By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
The whistle blows loudly. Again and again, the same shrill noise. Bill Parcells doesn't care. It's a few days after the first preseason game, and the football-oriented part of practice ended some time ago. Since then, the Boys have been running wind sprints--a new one starts each time the whistle sounds. There's no sign of the conditioning session ending. Parcells is riding them hard, blowing that whistle like a deranged gym teacher hell-bent on making the kiddies cry before class is out. They pant and sweat. Some look as though they might collapse from exhaustion, even though they're working in the air-conditioned Alamodome. The hunch among the press corps is that Parcells has tampered with the climate control, that he's literally turned up the heat on his players. Regardless, it's hot.
The mind-screwing he lays on them doesn't stop with altering the temperature. A few days after a decisive preseason win over the Houston Texans at home, Parcells will walk off the field in the middle of practice, his coaching staff and trainers in tow. Welcome to training camp, Parcells style. "This isn't Camp Campo," a sideline observer says.
"We don't have a lot of free time right now," running back Troy Hambrick offers. He's garnered special attention from the new coach. Last year he was a fat little cannonball, weighing more than 250 pounds. Daily weigh-ins, along with plenty of exercise, have trimmed him to around 240. "It's a business attitude around here. We don't have any free time. We're behind these walls all day." He stops and looks around with a few shifty glances before continuing. "It feels like we're in prison right now."
That's the way the warden wants it. There's a lot wrong with this crew, a lot of things Parcells may not be able to remedy, so at the very least he wants his players fit. He blows his whistle some more and watches them all with a discerning eye, never breaking a sweat. Rank has its privileges. (The irony here is obvious. Parcells is shaped like a pear. He is the softest guy on the field--his blue Dallas Cowboys shirt is tucked into his tan, high-riding shorts and does very little to hide his generous belly. His is not a good look. A friend suggests that Parcells is sorely in need of a visit from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. I've never seen the show, but that couldn't have been a compliment.)
Even if the Tuna gets them in shape, even if he rids them of their flab and carves handsome muscles into their abdomens, Parcells' rebuilding project won't be completed soon. Granted, in the NFL it is possible to be hopeless one year and playoff-bound the next. That jump to respectability, however, occurs only when the team in question is filled with budding talent. The flowers planted here don't smell nearly that sweet. And the Cowboys brass knows it.
"I don't know how we're going to do here. I really don't," Parcells says. "I'm not brimming with confidence. I think we've got time to improve this, and I think we can do it...somewhat."
Consider that a warning. His tepid, carefully chosen words can mean only one thing: Bet on him to eventually return the Cowboys to their rightful place atop the NFL. But brace yourself. This season will serve only to iron a few wrinkles flat. A pressed finish appears years away.
It is a camp dominated by questions and quests, then. We're all looking for something here. Parcells is in search of a quarterback, a line, a running back, a leader and on and on. Me? The bosses sent me down here to immerse myself in football and return with plenty of sharp Cowboys copy for you to thankfully absorb. But all work (or even a little work) and no fooling around makes Johnny Journo a dull bastard. If I'm going to be quarantined in San Antonio for a week, I'm off in search of some sustenance, some respect and an easy time.
As it'll turn out, none of that will be smartly accomplished. Not for me or Parcells. I guess we both lose.
"Overall, we have quite a ways to go," Parcells says succinctly. He nods his head, and everyone understands that there's not much more to add, that he's telling the hard truth.