By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Shortly after the Dallas Cowboys lost their playoff game at Carolina and before head coach Bill Parcells went into hibernation for the winter, he gathered the local media and offered us free counsel. The team was heading in the right direction, he said, but he cautioned us not to get carried away.
"I know how you guys are," Parcells said, looking at us the way you might look at a dumb animal caught in a trap--with pity. "But this isn't Texaco. You can't just go down to the shop and change the spark plugs and put air in the tires and have it be as simple as that. Sometimes you have to live with something longer than you want to because you don't have the opportunity to fix it."
Fine by me. Avoid speculation--won't work; don't try.
I'd just as soon ignore them until next year anyway. The fact that the Dallas Observer expects me to write a sports column every week is an affront to my sanity and a disservice to you, my faithful readers. It is, after all, an election year--and so it follows that there might be more pressing things to write about than what's going on with the Pokes in February. Dubya's push for a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage could keep this space flush with copy for months. And the Democrats...have you seen their debates? It's like a bad reality show.
Right. Between you and me, I'm just biding my time here until my political acumen is recognized by a think tank in D.C. or by some senator looking for a communication director. It'll be any day now, I'm sure of it. Until then, the synergy between politics and sports starts here.
First up: polling data. No politico or talking head would be caught without polling data. It is essential for any number of reasons. Polls usually cost money and time, but who has that? Surely not a sports columnist with a work cube the size of a pants pocket. That didn't deter me from trying, though. Recently, I polled a number of members of the sports media and asked them questions about the Cowboys and where they ought to go from here. (Free agency begins this week.) I asked print reporters, radio personalities and the television elite. I asked them about offense, defense and some truly vexing questions like whether there should be an embargo on Parcells wearing anything formfitting, which, it turns out, was like asking if they were in favor of breathing.
One last thing you should know: Most polls have a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent. Mine might be slightly higher than that...say, close to triple digits. But I wouldn't worry about it. Also, one participant e-mailed his responses in bulk and prefaced them with this: "Sorry, but my answers are worse than the cowboy penis!" I was going to mention that these people are professionals--experts, even--but I'm not sure that would do any good now. The non sequiturs speak for themselves.
Do you advocate upgrading the running back weapon? If yes, whom would you like to see lead the attack?
More than 80 percent responded yes, which is hardly surprising. Troy Hambrick was fun in the locker room but not so wonderful once he pulled on a uniform. After bitching about wanting more carries during Emmitt Smith's last season, he was given an opportunity to become the featured back. It didn't go well. He rushed for fewer than 1,000 yards (not a terribly difficult benchmark to reach) and had only three games of 100 yards or more. The Hambrick experiment was the equivalent of Ronald Reagan's star wars program--a horrible idea right from the beginning, destined to fail. Suggested replacements ranged from University of Michigan standout Chris Perry to Cincinnati Bengals malcontent Corey Dillon. The best idea: "How about Howard Dean? The running back position needs someone aggressive and vocal. He fits. Plus he's compact."
Should Quincy Carter be aborted before the season? If yes, with whom would you replace him?
Just over 50 percent said yes, which is a much smaller percentage than I expected. Last year Carter got off to a brilliant start, helping the Pokes become the league's No. 1 offense in the season's nascent stages. But as the year went on, his production fell off, leaving Parcells and the team to rely almost exclusively on the defense--which was probably for the best. His numbers: 3,302 yards, 57.8 percent completion rate and 17 touchdowns. Not bad--until you check the interceptions. He had 21 of those, which is well beyond awful. NFLers Jeff Garcia Patrick Ramsey were mentioned most frequently to succeed Carter. "Who cares who takes over? Carter's like a blind man out there," one respondent said, before quickly adding, "Not that I have anything against the blind. I'm pro-blind."
The draft is a polarizing issue. Whom would you select with the Cowboys first pick (22nd overall)?
Running back was the most popular response, garnering close to 30 percent, but offensive and defensive linemen and quarterback weren't far behind. Chris Perry was again a popular choice, as was Oregon State halfback Steven Jackson. "Yeah, but Michigan running backs scare me; they never work out," one said. "And they don't need any more running backs around here who can't run." So true.
A strong defense begins with the first line of attack. How would you improve the defensive unit?
It's hard to upgrade a crew that finished No. 1 in the league in defense. But as Parcells told us at the year-end news conference: "I can't think of a position on the team that I wouldn't consider adding a player if the right guy came along...except for long snapper. I think he's pretty good, and I'd like to keep him around for a while." Nice. That aside, every media type who answered this question mentioned that the Pokes need to get better on the defensive line, and nearly all of them included something along the lines of, "Dear Lord, can we get rid of Ebenezer Ekuban?" A valid point, considering the man had just three and a half sacks during the past two seasons.
Something else to consider: The cornerback situation also might need to be addressed. The 'Boys gave up plenty of big plays last season, and Mario Edwards, who played opposite Terence "I'm the reason we lost against the Panthers" Newman, is a free agent who might not be asked to come back. (Newman had four picks last year, and he'll be a serious talent in the NFL, but, c'mon, did you see the Carolina game?)
"I think they make a cute couple," said one sports reporter.
You can't get this stuff from Gallup.