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What’s Missing With The Dallas Cowboys? Almost Everything!


Reading Jeff Pearlman’s book “Boys Will Be Boys” is a depressing reminder of just how great the Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s were. Sure, some players had their problems–drugs, women, abuse, strip clubs, drinking, cockiness–but when it was Sunday each one of those guys had a mission that they accomplished three times in a decade. It was the greatest time ever to be a Cowboys fan. Most of the badness was behind closed doors and all of the glory was on national television. 

The reminder of that decade is depressing because all it does is solidify the fact that the Cowboys of today don’t have what the Cowboys of the 1990s had.

The Cowboys of the 1990s had a wide receiver named Michael Irvin who practices until he puked. He mentored rookies and he pushed his fellow teammates. He was a leader in the locker room. Full of demons, Irvin showed up on Sundays and he was an overachiever. 

The Cowboys of today have a wide receiver named Terrell Owens, who as talented as he is, has a hard time grasping what it truly means to be a teammate. He is not a leader. He’s just great. 

The Cowboys of the 1990s had a running back named Emmitt Smith, a guy who largely kept a distance from the drama, and played through pain to gain. A back many teams passed on, thinking he was too small and too slow to be a good NFL running back, he became the top running back of all time with the Dallas Cowboys. Who could forget Smith playing through a separated shoulder against the New York Giants to keep Cowboys alive. He was a leader. 

The Cowboys of today have two fantastic running backs. Marion Barber III is a bruising powerhouse who runs through opposing linebackers, and sheds tackles for those extra yards. Although he is a motivator just by the way he plays the game, he is not a leader. Felix Jones is a rookie who has already shown flashes of greatness. But he’s not going to lead this team, not yet, and likely never. 

The Cowboys of the 1990s had a quarterback named Troy Aikman, a guy with a machine gun for an arm and the accuracy of a sharpshooter. Never perfect, Aikman got better with age. When he erred, he kept his head up high. When the press pounded him, he led with optimism. 

The Cowboys of today have a quarterback named Tony Romo, someone no one knew four years ago. Early in his career, analysts compared him to Brett Favre because he made plays from scratch, plays out of nothing, plays out of thin air. Yet, when faced with adversity, he hangs his head or he moves on with an awkward school-boy smile. He dates a silly blonde, and gets hammered for it. Instead of studying playbooks before a playoff game, he goes to Mexico. And he doesn’t lead this team. He’s just fun watching and he’s a good quarterback. 

The Cowboys of the 1990s had a coach named Jimmy Johnson, a fiery fighter who was coaching the raucous Miami Hurricanes, where he led them to a National Championship. He never feared to cut a player for not performing. He never feared anyone. He questioned the talent of Troy Aikman and considered trading Michael Irvin. He built a dynasty based on fear. He crossed lines most coaches today wouldn’t dare touch. He brought players to tears. He wanted to win. He didn’t have no Camp Marshmallow. He took risks. 

The Cowboys of today have a coach named Wade Phillips, a guy with a very good regular season record, but who is winless in the playoffs. He doesn’t scare anyone. He doesn’t push anyone. He knows his team has talent and puts the onus on the players to perform. He questions no one. He expects to win, but he’s not sure they will win. He’s not a leader. 

See the pattern? The problem with the Dallas Cowboys of today is they are missing a leader in the locker room. The Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s had several. The Dallas Cowboys of today are full of talent–talent that might be better than any Cowboys era ever–yet they are missing the biggest component to championships: a vocal and visible leader.

But what else the book reminds me of is how great the Cowboys special teams were in the 1990s. They blocked punts. They blocked fields goals. They scored touchdowns on kickoffs and punt returns. They had Deoin Sanders and Ken Gant.

Although they Cowboys of today finally scored a kickoff touchdown this year, the special teams is “led” by some laid back imitation.

The Cowboys of the 1990s had wildmen like Charles Haley, Ken Norton, Tony Tolbert, Jim Jeffcoat, Leon Lett and James Washington. Wildmen on the field especially. 

The Cowboys of today have no wildmen. They just have stars. They have immense talent.

Stars fall. Stars explode. Stars eventually die. But Dynasty become a part of history. And so do the leaders.