By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
1. The Cowboys' quarterback of the future is not on their roster.
2. The Cowboys' quarterback of the future will not be coached by Bill Parcells.
3. The Cowboys' future isn't now.
And to think this team entered 2006 with Super Bowl aspirations. The Cowboys assumed hefty risks in signing receiver Terrell Owens and kicker Mike Vanderjagt to boost the offense and selected defensive players with four of their top six draft picks, all part of owner Jerry Jones' grand scheme to "go for it this season, big time."
Oops. Plan A was aborted at 9:33 p.m. Monday when Parcells violently benched veteran Drew Bledsoe and beckoned Tony Romo.
The ramifications of the quarterback sneak are infinite.
Short-term, the 3-3 Cowboys face a three-game road trip beginning Sunday at Carolina relying on an undersized panic button from tiny Eastern Illinois.
Long-term, they have lost the playoffs, Bledsoe and, ultimately, Parcells.
"I'm ashamed to put a team out there that played like that," says an emotionally vacant Parcells after the landmark loss at Texas Stadium. "We oughta apologize to the people who came out to watch."
It wasn't just the quarterbacks emulating soot and poo. In a pathetic performance that has us half-convinced a new NFL Internet hoax has been hatched, the Cowboys produce a prime-time pratfall. Safety Roy Williams trips over a referee in allowing a touchdown. Julius Jones totally whiffs on a block in surrendering a safety. Rowdy is allowed back on the field. Bradie James drops an interception. Owens muffs a fourth-down pass. And the organization even manages to cheapen the presentation of Hall of Fame rings to Troy Aikman and Rayfield Wright at halftime, providing a warm-up act of goofball fans racing remote-controlled pickups around a plastic track.
Says tight end Jason Witten, "We've got a lot more problems than quarterback."
As has been the case since Aikman retired in 2000, the Cowboys don't have a quarterback controversy. They have a quarterback quagmire. Dallas is 94-71 in games started by No. 8; 38-47 in games started by his supposed successors.
(Funny aside: You just know that somewhere—wrapped in the Bible and enveloped in marijuana smoke rings—Quincy Carter had himself a nice, long chuckle Monday night. Followed, no doubt, by some pizza.)
(Sad aside: Moving from 18th to 10th in last April's draft might have cost the Cowboys a first-, second- and fourth-round pick. How does Bobby Carpenter, Anthony Fasano and Skyler Green for Matt Leinart sound right about now?)
Without Aikman or Carter or Roger Staubach, the weary Parcells must input the remaining 10 games onto this season's Excel spreadsheet using Drew "Hi, I'm a PC" Bledsoe (bulky, old and unreliable) or Tony "Hi, I'm a Mac" Romo (sleek, quick and fancy, but prone to crash).
Grumbles Parcells of Bledsoe, "Too many mistakes. Too much improvisation."
Grumbles Parcells of Romo, "Some good. Some careless."
With Bledsoe, the Cowboys were going nowhere. With Romo, they're going nowhere fast.
From the Department of Careful What You Ask For, at least the dimwits booing Bledsoe are getting apt punishment. Sorta like in the 1980s when they jeered another veteran No. 11 named Danny White, clamoring for small-school, big-armed saviors named Gary Hogeboom and Kevin Sweeney. The result? Those two fads short-circuited into 56 touchdowns and 66 interceptions, greasing Tom Landry's slide to mortality.
After quarterbacks coach Chris Palmer officially christens the Romo Empire at halftime with "You're in," the kid with the cocky smirk masking his inexperience and ineptitude immediately gives us a glimpse of November and December.
On his first pass as the starting quarterback of America's Team, Tony Romo gets credit for a tackle.
That was after, of course, Tony betrays the chants of "Ro-Mo! Ro-Mo!" by delivering a what-the-$%^#@* wobbler that caroms off a Giant for an easy interception. Didn't you half expect to hear "Hen-Son! Hen-Son!"?
Romo finishes with three interceptions. Could've easily been five.
"I don't feel very good about my performance," Romo says across the hall from his team's morgue. "I really cost us. But it's a long season. Don't put us in the cellar yet."
Adds Owens from the same podium minutes later, "We're stinking it up in every phase of the game. But we're not totally out of it."
To get to Super Bowl XLI, however, Bledsoe was Dallas' best chance. Was. Judging by his mopey body language, hasty postgame exit and terse characterization of the substitution as a "very bad decision," Bledsoe has likely thrown his last meaningful pass as a Cowboy.
Asked if Drew gave him any encouragement after the switch, Romo thoughtfully replies, "I'm not sure." Translation: Notsamuch.
Bledsoe, who spends the second half in solitude and a visor, hinted at retirement after getting beat out three years ago in Buffalo by Romo clone J.P. Losman. Don't be shocked if, demoted to Romo's backup, he just up and quits. For a litany of reasons—led by a ridiculously shoddy offensive line—Bledsoe hasn't looked right all season. Awkward footwork. Uncharacteristic inaccuracy. Ghastly decisions, including Monday's audible to throw away from the design of the play on the right and instead to the left for an inexplicable interception at the 2-yard line.
Says Parcells bluntly, "That ball should've gone to the other side."
After the game, a visibly fuming Bledsoe is the first Cowboy up the tunnel and out of the stadium. While teammates absorb the blow of a devastating loss, all that remains in the former starting quarterback's locker are three naked hangers and an empty water bottle.
Unable to win a playoff game with Carter or Vinny Testaverde or Drew Henson or Bledsoe, the 65-year-old Parcells—as he likes to say—is what he is. A 28-26 coach in Dallas left to make drastic, senseless switches usually reserved for Wife Swap. You think Parcells, suddenly grooming a virtual rookie through a maze of mistakes instead of guiding a 14-year veteran into the playoffs, woke up chipper Tuesday morning? About his present? Or his future?
"I hope there are no growing pains," Parcells says of Romo, kidding no one, including himself.
As the Monday-night massacre mercifully reaches midnight, Owens unwittingly exposes the Cowboys' Romo-over-Bledsoe pessimism. Asked what the quarterback change means for the team, its attitude and its outlook for the rest of the season, T.O. offered one of the lamest battle cries in sports history:
"I'm not sure."