Quiet Time

What's up with the Pokes? Anyone? Anyone?

The season has been over for a while, and we still don't know any more about the Dallas Cowboys than we did before their season-ending loss to the Giants. The 'Boys and head coach Bill Parcells disintegrated in that final game, and now it's almost as though their remains have blown away with the winter wind, never to be seen again. This is how it works with the Cowboys.

That this is how they operate is irksome to nearly everyone in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. That no one at Valley Ranch has bothered to address the numerous things that went wrong with the Pokes makes so many of us want to stand up and scream, and rightly so. It is even more maddening that Parcells, who built a reputation by passing himself off as an unvarnished stand-up guy, has decided that now is the time to change his approach by vanishing with nary a peep.

But if it's a state-of-the-union, all-encompassing overview that Parcells and the rest of the girls are so afraid to face, then I'm sure we could reach some sort of agreement here. In exchange for not having to speak about a number of topics--like the porous defense and the awful starting quarterback and the underachieving offensive line--what if Parcells climbed out of his spider hole for a one-time-only, one-issue-only appearance? The topic of choice: the two young quarterbacks and why they won't be going to NFL Europe for seasoning.

For months during the regular season, Parcells refused to play either Tony Romo or Drew Henson, maintaining that it wasn't the right time, that he wouldn't rush them for the sake of sating public appetite. But on Thanksgiving, as it tends to happen on that holiday, the collective appetite around these parts grew so enormous that Parcells had to feed the lot of us just so a hunger riot on the order of the French Revolution wouldn't break out. So he finally bowed to the pressure and inserted Henson--for a half. That's all we got. One lousy, unproductive, tell-us-nothing-about-anything half. How wonderful.

The rest of the season was spent repeating this meaningless exercise:

Us: What will happen to the young quarterbacks? Will they play this season? Will they go to NFL Europe for experience?

Parcells: We'll have to see.

Well, we saw that they didn't get to play during the season. And now word is trickling out of Valley Ranch that neither quarterback will be heading off to Europe. (Jerry Jones did an interview with The Dallas Morning News and talked about it briefly, but the team never made a formal annuncement.) That's how the Cowboys tell us things these days--either they send us an e-mail or they don't even bother doing that, which is when things start to leak and people start to whisper and, before too long, we all think we know what's going to happen. But that's not the same thing as actually standing up and telling us what's going to happen. Sometimes, it's nice to speak to someone or hear them on the radio or see them on TV. You know, get it directly from the main source. Because right now, their method of communication is akin to sending smoke signals or connecting two tin cans by string.

So this is where we are: sitting around in January wondering why the Cowboys, who wouldn't play either young quarterback during the season, won't send Romo or Henson to NFL Europe for polishing. It's hard to see the downside to shipping them off to Germany or wherever, because Parcells kept saying that he had to get them some playing time but that he wasn't going to do that here because it might cripple the Pokes' season. And, really, why ruin a good thing? When you have a 107-year-old quarterback who tied for the league lead in interceptions guiding a club that was on its way to nowhere before finishing with a stellar 6-10 record, why mess with that kind of success? But in this situation, Parcells wouldn't have to worry about hurting Vinny Testaverde's feelings, and he wouldn't have to worry about "jeopardizing" the Cowboys' record. All he'd have to do is ship them across the pond, let them play and check the game tapes. That's it. If they go over there and excel, good for them and the club, because they'd finally have an idea of how to replace Methuselah under center. If they fail, it wouldn't matter, because they'd be right back where they are now--nowhere. Either way, you lose nothing. So where's the drawback?

I, like the rest of the area, can only attribute the reluctance to send them abroad to one of two things: 1.) Parcells and the Cowboys don't think either Romo or Henson will ever be ready to be the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, regardless of whether they get some playing time in Europe; or 2.) Vinny is the NFL's J. Edgar Hoover, and he has pictures (along with the accompanying audio tapes) of Parcells in compromising situations. But these are only theories, all of which could be dispelled if Parcells or Jerry Jones or even the goddamn lobby secretary would bother to tell us what the hell is going on out there.

There are countries that have waged intercontinental wars that haven't been this guarded about their plans.

"It really is unbelievable," one local NFL writer told me. "From what I understand from [another writer], they didn't tell Romo for a while that he wasn't going. They kept him out of the loop. He just kind of sat around hearing that he might or might not go. But he didn't know for sure until recently."

By contrast, Houston head coach Dom Capers, according to a friend of mine who works for The Associated Press, just rounded up the reporters down there and took them to lunch for a "what do you need, what can I answer" session. As a newspaper man, that makes me unbelievably jealous. But if you're a Texans fan, how great is that? How great is it that the head coach takes the time to fill the notebooks of every reporter in town? Because, as a result, that means the fans are going to get all kinds of good stories in the paper and on the radio and on television. They get to know what's happening, which is all you can ask.

And here? Here we haven't asked for a lot; we certainly can't ask for Parcells to take us to lunch. And he's already nixed the idea of talking about the team's dreadful 6-10 season. So let's move on to what we'd like now. Today, it would be nice if he spent five minutes of his precious time discussing the quarterbacks and the thinking that went into not sending them to Europe. That's it. That would be grand. But I doubt it will ever happen.

This is how the Cowboys do business now--surreptitiously, with no nod toward media or public relations. But that's not really news, now is it?

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