By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
"I'm not sure that works anymore," Banks says, encircled by a throng of reporters and cameras and tape recorders. Luckily, he looks his best. Large diamond studs light each ear, sparkling when they catch the afternoon sun, which hangs high overhead and beats down mercilessly. An expensive-looking necklace bling-blings from his neck with similar shimmer. "I think I'm almost past my limit with the 'potential' label. I've got to produce. With this team, if I don't play well, we won't win games. Simple as that."
Uh-oh. During the past five years, he's averaged a paltry five wins per season. That's Cincinnati Bengals territory. At first, when he was brought in with the understanding that the starting position would be his to lose, it didn't make sense. Until salary cap constraints were factored in. The Cowboys still owe money to half the free world (and, perhaps, some communist overlords) but managed to ink Banks for the low-low-how-low-can-you-go price of $500,000. In the NFL, nickel backs make 500 G's, not starting quarterbacks. If nothing else, Jones can use the money he saved--ESPN called the pickup "bargain basement shopping"--to hire a getaway driver when this scheme of his collapses.
"[Banks] has fumble problems, and he makes poor decisions with the ball," opines ESPN television analyst Mike Golic. "He throws the ball well down the field, but you need to be able to make consistent plays across the middle and on out patterns. I'm not sure he's the answer the Cowboys are looking for. If he could play, wouldn't everyone know by now?"
That was one of the more gentle evaluations. The gravity of the quarterback situation isn't lost on the coaching staff. If Banks doesn't play better--that is, if he doesn't play well, if he leads this team into the shitter the way he did during his last two gigs--the result could be cataclysmic for Campo and Company. They need Banks the way the rest of us need a stiff drink on Friday night. Both Campo and Jones, predictably, deny anyone's job is at stake.
"The first thing, from the start, we looked at was experience," Campo says during one of his daily press gatherings that bridge the gap between two-a-day practices. "Tony is here because of that, because of his experience. I think his strengths complement our receivers. He can go down the field. Now, we need him to be more consistent. But I like his chances if he does what we think he can."
Right. Which is why the team took Quincy Carter, inexplicably, in the second round of the draft--because they have faith in Tony Banks. Then again, what else is Campo supposed to say, that he thinks Banks is a stiff who should be working the docks somewhere for minimum wage? It's a shame that someone like Campo, someone so affable and loyal to his organization, should be forced to cast his lot with the likes of No. 3.
Anyone else wonder if Campo is a religious man?
"I think Tony knows there's pressure," Campo continues, "because he's been in two situations where he hasn't done it. But we're not looking at him as a replacement for Aikman. We're looking at him as the next guy. With him, we are not going to be quite so sophisticated. We asked Troy to win games. We're asking [Banks] to manage the game, do what he does best and get the ball to the guys who have a chance to get the ball into the end zone."
It made all the sense in the world, Jerry Jones told us, smiling like the Grinch, when he traded two first-round draft picks for then-Seattle Seahawk Joey Galloway. Made sense because Galloway is a first-round-caliber talent, and they knew what they were getting. That was the logic. Turned out the reasoning was a bit specious.
The media guide reads that "while his first season in Dallas was cut short because of injury, the 2001 season should see Galloway return as one of the league's most explosive offensive threats." You've got to love the PR guys. With one sentence, they dismissed, or tried to dismiss, one of the biggest disasters from last year. In the fourth quarter of the season opener against Philadelphia--a game that was never in doubt and one the Cowboys lost 41-14--Galloway was, for some reason, still in the game, trying his best, but trying in vain. That's when he went down with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Over a chattering, disbelieving crowd, you could almost hear everyone's hopes for the season drifting away on a muggy September wind.
Not long after, in week 10, Galloway's running mate in patterns and off-field excursions, Rocket Ismail, suffered the same affliction, but to his right knee. He, too, was lost for the season--placed on injured reserve.
That's what you're looking at, what you'll be rooting for, what Banks and Campo and Jones are counting on. Two gimps, morning-fresh from career-threatening injuries. You'll be relieved to know, however, that each of them is doing just fine and should be world-beaters. This from Campo and the Boys, who have obviously been indoctrinated in the business of misinformation and distraction. ("Pay no attention to the transvestite behind the curtain!") What is puzzling to most is, if Galloway and Ismail are indeed healthy, why are they being coddled? This is football, right? Big men doling out punishment for our amusement?