The most interesting moment from Thursday’s final preseason tuneup against the Houston Texans was supplied by a player who watched it from the sidelines. The game itself was typical preseason finale fare: Only two possible starters – tackle Jermey Parnell and linebacker Ernie Sims – saw any snaps, and just a handful at that. Instead, the matchup featured a litany of possible role players, fighting to get noticed with final roster cuts looming this Saturday.
Given the meager size of the stage, star wide receiver Dez Bryant’s post-game comments were a revelation. It wasn’t so much what he said, but how he said it. Fielding questions about the Cowboys’ Sept. 8 home opener against the New York Giants, it was clear Bryant had spent the past three hours screaming himself hoarse on the sidelines.
This game really didn’t matter to the 2013 Dallas Cowboys, but it mattered to Bryant. It lacked pop and substance, but Bryant brought his own passion. It was messy and unfocused, but Bryant was locked in. The game itself meant very little to this team, but clearly this team means everything to Bryant.
When a player of Bryant’s star caliber can get up for Game 5 of the preseason, it tells you something about the disposition of the man, and the character of the team. It speaks to priorities and commitment. Star players impact team culture in ways that role players can’t.
Michael Irvin is roundly acknowledged as the heart and soul of the Cowboys dynasty in the early ‘90s. Billy Bates (God love him) was every bit as fiery and played just as hard, but those qualities are simply more impactful to a peer group when they’re coming from a future hall of famer. Superstars who scream themselves hoarse during preseason games are a rare commodity in the NFL; they are the real difference makers. The Cowboys appear to have one in Bryant.
But Bryant was far from a can’t-miss prospect. His well-documented background scared off a lot of GMs; as a result, top-5 talent slid to the 24th overall pick in the 2010 draft, where Cowboys owner and GM Jerry Jones traded up to take a chance on the possible game changer.