By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Office politics be damned then. Parcells wants to win. He is, if nothing else, more determined than ever. He's barking at players: "Tony!"--Romo, one of the back-ups at quarterback--"You screwed up everything! You screwed up everything!" He's scrimmaging more than he ever has: "We've had 164 scrimmage plays," he says the day before the Arizona game. "We've had a lot more contact [than last year]." He's calling the offensive plays and might even call them on defense: "I'm watching the game, too, you know." He is, in short, in control, as thoroughly as he's ever been. He's orchestrated the last three drafts. And his roster is filled with his players--72 of the 84 guys at camp opening day were acquired during the Bill Parcells reign. More important, a lot of these players are Parcells Guys.
He has always had Parcells Guys: gritty, strong, physical athletes that handle the furor that is Bill Parcells during the week and execute his game plan perfectly each Sunday. If they perform for him, Parcells is loyal--maybe to a fault. The roster is littered with 30-something Parcells Guys, guys other teams have cast aside. Aaron Glenn, a cornerback in his 12th year and an off-season free-agent pick-up, played under Parcells when both were New York Jets. Jason Ferguson, the nose tackle who will anchor the 3-4, is an eight-year veteran acquired from the Jets. Drew Bledsoe, the Cowboys quarterback, another free agent and, at 33, an aging one, played under Parcells 13 years ago in New England. (Bledsoe, of course, replaces another Parcells Guy, last year's 41-year-old starting quarterback, Vinny Testaverde, who worked under Parcells with the Jets.) Terry Glenn, expected to be Bledsoe's favorite receiver this year, first caught passes from him 10 years ago in New England under Parcells' watch. Keyshawn Johnson, the No. 2 receiver, is another Parcells Guy from his time with the Jets.
"If a guy can play that's been removed from Parcells for a couple of years," Johnson says, "then I don't see why you wouldn't go get something you're familiar with."
But that's just it. As Parcells says, "Your habits become you." So what if what you're familiar with is no longer what's successful in the NFL? What then?
One of them is a Courtyard by Marriott a mile east of training camp. On a recent Sunday, I stood in its elevator with a man in his late 50s. He looked like a cowboy. Tall and lean, he wore Wranglers and boots and a mustache that drooped to his chin.
"Are you from Texas?" I asked.
I excused myself. Said with the way he dressed, I thought maybe he'd be in California to see the Cowboys.
He said he was. "My boy plays for them."
"Oh really. Who's that?"
Mac Bledsoe got off on the third floor. "See you at practice," he said.
Drew Bledsoe was the Cowboys' big off-season grab. Dallas gave him a three-year $14 million deal in February--almost half of what Jerry Jones spent on players in the off-season. The question is why.
Simple. Bledsoe went to a Super Bowl with Parcells. Therefore, Bledsoe is among the best of the Parcells Guys. No matter that the game was nine years ago, "I had a background with him," Parcells says of his quarterback. "And I like the player." Fine, but by many standards--including Buffalo's, who released Bledsoe after last season for some dude named J.P. Losman--Bledsoe's done, his best days now the property of NFL Films.
The evidence of his demise is everywhere. Bledsoe went 23-25 in three years as a starter in Buffalo. His completion rate dropped each year. Last year, he had the fifth-lowest quarterback rating in the league, one spot ahead of Dallas' Vinny Testaverde. He's as slow as Testaverde, too. Bledsoe was sacked 140 times in Buffalo. That's almost three a game.
"There's a little more skepticism about the whole situation," Bledsoe said one recent morning. "To me, it's just a matter of coming out and proving that I can still get the job done. And I think I'll be able to do that very effectively."
To be fair, in practice this year he looks...well, quick isn't the word, but maybe mobile is--rolling right, grunting as he goes, throwing a sideline out for a first down. The guy could evade some pressure if he had to; and he can throw from one hash mark to the other sideline and 20 yards downfield as hard as anyone. He does it all the time in practice, at least.
"I think his arm is still good," Parcells says. "He's been a durable player. He still was reasonably competitive last year...I think he can be a good solid quarterback if I get the right things around him and put the cast to it that he needs to function."