By Lauren Smart
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If it all weren't so comical, it might be insulting.
"I think I had a much better year this year," he says proudly. Though his contract expires in 2002, Summerall has no plans to retire then. Or anytime soon. "It was a sort of redemption. Anytime anyone says something bad about you, it bothers you, sure. I don't care who you are, negative feedback bothers you. But the writers, that never bothered me as much as other things. What bothered me most was the people around me, some of the people who I thought were my friends, who said the game had passed me by or that I didn't have it. It's tougher when it's coming from people who you care about and who you thought cared about you. That's what hurt most."
And now? Well, he wouldn't say it but...In their eye.
He's talked to Troy Aikman about it, about the signal caller calling it quits. Even commented publicly, telling something called Final Edition a few months ago that the Walking Concussion should hang 'em up. Summerall has softened a bit since then, maybe in light of his own situation, maybe because he remembers how tough it was to play the game. And how rewarding.
"Troy's full of machismo," Summerall says of his friend. "I think he wants to play some more, and that's understandable. I don't have enough medical experience to comment on whether that's a smart decision considering his history with concussions. But it's understandable, not wanting to quit, especially if you've been a star on Troy's level, for as long as he's been a star. That would be awfully difficult to give up. I'm sure it was a hard thing for Michael [Irvin].
"For me, when I quit, I was only 31 [after a 10-year career with the Chicago Cardinals and G-men], but it wasn't a tough decision. I had a wife and three children and I was banged up a bit, so it was an easy call. But for Troy, I could see how it would be pretty tough."
Either way, Summerall says, the Cowboys will need some fine-tuning. There are still some quality players on the roster, players he thinks have a few good games left such as Darren Woodson and Flozell Adams and Larry Allen and Solomon Page. He names "seven or eight" guys who are the nucleus in Irving. Says it would be too drastic to "blow the team up," that things aren't as bad as they seem.
Now, being the staunch Jerry Jones advocate that I am, I respectfully disagree. I contend things are exactly as bad as they seem, and the big man is the reason. Citing salary cap constraints and a less-than-productive talent base, I argue that Jones' meddlesome ways have buried a once-proud franchise in an abyss of mediocrity. Basically, I insist the Pokes would need less body work if not for J.J. the Hun.
"But it's not like this is anything new," Summerall argues graciously. "George Halas owned his team and coached it. It's hard to fault him for wanting to be involved, particularly after the success they had [in the mid '90s]. If I bought a team for $140 million and watched it grow to be worth nearly a billion, I would want to keep close watch, too. Wouldn't you?"
For the first time in my life, for a fleeting moment, I think Jones isn't that bad. For a fleeting moment.
Damn that Summerall and his logic.
Realizing this, I steer the interview to a close, asking for a prediction about the Super Bowl before he hangs up.
"I've got the sneaking suspicion that the Giants are peaking at the right time," he suggests.
The Giants? Why the Giants? I would rather Dallas win the next 10 straight than New York win this one.
"Well, I did play for them," he reminds me before saying goodbye.
It's the first tune he sings that doesn't sound like music.