a floater in the lane to secure the Mavs’ Game 2 upset of the Clippers. The Mavs are 1-1 = High!

READ MORE: Mavs Cling & Crush Clippers, 127-114 In Game 2

Approximately 30 minutes later, the Texas Rangers surrendered a walk-off grand slam to Manny Machado and the Padres. They have lost four straight and are 10-13 = Low! 

The Rangers have also already allowed five grand slams this season, including one in three consecutive games = Lowest?!

*COVID-19, sure. But the first week of Cowboys’ training camp in Frisco also serves as a reminder about the dangers of, well, life. Gerald McCoy out for the season after rupturing his quad during a seemingly simple movement. (Read more here - including the scoop on the Cowboys and McCoy having "mutual interest'' in a 2021 return.)

La’el Collins involved in a minor car crash. Tyron Smith’s invaluable hamstring tightened up. (Read more here.)

You know what they say: A Million Ways To Die In The West.

*Just when we have long-time DFW sports radio engineer Ted Nichols-Payne out of the hospital and on the mend from COVID-19, some serious, scary news about ol’ media pal Mark Friedman. “Friedo,” who forged his long radio career as Norm Hitzges’ right-hand man in the 1990s and later served as The Ticket’s assistant program director before hosting his own show on 103.3 ESPN, is in a Collin County hospital. Stable, but critical. 

Though Friedo tested negative for COVID-19, he has pneumonia in both lungs and is struggling with yet undiagnosed heart and kidney failure.

I’ve known Friedo forever, since he launched his radio career at KLIF 570 AM in 1994 hosting a Fantasy Football show with Pro Football Hall-of-Famer Gil Brandt. After spending 2000-09 at The Ticket, he produced Michael Irvin’s show on 103.3 FM before teaming up with Dennis to host a midday show from 2013-16. 

The last couple years Friedo has spent his time with his FriedoNation podcast production company, being devoted to his church and helping with Collin County Special Olympics. 

He’s a good dude who deserves a better fate. Just had lunch with him in Allen in June. All seemed well in his world. Thoughts and prayers, please. 

Nichols-Payne, meanwhile, is slowly winning his month-long war with COVID-19. 

“I’m still on an up/down cycle, getting quite frustrated,” he says. “Insomnia hasn't abated. Felt good Monday, felt bad Tuesday. Spending some time at my apartment alone, first time since all this happened, feeling a bit shaky but hell, I gotta move forward.”

*Life’s “Unwritten Rules”: Always put the seat down. Don’t eat the last piece. Elevator etiquette: Let them off before you get on. Buy a plunger before you need a plunger. 

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Simple, right? But when it comes to baseball – as Rangers’ manager Chris Woodward was reminded this week – assumed recommendations are much trickier. 

Woodward took umbrage with San Diego’s Fernando Tatis Jr. swinging at a 3-0 pitch – and hitting a grand slam – in the eighth inning of a 10-3 game. 

Nonsense. Woodward should be embarrassed. 

First and foremost, baseball – unlike football and basketball – has no clock to run out. Teams regularly rally from big deficits. The Padres, for example, just last year beat the Rockies after trailing by seven runs after seven innings. “No lead is too safe.” the Rangers must have been thinking in 2013 when, despite already leading 14-3, they scored 10 runs in the eighth and, just for fun, added six more in the ninth in a historic 30-3 win in Baltimore. 

Baseball has unwritten rules such as “never put the tying run on base,” “play for the tie at home and the win on the road” and “don’t hit-and-run with an 0-2 count.” But those are Team A's rules for Team A.

Besides, among the unwritten rules isn’t “stop trying to score when you’re up seven-plus runs.” 

Woodward’s stance made him look sour-grapes whiny. He was the manager last year, for cryin’ out loud, when the Rangers intentionally let a foul pop-up drop so pitcher Mike Minor could get another chance at his 200th strikeout. 

But this makes him look worst of all: In his playing career, Woodward hit exactly one grand slam. It came in the ninth inning of a game his team led, 10-4. 

Ouch. To call Woodward a hypocrite would be gentle. Appears to be a good man. But this is a bad look.

*Allow this to serve as my public apology to Mavericks’ center Boban Marjanovic. I initially called the 7-foot-4 jovial giant a media-friendly “sideshow” and compared him to the Rangers’ propping up Bartolo Colon as a fun-lovin’ ace on a lousy team desperate for distractions. 

But, reiterated in Game 2, Boban can play. Great hands. Knows his role. And hustles his ass off. 

The post-game “You rang” banter with Shaquille O’Neal on TNT is cute and all, but I’m more excited about the fact that he is the first player in NBA playoff history to record 10-plus points (13) and seven-plus rebounds (nine) in less than 10 minutes of playing time. 

When he comes on the court from now on (including in tonight's Game 3 against the Clippers), I’ll be expecting production instead of merely pleasure.

*My favorite Cowboys as a kid in the ’70s: 1. Bob Hayes; 2. Roger Staubach; 3. Drew Pearson. Now that the original No. 88 is also headed for Canton and the Hall of Fame, I can rest my childhood in peace.

READ MORE: Cowboys Drew Pearson Going To Hall of Fame: 'You Made My Life'



*Tied at 1-1 with the Clippers, Mavs have a chance Friday night to lead a playoff series for the first time since Vince Carter’s iconic corner buzzer-beater put them up 2-1 on the Spurs in 2014.

*Tepidly sneaked up to Choctaw Casino in Oklahoma last weekend. Review: Everyone wore masks. Proper social distancing with chairs between players. But smoky as ever. And even during a pandemic I managed to sit down at a table with a dude who hit 14 against a dealer’s 6. 

Some things will never change.

*Former Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, who all the sudden hasn’t caught a pass in the NFL since 2017, got a workout in Baltimore this week but left without a contract offer. ... Hope Dez "killed it,'' as predicted in Fish's piece here.

*Only thing more painful for Rangers fans than watching Willie Calhoun hitting .172, leaving Wednesday’s game with yet another injury and landing on another injured list? Seeing Yu Darvish start his Cubs’ season 4-1 with an ERA of 1.80.

*While the NFL seems to have a grip on playing its season, I’m still befuddled about what college football is attempting to pull off. If there is, in fact, a Fall season, capped with a “National Championship” game played January 8, what in the world will the Pac 12 and Big 10 be playing for when they start a Spring season a month later?

*My Big Brothers Big Sisters lil’ bro “Ja Ja” loves sports. I think. Quizzed him during this week’s outing to eat chicken wings and watch NBA. Fave players … NBA: “Kyrie.” NFL: “Gronk.” MLB: “Babe Ruth.” 

What the what, baseball?

*They prompt blaring headlines every August, but at this point it would be newsier if this time of year didn’t produce hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean and wildfires on the west coast.

*The Mavs’ win over L.A. was hardly a fluke. They have built first-half leads of 14 and 17 points in the first two games. Only troubling sight from Game 2: A combined six missed free throws from Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. 

Dallas’ margin for error against the better, more experienced Clippers remains thin. There will be a tight, one-possession game in this series. Free throws could make a difference.

*This week’s COVID-19 casualty: Pizza Hut. 300 restaurants closing before 2021. Figured delivery pizza was pandemic-proof, but apparently not.

*A touchdown will still be worth six points and we’ll still be annoyed by the extra point-timeout-kickoff-timeout vortex. But with no bands in stands at college games and now no cheerleaders on sidelines in NFL, will we recognize – enjoy – football in 2020

Banned from the field, the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders will “perform” on the platforms and staircases beyond the end zones in AT&T Stadium. 

Good thing about some teams deciding against having fans: The Cowboys game Sept. 27 at Seattle just got a lot less intimidating.

*How good is Rick Carlisle? Consider this year’s run-and-gun Mavs predicated on drive-and-dish 3-pointers and games scoring 120 points, then remember that he won 50+ games with the Pistons in the early 2000s with a defensive, grind-it-out style that averaged only 91 points per game. 

Variety, they say, is the spice of life.

*Don’t get me wrong, I would not want to live there. But there’d be something cool about momentarily being so hot. Death Valley, situated between San Francisco and Las Vegas, hit a high temperature this week of 130 degrees. (I was more amazed by the low of 107.) I’d like to drive through it, get out for a minute or two and just experience Earth’s record heat. 

Same for Antarctica. Gimme a glimpse of minus-130. Just a glimpse.

*In their last 35 games – dating back to January – the Mavs are only 17-18. But 1-1 in their last two, when it matters most.

*We may still disagree on certain topics at different times, but let me say how fantastic it is to be finally debating sports … rather than politics or protocols or pandemic.

*This Weekend? Golf with dear ol’ Dad on Friday. Tennis tournament on Saturday. Mavs-Clippers on Sunday. Delicious. As always, don’t be a stranger.