One my first posts on this site focused on a comment made by Randy Galloway, now of the Fort Worth Star Telegram and then of the Dallas Morning News. Here is part of that post:
The year was 1996. The Cowboys were coming off of their third Super Bowl title, and other than the situation with Michael Irvin’s suspension, the team had retained much of its talent (recall that this was the year that Dallas was supposed to have the unstoppable duo of Deion Sanders and Kevin Smith at the corners).
During a pregame show for the opening game against Chicago, someone asked Galloway for his prediction for the season. He said he thought that Dallas would win one more that season, and then it would be a “very long time” before it won another. Obviously one prediction fell short, but the Cowboys seem to have rendered him a short-term prophet with respect to the second.
Since the 1996 season, Dallas has not played with an expectation that it would win a title. It has hardly played with the expectation that it would have a winning season. It has, more often than not, played not to lose, and so even when the team is ahead, one always gets the feeling that something could fall apart at any moment. Remember 1999, when Dallas went through an entire season leading nearly every game at one point, only to finish with an 8-8 record (and a cheap visit to the playoffs). This was an 8-8 team that started 3-0 and had enough talent to challenge the Rams, at least before Irvin’s injury. They instead played not to lose, and half of the time, they lost. Eight wins now doesn’t seem so bad.
And remember last season, particularly in the second game. Dallas should have been 2-0, with the confidence that they had just dominated Washington. The Cowboys run game was effective, and its defense was dominant. Two touchdown passes later, and Dallas returns to being nothing more than an average team. Few leads were ever considered safe. That game not only cost them a playoff berth in terms of tiebreakers, but more importantly, it also marked the point when Dallas reverted to its pattern of playing scared.
In the past ten years, the team has gone through more coaches (four) than it did in its first 35 years in existence. But the story has been the same, whether we have Barry Switzer, Chan Gailey, Dave Campo, or Bill Parcells. The team lacks confidence, it plays not to lose, and one never gets the feeling that it is really contending for anything.
Why do Galloway’s comments in 1996 stand out? Because the preseason of 1996 is really the last time that anyone expected the Cowboys to contend for a championship, and it was really the last time that the Cowboys seem to have expected for themselves. It has been a decade, and it is time for that attitude to end. Play to win, play for a title, and expect nothing else.
At times this season, it looked like this team had matured; that it was ready to take those next steps. This was the season of feel-good stories surrounding a guy named Romo and feel-bad stories about a cancer named Owens. But going into the season finale against the Lions, Dallas found itself in nearly the same position as it did last season, except that the team had clinched a playoff berth. Let’s lie to ourselves and say that that our team was better, notwithstanding the fact that the number two seed in the conference went 10-6 and the best team in the conference was demolished and embarrassed in its final game.
So anyway, here were my thoughts on that game:
I’ve thought since Sunday that it really doesn’t matter whether we win this weekend, given that it may be better for us to go to Seattle for the first round. But I’ve reconsidered.
Does anyone remember last year’s season finale vs. the Rams? Not much to remember, except that Dallas entered the game with the same record as it has right now– the only difference being that the Cowboys this year are a little bit better and the records of other NFC East teams are a little bit worse. The Rams last year were 5-10, had lost four straight, and were playing for a lame-duck coach. Even if they were out of the playoffs, the Cowboys could have finished the season strong with a 10-6 record, demonstrating their pride and making a statement for the next year. Instead, the team barely showed up and was squashed in a 20-10 loss. And that was the statement: that team had utterly no pride at that point.
Mind you, we won some big games last year– at home vs. the Giants; at home vs. the Chiefs; on the road vs. the Panthers. But all too often we followed those up with complete duds, most notably the 35-7 loss at Washington. And among the biggest duds was the loss in the last week of the season to a team in the Rams that couldn’t seem to beat anyone at that point.
Have the Cowboys learned anything since last year? You want to say that of course they have. They have Tony Romo. They have even more weapons on offense. They have a generally healthy defense in the second year of the 3-4. But in the end, the two seasons haven’t been all that different, and a repeat performance in the season finale (noting here that Parcells has yet to win a season finale as the Dallas head coach) would represent perhaps the lowest point in a season of highs and lows. A playoff win–which is what several of us have wanted all year at the least– would be almost bizarre under those circumstances. So I think now that we do need to win this game.
So Dallas shamelessly, pitifully.. the adverbs are endless… couldn’t solve a 2-13 Detroit team. All my thoughts of ending various streaks: win the season finale, win the division, win a playoff game, are all but gone. All of those comparisons I am inclined to make were foolish. Here’s my post from yesterday:
I’ve fallen victim all year of trying to find positive comparisons to make with seasons past in some sort of effort to believe that this is really a team on the rise. The 1991 comparisons were there– young team learning to win, and so on, and so on. We were so lucky as fans that this team continued to find ways to rebuild itself time and time again (1975 with the draft; 1980 with Danny White; 1991 with the team of that decade). I was willing to watch the 5-11 seasons, believing that we probably had to suffer a bit to get back on top of the mountain (much like 1986 through 1990).
We bring in a Hall-of-Fame coach who is reknowned for his “year 4″ successes with the Giants and Patriots, and those year 4 successes came in 1986 and 1996. He had his choice of players. He went through his carrousel of four quarterbacks, and we’ve been a little bit better than mediocre. But all signs seemed to suggest that this would be another year 4 success. Great symmetry, right?
None of that history means a thing, and I’m one of the fools who thought it did. When we get excited about getting into the playoffs, with or without any expectations that we will do anything (other than the wildly optimisic assertions that any given team can get on a roll), we are talking about a different franchise wearing a familiar uniform.
So why 340 degrees? Well, at least one playoff game is worth at least 20 degrees, isn’t it?
What does Galloway have to say now?
This was the Cowboys as of mid-afternoon on New Year’s Eve:
Gutless, confused, incompetent, and the biggest joke to make the NFL playoffs since, well, the New York Giants weaseled their way in the day before.
With something still to play for, the Cowboys couldn’t overcome the two-win Detroit Lions, who blew the first pick in next April’s draft by out-hearting the Valley Ranch amoeba 39-31.
Fire the coach. Parcells must go.
But then Big Bill walked into the Texas Stadium interview room, took the podium, and the more he talked, the more he sounded like a guy who was ready to resign on the spot.
Parcells seemed totally bottomed-out when it came to answers. If you had fired him right then, it’d be a favor.
OK, it’s his mess. Let the man suffer for another week.
New year. New season. And the first round of the playoffs will find the Cowboys in Seattle on Saturday night.
Parcells indicated he’d make the trip, but all bets are officially off on him being back for next season.
“I can’t tell you how disappointed I am,” Bill said, and then later repeated.
“This is a low point for me, the lowest in a long time.”
Not exactly a playoff pep talk, but then again, why should it be?
“I certainly take it personal,” Parcells added. “This is my life. This is what I’ve been doing all these years.”
What his teams have done here, however, is also the lowest point of that long career.
Four years of failure, that can now only be rescued by some miracle of biblical proportions starting Saturday in Seattle.
But based on the current evidence, this is a team that has quit on Parcells. Tuned him out completely. It happens when a head coach allows a double standard in being the hard-butt on all players except one. And that one, the biggest fool of all, he “handled” him by attempting to ignore him since Oxnard.
Along the way, however, what can’t be ignored is how the 17-week season has totally unraveled.
The defense, never as good as advertised, reached joke status in December, and a new low on Sunday.
Those 39 points by the Lions, who do have a dangerous offense, meant 152 points have been hung on the Cowboys during the final month of the season.
The Sunday loss meant in Parcells’ four seasons here, the Cowboys have, like clock-work, dropped three of the final five games, all of those 12 L’s except one coming in December.
This latest debacle against the Lions, Dave Campo would have been gone by sundown. Chan Gailey by dinner.
But Parcells apparently will be in Seattle with a defense that is suddenly so bad it’s baffling.
“If we had the answers, we’d try to correct it,” linebacker Bradie James said. “I want to stand here and say, ‘we are better than this,’ but at the end of the day we’ve got to stop giving up points.”
Or how about just making a critical stop. Midway through the fourth quarter, the Cowboys had taken a 31-30 lead. The Lions would immediately go 72 yards and reach the end zone on a 21-yard Mike Williams catch of Jon Kitna’s perfect throw.
But it was a third-and-10 catch by Roy Williams (for 24 yards) that kept the drive alive. “Biggest play of the game,” Parcells said. All afternoon, the Cowboys had no answer for that Roy, or for the other starting wideout, Mike Furrey. Yes, him. Mike Furrey.
Kitna made some awful throws, but four touchdown passes later, he had feasted on a doomed defense.
No wonder Parcells reached a personal low point. It’s his defense.
And now it’s also Tony Romo who is making the “careless” quarterbacking mistakes. Fumbles, picks, whatever.
Romo is the only reason this team is in the playoffs. But the Romo of most of December, and particularly of Sunday, will not keep them around very long.
In a bleak postgame scene, there was, however, one reassuring voice heard. Jerry Jones, who was in severe depression following the Christmas Day loss to the Eagles, attempted this time to bring in the sunshine and the daffodils.
“I look at the positives,” he said. “At our good health as a team. At the play of the quarterback at times out there. I refuse to be in a negative frame of mind going into the playoffs. Let’s go win a game. Maybe two games.”
At your New Year’s Eve party, hopefully the punch bowl was full of whatever it was that fueled Jerry’s optimism on Sunday afternoon.
And also, that you had a designated driver and a potent hangover remedy. The Cowboys now need both, along with, yes, a new coach once the January exit arrives.
Even Jean-Jacques Taylor is calling the Parcells era a failure:
For months, public debate has centered on whether Bill Parcells wants to return for a fifth season.
It’s time to consider another possibility: Maybe Jerry won’t want him back.
Not after the Cowboys completed one of the great collapses in franchise history, blowing a two-game division lead with four games to play. Not after the Cowboys turned in a pathetic performance Sunday in a 39-31 loss to a pitiful Detroit team that had lost seven consecutive games.
Not after paying Parcells nearly $20 million over the last four seasons for a 34-30 record, one 10-win season and, thus far, zero playoff victories.
For now, you’d have to label the Parcells Era a failure.
Parcells can’t get a pass just because he’s won two Super Bowls and taken four different teams to the playoffs. This is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business. Yes, the Cowboys are better than when he arrived in 2003, but you can’t compare Parcells to Dave Campo, who went 15-33 in three seasons. He’s supposed to be better than that.
Like Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman set the standard for quarterbacks, Tom Landry and Jimmy Johnson, who combined for four championships, set the standard for coaches.
Parcells arrived in Dallas with a championship resume and a history of quickly rebuilding franchises. Jerry has given Parcells more control and authority than any coach since Johnson but has no banners or trophies to show for it.
Of course, Jerry isn’t interested in talking about Parcells’ future. That discussion will occur after the season, but Jerry did say he’s confident Parcells can prepare the Cowboys to beat Seattle on Saturday.
“He’s got years of experience,” Jones said. “He has the ability to get the team ready.”
Parcells, whose teams have faded in December each of the past two seasons, sounded like a coach searching for answers after the Cowboys lost for the third time in four games. Dallas had not lost consecutive games all season.
Actually, the Cowboys had followed each of their previous losses this season with a double-digit victory, but fell behind 13-0 and convinced the Lions they could win for the first time since Nov. 5.
“I’m just disappointed because I want my team to be playing better right now, and it’s not,” an exasperated Parcells said after the game.
So is this the low point of your tenure in Dallas?
“Yeah, it is,” he said. “I want so much for us to be finishing strong going into the tournament with a good attitude, but now that is going to be difficult.”
So do you take this loss personally?
“This is my life,” he said. “This is what I have been doing all of these years. Of course, it’s personal.”
These Cowboys have seemingly turned a deaf ear to Parcells. A month ago, he told the players that championship teams prepare a certain way so they can establish momentum entering the playoffs. New Orleans promptly beat Dallas, 42-17.
This week, Parcells told his players the NFL is about showing up on the field and playing well – not talking trash. Dallas responded by losing to one of the worst franchises – top to bottom – in the NFL and eliminating any chance to win the NFC East.
That’s ridiculous. And embarrassing. More important, there’s no tangible evidence to suggest the Cowboys can pull themselves out of this free fall.
After the game, Jerry talked about forcing himself to look only at the positives of getting into the playoffs. Bradie James talked about unity. Jason Witten talked about the playoffs representing a fresh start. Aaron Glenn talked about individual accountability.
None of that matters. Let’s be clear: This season is over. Some say it has been over since the Cowboys clinched a playoff spot. Perhaps, the players thought that was good enough and relaxed over the final few weeks of the season.
Tony Romo has regressed the past few games, the defense has been abject and the coach has no idea how to end the downward spiral. Parcells has failed to have the Cowboys emotionally, physically and mentally ready to play in the most important month of the season.
Lose Saturday, and Dallas will fail to win a playoff game for the 10th consecutive season – the longest streak in franchise history. That’s a shame considering the state of the NFC, where no dominant team exists, and the relative health of this team.
It’s also the kind of disappointment that could take the decision to return out of Parcells’ hands.