Amateur Hour

Even in June, the Cowboys' quarterback situation is a laugh riot

I didn't do it. I swear. I wish I had, but this time someone else orchestrated the whole wonderful scheme. And bless them for it.

Bill Parcells, new head coach of your Dallas Cowboys, is sitting at a table surrounded by a media horde. He's rubbing his forehead in one of those "Dear God, it's summer, why the hell are we talking about this now?" looks. Suddenly, he passes along a little nugget that, if nothing else, is good for a serious chuckle. It's the first day of another boring minicamp, more than two months before training camp is set to begin, and all anyone can talk about is the "quarterback controversy." Many questions on this; rephrased, re-asked. That's what we media types do when we don't get an answer we like the first time around--we're tricky like that.

Ah, but that Parcells is wise to our ways and lets us know he's on to us. That cunning devil. And so herein lies the humor for which, again, I am not responsible. Unfortunately.

The hot seat: How often will the Tuna be all smiles about his quarterbacks' play? Rarely.
ESPN
The hot seat: How often will the Tuna be all smiles about his quarterbacks' play? Rarely.

"I know there are members of this media here who have gone to one quarterback and said, 'Well, you know he's picking the other guy,'" Parcells says, not so much chastising his inquisitors as labeling them fools. He knew it was coming, you see, which makes him brighter than we are. "I know that's a fact already. That's why their ability to ignore stuff like that is important, because it's not true. It's just not true. But that's OK. I expected that."

How delicious. Can't you just see some slimy reporter sidling up to Chad Hutchinson and whispering in his ear: Hey, jackass, you're so bad that Parcells is gonna go with Quincy Carter... and he can barely stand upright.

Now that's journalism. Oh, how I wish I had thought of it first.

Even without that bit of manufactured drama, the reality here is that, months before any serious football is played, the quarterback situation is heavy--a load that Parcells must shoulder almost entirely by himself. Because it doesn't take some fiendish journo to plant the seeds of uncertainty in the minds of Hutchinson or Carter. No, they are what they are of their own volition: unsure and only semi-capable. If that. Which is where Parcells comes in. Unless the Cowboys make a move to bring a veteran signal caller to town, Dallas fans everywhere will be treated to an encore performance of Carter/Hutchinson: The Quarterbacks Who Couldn't Throw Straight.

Parcells, then, is charged with the unenviable task of not only getting those two dopes to throw to the right colored jerseys but also with mending their damaged psyches. And good luck with all that. After yet another 5-11 season, after working under Dave Campo and Bruce Coslet, after combining to throw 14 touchdowns against 16 interceptions, it's a wonder neither Hutchinson nor Carter is heavily medicated. (Maybe Parcells is saving the drugs for himself; that would probably be the better tactic.)

So what's the chance that the Tuna can mold one of those two into a passable passer? The hunch here is that he has a better shot of winning a best-abs contest. If nothing else, he does have some experience with this sort of thing--the quarterback mentoring, not the sculpted abs.

In New England, Parcells tutored a young Drew Bledsoe, who flourished and enjoyed arguably his best seasons as a pro over that stretch. Before that, when he was the coach of the Giants, Parcells took Phil Simms and transformed him from a self-loathing head case into a Super Bowl winner.

"I can remember vividly the conversation I had with Phil Simms," Parcells says. "We were 8-2, we'd just beaten three division teams in a row--Dallas, Philadelphia and Washington--and he had his team in first place. His receivers were hurt, so he was like 6-for-18 in one game, and there were something like seven or eight drops. Everybody was booing him; the place was getting on him. I had to sit him down and say, 'I don't know what you're thinking, but here's what I'm thinking: We're in first place and you're doing a good job. Don't let the circumstances around you bother you.'"

Yeah, uh, that's all fine and good, and certainly you can see what he's driving at, but the transitive properties in this case are nearly inapplicable. The day that Hutchinson or Carter leads the Pokes to an 8-2 record after beating three division rivals is the day I start believing that Martha Stewart isn't a lying beeyotch.

The "QB controversy" seems like an exercise in futility, because these two quarterbacks, even if you could somehow combine their limited ability and stick them behind a sound offensive line, don't figure to be even half the quarterback Simms was back in the day. But, of course, that isn't the point. The point is that, like it or not, we're stuck with one or both of them for the immediate future. So, too, is Parcells. What he gets out of them will go a long way toward fixing this broken franchise. Or not. Either way, we should be in for a few laughs, as evidenced by this midsummer comedy session. (Isn't it too bad the Pokes didn't look into former Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Akili Smith? No, he can't play, but just imagine the yuks he'd contribute. It would be like a modern, sporting version of the Three Stooges.)

For their part, Hutchinson and Carter are saying all the right, bland things.

"The only person I can control is myself," Hutchinson says. "I don't read or listen to the media; I just worry about playing football."

"Yeah, it makes me feel good to compete for a job," Carter one-upped. "That's what you want, a chance to start in the NFL."

There were large crowds around both of them, the sort of gathering Emmitt Smith would command if he were still around. Neither looked overly concerned or taxed. Whatever. Give it some time. I guarantee you that the pressure builds to the point where one of them spontaneously combusts. Ten bucks says it's Quincy. (Twenty to whoever gets a picture of it for me.)

On the plus side, Parcells keeps the demands on his quarterback simple. Even though he can be hard on his players in practice, when it comes to game stats the man generally doesn't harp on numbers so long as his team wins. He asks that his quarterbacks be sound, not flashy, that they get their team in the end zone and keep mistakes to a minimum.

"Do that, and I'll like you," Parcells says. "Don't do it, and I won't like you."

Uh-oh. It's early, but I don't like the implied odds in that statement.

If this minicamp has taught us anything, it's that this whole situation is going to provide us with endless entertainment. I don't know about you, but I can't wait until the season begins--and not because I expect to see a three-game winning streak.

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