By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Collectively, the changes the 'Boys have made seem to represent an upgrade, and, if they can keep the older add-ons healthy and in the lineup, Dallas could be on its way back to the playoffs. But no one can be sure in August because too many things could go wrong with this group between now and January. So, just like last year, the team's situation and direction are confused by lingering questions and what-ifs. I'm confused, too--about the Cowboys and a lot of other things.
When I got here a few days ago, the Residence Inn informed me that it had lost my reservation and that I was basically out of luck. I was certain that I'd have to sleep under a palm tree or out on the beach, until I was saved by the most unlikely person, Cowboys PR chief Rich Dalrymple, who assured the hotel staff that I was, in fact, a reporter and should be given a room at the discounted rate.
I've had a shaky relationship with the Dallas Cowboys in general and the media relations department in specific. For the first two years or so, they largely ignored me, and when they did acknowledge my presence, it was in much the same fashion that President Bush smartly employs when he mentions John Kerry. Dubya seldom uses Kerry's name but rather addresses him as "my opponent." For years, the Cowboys staff either pretended I didn't exist, or they didn't bother using my name.
In the last year or so, the staff has been far more cordial, and even Dalrymple has taken to greeting me with "hello, John" or "good afternoon, John" or "how are things, John?" And then he helped secure a room for me--all of which has thrown me off balance, frankly.
The professionalism and friendliness are fine. Welcome, even. I'm all for it--really, I am. But it's also a bit surprising. It would be like Hilary Duff and Lindsay Lohan sitting down together to laugh and talk without ever addressing their past tabloid spats. (It would be something like that, anyway. I probably should stop reading Teen Beat.)
Point is, there's a lot going on out here--football and otherwise--and it's hard to sort through some of it.
The setup here is exponentially better than the one the Cowboys had in San Antonio last year and Wichita Falls before that. Really, who could complain about a place like this?
"Man, I'm ready to go," grumbles Keyshawn Johnson, the receiver and full-time mouth whom the Cowboys acquired in the off-season when they traded Joey Galloway to Tampa Bay. The Bucs deactivated Johnson last year with six games to go in part because he couldn't get along with head coach Jon Gruden. Johnson says he likes Oxnard because he's from Cali and his family can come visit. But he doesn't like camp so much--no matter where they hold it--so he'd just as soon leave. "I'm tired of living in a dorm and going out to get food."
The "dorm" is actually a suite complete with a wrap-around couch, a king-size bed, a full kitchen and a balcony. Admittedly, my college days were a haze, but I don't remember any dorms that plush.
Then, that's Johnson; he's a constant contradiction. At times, he can be engaging and articulate and just plain funny. Other times, when he's in a mood, everyone should beware. Today, he's in a mood. Every question he's asked is met with a surly, supercilious answer, and he picks on at least two reporters for no reason. He's condescending because he can be--because he has huge diamond studs in his ears and you don't. Because he's a rich, famous player and you're not.
This is part of the knock on Johnson, and why you hear more about his attitude than about his ability. In truth, he probably has equal amounts of both, and there's nothing that says he can't talk shit and catch passes all at once. But the fans here aren't so sure. Earlier, during practice, Johnson dropped a slew of balls. The first few were met with groans from the masses who had gathered to watch their beloved Pokes. The last one, though, caused them to scream things in his direction. They shouted "catch the damn ball" and "stop talking and start playing" and "don't make me call Gruden."