In Week 3, the Dallas Cowboys offense broke the huddle in the waning seconds of a particularly satisfying 38-17 thrashing of the New Orleans Saints. The big men trotted to the line for one final snap and a knee – victory formation. Then the offensive line treated Cowboys Nation to a sight not seen since the days of Roger the Dodger – a Landry Shift.
As a fan, this was the moment my respect and admiration for head coach Jason Garrett morphed into something more. Garrett deflected when asked, saying the players came up with the idea in practice. That’s probably true, but any group of men inevitably takes on the personality of its leader. This could only happen in the organizational culture that Garrett has built.
We as fans could never expect to see this brand of homage under a head coach like Bill Parcells or Jimmy Johnson. Fine coaches, no doubt. Franchise savers. Dynasty builders. But to these guys being head coach of the Dallas Cowboys was just another job. A great job, sure, but nothing more than that.
Parcells’ days as a New York Giant mean more to him, and understandably so. Parcells is one of the all-time great Giants. Johnson’s heart is in Florida. He won an NCAA national championship coaching the Miami Hurricanes in 1987 and ended his coaching career with the Miami Dolphins in 1999. In between, he flirted with the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars in 1993 – while coaching the Cowboys to a Super Bowl title.
I like those guys. I’m grateful for the four years Parcells spent in Dallas building a winner, and I believe Johnson’s contributions to the franchise merit a spot in the Ring of Honor. But these guys would have been just as personally fulfilled doing the same work in any other NFL city.
Not Garrett. Garrett loves being a Cowboy. Garrett could have left Dallas for head coaching opportunities following the success of the 2007 season. He interviewed for and was offered head coaching positions with the Baltimore Ravens and the Atlanta Falcons. He chose to remain the offensive coordinator in Dallas instead.
People don’t do that. There are only 32 of those jobs in the whole world, and when you get offered one you take it. Garrett reflected on the decision to stay after he was made head coach:
"“I had great visits with the Baltimore Ravens and the Atlanta Falcons about their head coaching positions. I appreciated those opportunities. I think you make decisions intellectually, and you can make them with your gut, with your instincts. It just felt like it was the right thing to do at the time to stay here with the Cowboys.”"
He’s not thinking like a typical NFL head coach; he’s thinking like a fan. Garrett loves this organization. He revels in the star. He reveres its tradition. He espouses that reverence to every single player who marches through Valley Ranch.
He plasters the facility’s halls with pictures of great moments in Cowboys history. He denies rookies a star on their helmet in training camp until they do something on the field to earn it. He invites former players to the facility so current players can connect to the past. He talks about tradition, and the honor that accompanies the burden of striving to live up to standards set by the franchise greats.
That’s how we as fans get to see something as cool as the Landry Shift in 2014 – there’s a fan running the show in Big D, and his love for the star is infectious. Consider what he told former offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s daughter on footballbrat.com:
"“When we won those Super Bowls in Dallas in the ‘90s, we had some very talented players, but I’ll go to my grave saying what makes Troy Aikman great is who he is, as much as the talent that he has. I can say that for Emmitt Smith, Daryl Johnston, go down the list, Darren Woodson, all the great players that we had on those teams, they were the Right Kind of Guys. They loved to play. They were talented, but they loved to play and they were great teammates. So we’re not living in the past, but we’re trying to recreate that model. So as talented a guy as you can get, who’s also the Right Kind of Guy, who can fit into your team and make the chemistry of your team right.”"
Maybe using the Landry Shift for victory formation wasn’t Garrett’s idea, but his players never would have thought of it without Garrett’s leadership. I’ve long respected Garrett. In 2014 I’ve grown to love the guy. He may be smarter than us, better educated than us, richer than us, more successful than us, and living a life that none of us can really wrap our heads around. But Jason Garrett is one of us – he loves the Dallas Cowboys.
And now, all his hard work over the past four seasons is showing up in the win column. Who else is pumped for the next decade?