The banter begins early each Thursday, as soon as the Dallas
Cowboys walk into their practice facility in Irving, Texas. It
usually spills over into the dining room at lunch, then
continues in the hallways as players move along to their 1 p.m.
meetings. Gonna kill you today, gonna blow right past you, baby,
wide receiver Kevin Williams will say to Cowboys defensive
backs. No way, won't happen, we're gonna shut you down, is what
cornerback Kevin Smith might reply as the players are getting
taped for their 2 p.m. practice, which features the week's main
event: the Cowboys' two-minute drill.
Each Thursday afternoon this drill pits Dallas's No. 1 offense
against Dallas's No. 1 defense. It's the only time the units go
head-to-head. To win, the offense must score or the defense must
hold on downs or force a turnover.
Once all non-Cowboys personnel are escorted from the field, a
coach sets his watch, and the ball is placed at the 30, 70 yards
from pay dirt. There is, for a moment, silence. Then the hitting
begins. It's too bad all those folks who believe that injuries,
arrests and free-agent losses have taken the fire out of the
defending Super Bowl champions can't watch this weekly brawl.
"Those guys on offense want to beat us to death, and, well, we
want to do the same to them," says safety Darren Woodson. "This
is a team made up of supercompetitive players. You see that on
Thursdays, and it is why we are, and will be, successful. We
have too much pride to just fall down because some things
happened to us this summer."
September 15, 1996
Early in last week's scrimmage, Troy Aikman hooked up with
Williams on a long touchdown pass that gave trash-talking rights
to the offense for seven glorious days. Then on Sunday, that
pair helped the Cowboys to their first win of the season--Aikman
threw for 228 yards and three touchdowns, and Williams grabbed
six passes for 86 yards and a score--as Dallas drilled the
Giants 27-0 at Texas Stadium.
The Cowboys of Week 2 hardly resembled the team that was
embarrassed on national television by the Bears 22-6 in the
season opener at Soldier Field on Sept. 2. Emmitt Smith, who was
carried off the field after landing awkwardly against Chicago
and suffering a strained neck and shoulder, withstood the
head-hunting Giants and finished with 94 yards and a touchdown
reception. Spurred on, perhaps, by headlines in New York
newspapers like WOUNDED ACT IS A TRICK, Smith shed the cervical
collar and hospital gown he wore a day after the Bears game and
was dressed and ready for the two-minute drill on Thursday.
Aikman also appeared to be back in sync against the Giants. His
first two scores--an eight-yard lob to Deion Sanders and a
19-yard pass to Williams that put Dallas up 14-0 in the first
quarter--were perfectly timed. And the mistakes that doomed
Dallas against Chicago vanished: The Cowboys had no turnovers
and just five penalties.
"This was a tough week for us to fight through because we didn't
really know what kind of a team we had," said Aikman, whose
second of three TD passes was the 100th of his NFL career. "And
maybe we still don't know. But if the defense plays like this
every week, it won't matter what we do offensively."
The 0-2 Giants crossed into Dallas territory just once, getting
to the 48-yard line, when the Cowboys' scrubs played the fourth
quarter. Dallas held New York to 38 yards passing and 93 yards
of total offense. "It was good to get that taste out of our
mouths from last week," said Dallas defensive tackle Chad
Hennings. "But this is a team that has to come out and play
every week like it's in the Super Bowl."
Indeed, just as one bad week should not damn the Cowboys, one
good week cannot deliver them to New Orleans, either. The
problems still exist. The Giants, a team with less fight than
Bruce Seldon, were too awful to expose them.
Aikman's options this year are significantly reduced without his
two All-Pro receivers, wideout Michael Irvin, who has three
games remaining on his five-game suspension for violating the
league's drug policy, and tight end Jay Novacek, whose
degenerative back ailment looks like it will sideline him for
the season. But the problem isn't that the Cowboys have lost 62%
of their receiving offense from last season or that eight
defensive starters have left through free agency since 1993.
It's that Dallas has failed to adequately fill those holes.
Since Barry Switzer took over as coach, the Cowboys have drafted
26 players, and of those only one, offensive lineman Larry
Allen, is a starter. Even Switzer admits that while his 22
starters are the best in the league, his next 22 are possibly
the worst. It's what you call an I Can't Catch 22.
That lack of talent is one reason Sanders has been pushed into
double duty. He played 108 snaps against the Bears but was in
for only 60 plays (43 offense, 17 defense) on Sunday. Sanders
finished with three catches for 38 yards and a touchdown--his
toughest coverage coming as he ran off the field flanked by a
cousin and his son, Deion Jr.--and actually apologized for his
rusty end zone dance. "I was a step off beat; I don't know what
the hell was wrong," said Sanders, he of the boxer shorts
decorated with dollar signs.
Playing both sides of the ball tires Sanders to the point that
it affects his well-known big-play ability. His need to rest
while on the field also results in an unwillingness to hit
people that is shockingly wimpy. The Giants' longest run came
when Sanders failed to drop a shoulder into tailback Rodney
Hampton, allowing him to run past for a nine-yard gain.
That was no problem against the Giants, but given Dallas's
woes--Sanders's suspect tackling, the team's shallow talent pool
and the absence of Irvin and Novacek--there has to be concern
when the Cowboys face tougher competition in Buffalo and
Philadelphia, in Weeks 4 and 5, respectively. "Deion wants to be
an iron man, but how can he be when he's chicken to hit people?"
says Hall of Famer Chuck Bednarik, 71, who played center and
linebacker for Philadelphia from 1949 to '62 and was the
league's last two-way starter. "How about if Deion starts as a
tin man and slowly works his way up to steel."
Actually, that may be the entire team's plan this year.
LIONS AT EAGLES
The Philadelphia defensive backfield hungrily awaits the return
to the Vet of Detroit quarterback Scott Mitchell, who has thrown
24 interceptions on the road since the start of '94, including
four in last season's 58-37 wild-card debacle in Philly.
COLTS AT COWBOYS
Surprise, surprise: The Colts (2-0 for the first time in 19
years) are the undefeated team here, and they have the
higher-rated quarterback (Jim Harbaugh). Dallas will have to
keep an eye on Indy's second-year tight end Ken Dilger (seven
catches versus the Jets).
CHARGERS AT PACKERS
San Diego, with its deep linebacker corps, will be tested by
Brett Favre and Green Bay's air game--and vice versa: 10
Chargers receivers caught passes in the first two weeks.
JAGUARS AT RAIDERS
Oakland's offense, which has not scored a rushing touchdown in
seven games, should benefit from the scheduled return of
quarterback Jeff Hostetler and could improve against a
Jacksonville D that yielded 181 yards on the ground to Houston.
BILLS AT STEELERS
Look for Buffalo defenders Bryce Paup and Bruce Smith to
pressure Pittsburgh quarterback Mike Tomczak, sacked only once
by the Ravens. On offense the Bills must improve their paltry
2.2-yard-per-carry performance against the Patriots.
HEY, TRENT, BUC UP!
Here's our advice to Trent Dilfer of the Buccaneers, who have
yet to score a touchdown this season: Abandon ship! Some of the
most successful folks we know are former beleaguered Tampa Bay
In 1976 former Heisman Trophy winner led franchise to 0-14
record during its inaugural season.
Current Florida coach has guided the Gators to three consecutive
Southeastern Conference titles and the nation's No. 2 ranking in
A rookie in '78, he suffered a broken jaw in a 26-23 loss to the
Los Angeles Rams; had to play season's final game with his jaw
With Redskins in '87 was named Super Bowl XXII's MVP in
Washington's 42-10 thrashing of Denver.
In '86 season opener, tossed a team-record seven interceptions
during a 31-7 loss to the 49ers.
As the NFL's oldest signal-caller, took the Chiefs to the
playoffs in '90 and '91. Ranks eighth on career completion list
In '85 and '86 went 3-16 as a starter and nearly suffocated
after being sacked in the snow during a defeat at Green Bay.
Two-time league MVP is the highest-rated passer (96.1) in NFL
history. Also has appeared on Beverly Hills 90210.
In '88 No. 1 overall draft pick of '87 threw 35 interceptions,
second-most in NFL annals.
Forget passing; so far in '96 the current Ravens QB has two
touchdowns rushing, which is two more than the Bucs have.
In '94, during a Tampa Bay six-game losing streak, lost his
starting job to then rookie Dilfer.
Reunited last week with college coach Jimmy Johnson, signing a
two-year, $1 million contract as backup quarterback for the
He produced the game of his dreams when the Steelers needed it,
so why did Mike Tomczak keep dwelling on his only serious
mistake? Well, maybe because it could have allowed Baltimore to
get back into the game, undoing all his marvelous work. "I got a
little greedy on that interception," Tomczak said after the
Steelers' 31-17 win over the Ravens. The pick in question, by
Ravens safety Vashone Adams at Baltimore's 10-yard line with
10:10 remaining and Pittsburgh leading by two touchdowns, came
on an ill-advised heave. Said Tomczak, ruefully, "I'm not a
Yet. Was that endearing or what? At the age of 33 and starting
his 12th season in the league, Tomczak still dreams of
perfection. He flirted with it in the first half on Sunday. As
the Steelers were rolling to a 28-17 lead, Tomczak connected on
12 of 13 passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns.
So Tomczak is the Steelers quarterback of the moment, which is a
nice place for a career backup who has played behind Jim McMahon
in Chicago, Bernie Kosar in Cleveland and Neil O'Donnell in
Pittsburgh. Hey, for a guy who wasn't even drafted when he came
out of Ohio State in 1985, Tomczak has put together a long and
respectable career for himself.
Yet Tomczak was livid at the end of the preseason when Steelers
coach Bill Cowher told him that he had chosen Jim Miller as the
starter to replace O'Donnell, who had jumped to the Jets. The
third candidate for the job was the multitalented Kordell
(Slash) Stewart. "I was angered and disappointed, definitely,"
Tomczak said. "I felt I was the guy to lead this team." In a
newspaper poll, the fans agreed.
After the Steelers' unsettling 24-9 opening-game loss to the
Jaguars, Cowher dumped Miller in favor of Tomczak. The sudden
switch was questioned. Now it looks inspired.
--William F. Reed
THE AFC EAST'S BIG CATCH
Four of the five AFC East teams used their first-round picks to
select wide receivers. Here's an early progress report.
KEYSHAWN JOHNSON, Jets (1 overall)
Miffed at playing behind undrafted second-year man Wayne
Chrebet. Johnson (top) caught 11-yarder for New York's only
score in Sunday's 21-7 loss to Indianapolis.
TERRY GLENN, Patriots (7)
Missed opener with hamstring injury. Coach Bill Parcells in hot
water with management for referring to him as "she." Six
catches, one a 37-yard TD, in Sunday's 17-10 loss to Bills.
MARVIN HARRISON, Colts (19)
Caught six passes in second half in opening 20-13 victory over
Cardinals, including 35-yard game-winner. Harrison (bottom)
returned five punts for 102 yards on Sunday versus Jets.
ERIC MOULDS, Bills (24)
"People have said a lot of bad things about great players who
ended up in the Hall of Fame," said Moulds of criticism he's a
"me guy." Just two catches for eight yards, so far.
When Rams coach Rich Brooks sent rookie quarterback Tony Banks
in for his first series in the league, St. Louis had the ball on
its own one-yard line against a 49ers defense that was ranked
No. 1 in the NFL last year. On his second play, Banks was sacked
by San Francisco's Bryant Young for a safety....A Man Named
Brady: Vikings linebacker Jeff Brady, a former walk-on at
Kentucky, has made nine starts in six seasons but has twice been
named NFC Defensive Player of the Week, including in Week 1 for
his play during Minnesota's win over the Lions. Already this
season Brady has intercepted two passes and in Sunday's 23-17
victory at Atlanta helped cause a fumble that led to Minnesota's
go-ahead touchdown....Counting the preseason, the Jets' offense
has scored one touchdown in 31 Neil O'Donnell-led drives....
Rams rookie running back Lawrence Phillips rushed nine times for
15 yards in St. Louis's 34-0 loss at San Francisco; last year's
leading rusher for St. Louis, Jerome Bettis, gained 116 yards on
21 carries for the Steelers in their 31-17 win over the
Ravens....Panthers kicker John Kasay just can't miss: He's 10
for 10 in field goals this season, including two 51-yarders in
Sunday's 22-20 win at New Orleans....Is Marshall Faulk, who in
the off-season had surgery on his left knee, a little gun-shy?
In two games the Colts running back has picked up only 71 yards
on 22 carries. Worse, on Sunday against the Jets he injured a
toe on his right foot....Bears rookie cornerback Walt Harris is
hawking T-shirts that read, TWO THIRDS OF THE EARTH IS COVERED
BY WATER. THE REST IS COVERED BY WALT HARRIS. --John Walters
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
"The Raiders need to go see the Wizard of Oz. They don't have
any heart, they don't have any courage, they don't have any
--Ronnie Lott, Fox NFL Sunday