The 'Boys Are Back
This is an article from the Oct. 10, 1994 issue
Oh, blessed relief: A football game. A Dallas Cowboy football game, complete with Emmitt, Troy and Michael, to make Texas forget not only about a Monday-night loss to the Lions—an incredibly gigantic and crippling loss!—but also a spate of midweek silliness surrounding the question of whether coach Barry Switzer should be missing Saturday-night team meetings.
Last week, as the Cowboy organization threatened to become the best prime-time soap opera since, well, Dallas, wideout Michael Irvin went home after one practice and watched tapes of the Cowboys' last two games against San Francisco. "You know the only difference between our team last year and this one?" he said the day before the Cowboys' game at Washington on Sunday. "We were having so much fun on the field last year. This year I look at us and we've been tight, like we felt the pressure. We talked about that this week, and the one thing we'll do tomorrow is go out and have fun and play like we used to."
Sure enough, on Sunday Dallas wideout Alvin Harper egged the Skins' even-tempered cornerback Darrell Green into a scuffle. After Redskin running back Reggie Brooks fumbled for the second time, Cowboy safety James Washington pantomimed a man throwing up near the Redskin sideline. "How many times is he gonna cough it up!" Washington yelled, prompting the Skins' bench to scream back at him.
"Some people are quiet winners," Washington said later. "We're not. We've got too many Miami and California players on this team. But that's fine. We're just being us."
And that was plenty on Sunday. Dallas won 34-7, and it wasn't that close. Suddenly it didn't matter that Jimmy Johnson, the former coach, was sniping at the Cowboys from afar or that Switzer and Dallas owner Jerry Jones were sniping back. No, it only mattered that the Cowboys could impose their will on the sputtering Redskins. It only mattered that Dallas could grind out drive after drive after drive.
Leave it to guard Nate Newton, the Cowboys' comic philosopher, to put the team's week in perspective. "You look at the Jews and the Muslims in their religious wars," Newton said, "and you look at Coach Johnson and Coach Switzer. You see there's more than one way to get to heaven, just like there's more than one way to coach a football team."
Say this about Switzer: He is not a man to admit that he is wrong—even when he clearly is. On Sept. 10, Switzer skipped the Cowboy team meetings the night before the home opener with Houston to fly to see his son Doug play quarterback for Missouri Southern. After Dallas lost to Detroit on Monday, Sept. 19, Johnson said Switzer's absence demonstrated a less-than-total commitment to the Cowboys. Switzer shot back that Johnson had been guilty of sacrificing his family to the cause of winning football games. No one asked, but Switzer then volunteered that while he may not have been a model husband, he had been and always would be a devoted father, and he would continue to see his son play football even if it meant skipping Saturday-night meetings. The exchange seemed more suited to Oprah than to SportsCenter, but then that's the Cowboys.
Last Saturday night Switzer again missed the offensive, defensive and special teams meetings—which lasted a total of about 75 minutes—but this time it was to dine with Oklahoma Senator David Boron at Boren's home in Alexandria, Va. Switzer will miss this Saturday night's meetings, too. Young Doug will be playing at home against Missouri Western, and Switzer will be flying to the game aboard Jones's private jet.
Switzer terms his presence at the meetings "irrelevant." Late last Saturday afternoon he calmly explained why. Sitting in his hotel suite with family and friends, watching the end of the Notre Dame rout of Stanford, Switzer said, "There's nothing I can do for them Saturday night. You can only tell your team so much. That win-one-for-the-Gipper stuff is Hollywood. It doesn't work, and I don't do it. I know what Jimmy's Saturday nights were like, and he didn't play a big role in those meetings. I read where [Redskin coach] Norv Turner went to see his son play football on Saturday, and nobody said anything about him."
But Turner's son, who is 12, plays on Saturday afternoons, when the Redskins are off. And Doug Switzer has four afternoon games left this season, which would seem to leave his dad plenty of time to see him play.
The Cowboy players don't think the controversy is such a big deal. But Switzer's behavior is not insignificant. He is apparently the only head coach in the league who regularly misses Saturday-night meetings, and his absence makes it appear that the team is on automatic pilot. Of course, Johnson does take pleasure in tweaking Switzer—Jimmy genuinely dislikes Barry—but criticizing Johnson for raising the issue is like shooting the messenger. The message is valid, folks.
"What did I say?" an exasperated Johnson said on Saturday night. "I said it was surprising that a guy who'd been lying on his couch for five years and then got the best coaching job in football would have something else to do the night before the home opener of his first season with the Cowboys. I mean, if the head coach is not going to be there, they ought to cancel the meetings."
"You know what?" Washington said late Sunday afternoon. "We don't care. Jimmy chose to jump off the ship, so he's gone. Let's let it die."
That's good advice. Johnson will have a lot more to say this season—he has three TV segments a week, in addition to a weekly newspaper column—but the Cowboys are too good a team to let this intramural stuff take away from their play.
Surprise of the Year
It was easy to be skeptical about the Eagles before this season. Over the past three years they had lost the guts of their defense to free agency, age and even death, and last year they tried to buy a front seven by bringing in over-the-hill guys like Keith Millard, Michael Carter and Tim Harris. This year the Eagles traded for San Diego defensive end Burt Grossman, gave free-agent defensive end William Fuller an $8.4 million, three-year deal and signed defensive end Greg Townsend after Al Davis waived him from the Raiders. With those three joining incumbent tackles Andy Harmon and William Perry, the Eagles have built an unexpectedly strong front line, a line that dominated the 49ers in a stunning 40-8 win in San Francisco on Sunday.
The first three 49er offensive series ended in an interception, a punt and Fuller's sack of Steve Young for a safety. The next time San Francisco touched the ball, Philadelphia led 23-0 and the 49er offense had gained one net yard. "We didn't know who we were going to have or what they were going to do when they got here," said Eagle defensive line coach Dale Haupt. "But it's really come together."
Former Redskin coach Joe Gibbs has told friends around the league not to count on his ever getting back into the game. The Carolina expansion job looks as if it will go to a teacher type from college football, perhaps Florida coach Steve Spurrier or Texas's John Mackovic....
This means something: Indianapolis quarterback Jim Harbaugh has thrown for 200 yards only twice in the last 20 games....
The Falcons' 8-5 win over the Rams was not only a tribute to both teams' defenses—the Rams were three minutes shy of notching consecutive shutouts for the first time since 1945—but it was also the first time in the history of the NFL that a game had ever ended with that score....
If you ever hear a Lion whine about not getting respect—seems like a few Detroit players were harping on that after the Lions beat Dallas in overtime three weeks ago—you have permission to laugh. Following up that huge win by losing to the Patriots and the Bucs is typical of the Lions. Special teams coach Steve Kazor walked Out of Tampa Stadium wearing a Three Stooges tie after his guys allowed the first punt return for a touchdown in Buc history. "Fitting," he said.
The End Zone
Part of question number 267 on the 294-question, 80-page test for potential jurors in the O.J. Simpson murder case is: "Are you a fan of the Buffalo Bills?"
Not Ready for Prime Time Players
The six NFL expansion teams born since 1960—Dallas, Minnesota, Atlanta, New Orleans, Tampa Bay and Seattle (Miami and Cincinnati were added to the original AFL)—won an average of less than two games in their first year and three in their second. But the expansion blues may not afflict Carolina and Jacksonville when those teams begin play in September 1995. Last week NFL owners approved a plan for stocking the newcomers that gives the Panthers and the Jaguars distinct advantages over their expansion ancestors—but with one big catch.
Carolina and Jacksonville each will start out with a total of 14 picks over the seven rounds of the college draft in both 1995 and '96. Prior expansion teams had extra picks only in their first year. Carolina and Jacksonville each will also select as many as 42 non-free-agent veterans in an allocation draft next February and will be required to keep 30 of them on the roster until July 15, spending at least $14 million on their salaries. When added to money doled out to rookies, that should leave the new guys about $15 million apiece to spend on veteran free agents, which could put them in the running for some major stars.
The bad news for Carolina and Jacksonville is that they are obligated to pay the 1995 salaries of the 30 veterans they keep from the allocation draft, even if those players are cut before the season. And those salaries will be counted against the new teams' salary caps.
"In 1976, Seattle and Tampa picked 78 veteran players," says Jacksonville coach Tom Coughlin. "Thirty didn't make it, and 33 more were gone after one year. So 15 of 78 players really helped those teams. That's not many."
Only a few drafted veterans have turned out to be true assets to their new teams. In 1961 the Vikings plucked tackle Grady Alderman from the Lions, and he went on to play in four Pro Bowls. The Seahawks' second choice in 1976, Steeler cornerback Dave Brown, intercepted 50 passes in 11 seasons in Seattle. Amazingly, Alderman and Brown are the only two players out of 234 taken in the six expansion drafts who have lasted at least 10 years with their teams. Here's how the expansion teams have fared early on.
Wins in First 2 Years
LB Jack Patera, Seattle's first coach, plucked from Cards
Hall-of-Fame RB Hugh McElhenny rushed for 570 yards
No Falcon expansion-draft vet lasted five years
Paul Hornung was a Saint pick but never played
Lost their first 26 games by average of 17 points
Four drafted veterans left on team by fourth year