Pass the milk and dab your doilies; the Cowboys media is suddenly softer than Tony Siragusa's third chin.
Coach Bill Parcells exhibited all the killer instinct of the Dalai Lama in the catastrophic collapse against the Redskins. His Cowboys ran when they should've passed, passed when they should've run and charitably handed the ball to a third-string rookie when it was time to drive a stake through Washington's heart. Too conservative against the Redskins, his game plan leaned more liberal than Air America against the 49ers, complete with fourth-down risks, two-point tries and fake punts.
When Dave Campo went for two on Thanksgiving in 2001, our lynch mob burned him at the post-game podium. After Barry Switzer twice called "Load Left" in '95, we packed his pistol in his duffel bag and organized a police escort back across the Red River.
But after Parcells' exasperating cautiousness resulted in the Monday Night Meltdown and his wild-ass gambling almost enabled a loss to the 49ers, barely a peep. Parcells isn't regularly questioned about his perverted plays, much less challenged.
Opined Tim Cowlishaw in The Dallas Morning News after Washington, "There will be no second-guessing the play-calling here..."
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Randy Galloway labeled Parcells' San Francisco strategy: "out-of-character..."
What the #@%*?!
Have we lost our edge? Are we--gasp!--afraid of the ledge? You know, the one we have to tiptoe on to cover Parcells fairly--where he's both a genius with skins on his wall and a goober with 'Skins on his résumé. The one from which we dissect dumb decisions that almost cost the Cowboys consecutive losses against inferior opponents.
Look and listen, it's eerily empty up here.
Where's the media?
There we are, nodding and courtesy-chuckling and turning Parcells' daily press conferences into circle jerks, out of fear the coach won't somehow validate us with "good question." There we are, not filming training camp scrimmages and not interviewing Bill one-on-one or his assistant coaches at all, because that's what He decreed. There we are, daring to ask Parcells about his team's numerous screw-ups against San Francisco, only to have our Coach/Dictator/Editor shove us toward his storyline--"Why don't you write about the good comeback?"
And there we are, trading in our Miller for milk and degenerating from "PRESS" to "gently nudge."
But wait, there's hope. There are those among us no longer convinced Parcells invented football and no longer afraid to say so. The time has come to unblur those faces, unencrypt those voices and start searing the Tuna.
"He's duped people for a long time," says The Ticket's (1310 AM) 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. co-host Mike Rhyner, who refers to Parcells as "The New Jersey Con Man." "He's just an average coach that's gotten lucky a couple of times. He won two Super Bowls. Big deal. So did Tom Flores. His biggest asset is his reputation. That alone has the press lobbing him softballs and generally being his lap dogs."
"I labeled him 'InfalliBill' because of our unwillingness to prod and push for answers," says Mike Fisher, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. host on Texas Talk Radio (990 AM). "Fans are the stockholders of Cowboys Inc. The media is supposed to be the conduit. But InfalliBill has manipulated us in such a way that we show up to his orchestrated press conferences and do nothing more than cozy up to him. We swoon and spoon. It's all very romantic."
"He's the Teflon coach, nothing sticks to him," says eternal WFAA-Channel 8 anchor Dale Hansen. "I asked him five questions about the release of Quincy Carter last year, and five times he totally ignored me. With the price of gas, it's just not worth the time or money to go to his press conferences anymore. If Parcells keeps treating the media this way and the Cowboys keep treating their fans this way, they're flat-out going to jeopardize their status as America's Team."
As legendary Cowboys' voice Brad Sham likes to remind us, media relationships don't change the scoreboard. But Parcells' finicky philosophy will, and that's where we have to butt in.
"I've never been a fan of this 'manage the game' stuff," says former Cowboys quarterback turned Fox analyst Troy Aikman. "It doesn't make sense to pay guys to make plays, then tell them to go out and not make mistakes. If that's truly your goal, why would you ever have your quarterback drop back and throw a pass?"
It was Aikman, remember, who threw the bold bomb that christened the Cowboys' dynasty of the '90s. Leading the 49ers 24-20 with four minutes remaining in the 1992 NFC Championship Game in San Francisco, the Cowboys faced first-and-10 at their own muddy 21. Ball control, field position and time management be damned, coach Jimmy Johnson OK'd a pass play, and Aikman fired a strike to receiver Alvin Harper, who raced 70 yards to set up the game-clinching touchdown.
Had Parcells been coaching, Tommy Agee takes a knee three times, the Cowboys punt, the 49ers score and "Triplets" Steve Young, Ricky Watters and Jerry Rice go into San Francisco's Ring of Honor for winning three Super Bowls in four years.
"One of the shortcomings of coaches, once they get ahead, is in becoming too conservative," Johnson, now a Fox studio analyst, recognized back in '94. "The talent is such in the NFL that if you get cautious and give teams an extra chance to beat you, they usually will."
In Vanilla Billa's defense, he is 11-5 in games decided by seven points or fewer in Dallas. But there are contradictions and failures, and finally, we're keeping score.
The oddly built Pearcells will force-feed carries for Tyson Thompson in crunch time, a year after not letting Drew Henson on the field during garbage time. He will trumpet the arrival of Vinny Testaverde, Eddie George and Marcellus Wiley, only to sneak off to some imaginary bunker and sidestep the 6-10 ditch they helped dig. He will meticulously oversee every facet of his team, yet routinely rely on kickers plucked from 7-11 even though it was Buffalo's Scott Norwood who gift-wrapped his second Super Bowl.
Worst of all, he'll keep leading you to believe he cherishes the history of the Giants more than the future of the Cowboys.
And, through it all, Parcells' cobwebbed reputation will insulate him from criticism. Until now.
"He's built this aura that says, 'Don't cross me,'" Hansen says. "But forget the fear factor. In the big scheme, who cares anymore if Bill Parcells thinks you're a piece of shit? It's past time we start treating him like a coach instead of a god."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Observer's biggest stories.