Falling Stars

Who let the air out of the Cowboys? Jerry, Dave, Tony, the heat--you name it. A preview of Dallas' dying days.

Campo doesn't care. Makes it clear to everyone that he's taking no chances. "Joey and Rocket will be on one-a-day practice schedules to be determined by the coaching staff. They'll either practice in the morning or the afternoon, but not both."

Interesting considering the team isn't wearing pads or hitting yet. But it's probably nothing. Why worry? So what if Galloway hasn't played a full season in more than two years (he held out during his last year with the Seahawks) or that Rocket has proved, over his career, to be as sturdy as porcelain? No big deal. They're just the focal point of an offense that already had to cope with countless unknowns. And now has a few more.


Cowboys head coach Dave Campo, top, is optimistic that his bad team will play well; bottom, Joan Rivers, disguised as Cowboys GM Jerry Jones, looks on.
Gary Lawson
Cowboys head coach Dave Campo, top, is optimistic that his bad team will play well; bottom, Joan Rivers, disguised as Cowboys GM Jerry Jones, looks on.

It's true. And you're bitter. No matter how it's couched. These aren't your Cowboys but rather some anathema dressed up to play the part. These aren't the Pokes you like to remember. Not the ass-kickers with the sullen attitudes and the tendency for decisive victory.

That's a big thing with these Cowboys--the lack of stars. It's a dilemma for the brass, how to proceed in the wake of Troy Aikman's retirement, how to continue in the absence of the names you knew and loved, how to forge ahead with the pall covering them all. It is, however unpleasant, a living wake. The Cowboys, your Cowboys circa the mid-1990s, are dead.

"You know, when you see a guy throw the ball down the field and a receiver catches the ball, at some point in time you might look around and say, 'Man, Michael Irvin's not here. Man, Troy Aikman's not throwing the ball,'" says Emmitt Smith, one of the remaining survivors, sparking up nostalgia. "Most of the time that I'm out here, my mind is far away from that. My mind is totally concentrated on what I have to do here in order to help this ball club get better. Yeah, it's nice to reflect and all, but reflecting ain't gonna get you nowhere right now."

Somehow, maybe while you were at the fridge getting a beer or down the block talking with neighbors, the team, your team, got old. So did Emmitt. He's entering his 12th season. He's 31. But, unlike some of his collaborators, there is still life left in his legs. There will be more records and accolades. Barring some unforeseen tragedy, Smith likely will pass Walter Payton as the NFL's all-time leading rusher before he retires, before he goes off to play golf or sit in some broadcast booth or whatever it is he's planning to do with his Denture Days. In the interim, as in the past, he's the team's last, best weapon.

Last year, with no one to help, and all but abandoned on the field, Smith churned along. It was the 10th consecutive season in which he's passed the 1,000-yard plateau. He's only the second back in history to do so. The other is Barry Sanders. Clearly, with this cast of characters, he'll be called upon for more of the same. Handoff left, right, center. Over and over.

"Emmitt is a very important part of this team," Campo says while hitching up shorts that already ride too high. Frighteningly too high. Like he might wear them as a hat later. "Look, he's somebody that everyone looks up to. There aren't a lot of other guys around."

No. There aren't. And that won't make it any easier on the assembly. From Smith's lofty lead and what he figures to produce, the falloff could be grand. There are questions, but they don't stop with Banks and Galloway and Ismail. Or even with the offensive side of the ball.

Darren Woodson, long the most capable of defenders in Cowboy Blue, is still the meat, though there doesn't appear to be many trimmings to complement the dish. Last season, the Boys proved inept, finishing 19th overall in the league in defense. Stopping the run, in particular, was a daunting problem--one that was never solved. Dallas was woeful, finishing dead last against the run.

"We plan on playing a little more of a zone scheme from the safeties dropping down and playing the run," Campo says, without trying to give away the keys to the car by divulging too much information. "We won't go into the season thinking we can't stop the run. We have to force first-down stops so we move [the opposition] into long second downs. Certainly, we're going to ask the safeties to help out on the run. We can't expect to be successful when we're giving up chunks--four, five yards--on first down."

Essentially, they'll be double-dog daring the competition to pass, which is fine and good. Provided the run-stopping plan works first. What's the old axiom about the sum of parts and their relation to the whole? Now tweak it a bit to accommodate purchasing those parts from a five-and-dime.

Right now, the Cowboys work through sets, preparing the players to be meaner and better than they were last season. The linebackers--constantly and justly criticized for lackluster play--garner particular attention from the staff. Without some improvement there, Campo may as well knock off and go drinking, because all will be lost, and he'll be unemployed.

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