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Bill Parcells is looking for a few good men. Good luck.

"I think the competition in our secondary is healthy," Woodson says. "Back when we had Kevin Smith and Deion [Sanders] and those guys fighting for jobs, it ended up turning us into a pretty good defense."

Pretty good might not cut it. Parcells is determined to have his defense not only stop the opposition, but also act as a catalyst for point production and increased field position. Given the flotsam on the offense, a defense that doesn't assert itself portends disaster.

"The defense has been generally OK," Parcells says in what amounts to effusive praise. "But I always tell my defense, 'Don't be satisfied with stopping guys; you've gotta create opportunities for your offense. Just because you hold them to three-and-out, don't think you've done your job just yet.'"

Dallas Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells may not have a lot of talented football players, but as much as he runs the team, they will at least be in shape. Below right, owner and general manager Jerry Jones shows Parcells how he keeps fit by combining torso twists with plastic surgery.
Mark Graham
Dallas Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells may not have a lot of talented football players, but as much as he runs the team, they will at least be in shape. Below right, owner and general manager Jerry Jones shows Parcells how he keeps fit by combining torso twists with plastic surgery.
Who says Bill Parcells isn't a sweetheart? After defensive tackle Willie Blade got into a fight with center Gennaro DiNapoli, Parcells lovingly showed Blade how he will rip his fool head off if he does something that stupid again.
Mark Graham
Who says Bill Parcells isn't a sweetheart? After defensive tackle Willie Blade got into a fight with center Gennaro DiNapoli, Parcells lovingly showed Blade how he will rip his fool head off if he does something that stupid again.

My job, meanwhile, is to sort through all this information, all this coach-speak and football-talk and general Cowboys propaganda and leave here with some semblance of sanity and a story that doesn't read like a Bazooka Joe comic. After nearly a week in San Antonio, the odds on either are long. I feel like Eddie Murphy in Bowfinger, constantly running in circles while muttering that I'm keepin' it together.

I need a strong drink, and fast.


In this, the last full week of training camp, the Cowboys and Jerry Jones have decided to extend a bit of good will by holding a "media appreciation dinner." I suppose it goes without saying that they didn't know I'd be here.

The dinner is being held outside downtown in a private room of a quaint Mexican restaurant. The food is good and plentiful, and there are cute little Mexican waitresses in short skirts prancing around, filling everyone's drink order with sweet smiles. Parcells is notably absent, but J.J. and vice president/son Stephen are here, along with a phalanx of reps from the PR department and nearly every journalist within a 100-mile radius (media types never miss out on free food and booze). I've got to hand it to Jones--he really did this thing with class. The liquor is all top-shelf, and every few minutes a waiter with a tray of different types of high-octane tequila wanders by offering shots. I'll never say another bad word about Jones--at least I won't say another bad word about him in this story.

If there's a sober head in the house, he hasn't presented himself. Football, and a season that might shape up as dreadful as the last few, is the farthest thing from anyone's mind right now. Everyone appears to be having a grand time, though I'm beginning to think I'm not welcome. More than once this evening I was having a wonderful conversation with a stranger, trying my best to be friendly and engender relationships, only to have it end abruptly once they learned my identity. Usually it went like this: "I'm John, by the way. I work for the Dallas Observer." Long pause; sudden, disgusted look; terse reply: "Oh, you're that guy..." Generally they made a point of telling me what a dirtbag I am for ripping on wideout Reggie Swinton's (horrendous) rap CD, or getting in a fight with former Texas Rangers outfielder Carl Everett.

"You're way out there in left field," Jean-Jacques Taylor of The Dallas Morning News confides in me. He's trying to be nice.

As I toss back another shot of Patron and suck on an orange, I resign myself to the fact that sometimes things just don't go your way. Sometimes, despite your best intentions, things fall apart, which reminds me of something Parcells said earlier this week.

"I'm not sure what's going to transpire," he said. "But we're getting to the point where I have to decide. It's just like all of you sitting there; I'm sure you've sat there many days and said what exactly am I gonna write about today. Isn't that right? But now you gotta have this thing in by whatever time, so pretty soon you're gonna have to decide what you're gonna write about. Isn't that right? Do you always feel good about what you write about? Honestly, candidly? Do you always feel 100 percent that, hey, this is Pulitzer Prize stuff right here? Or are there other days when you say, man, this is no good, I hope they just put this on a sidebar. That's really no different than what I'm doing here. I have to decide something. Sometimes you could make a wrong decision, you could have the wrong set of information and write a story that we all know isn't what you wanted to say or that didn't come out the way you wanted. That's what happens, too, in football. You make a decision, and you make it with the best available information, the best set of circumstances you can find, the best facts; you make the judgment the best you can...and you're still wrong. That can happen very easily."

I'll drink to that. We all should.

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