Jerry Jones re-surfaced last week, but we barely recognized him.
No, not another facelift. But he did look—and sound—different. Getting run over in the middle of the highway by the humble Hummer will do that to you.
As Jones spoke to the media at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, he accepted partial blame for Super Bowl XLV's unprecedented seating fiasco and wholly admitted that he is struggling to leave last year for next year.
While his Dallas Cowboys organization begins the process of evaluating rookies, trimming veteran fat from the roster and preparing for an NFL Draft in April that might be the league's last official activity as the labor lockout dawns, Jones still hasn't shed what many of us believe is the most disappointing season in the 50-year history of the proud franchise.
"Again, it's very disappointing, and I'm embarrassed about it," Jones told a gaggle of reporters. "I don't want any of our players and our staff to move on from it. It should be a real motivation for everyone involved in this organization. It's even more embarrassing when you're here and you're evaluating talent."
What the what?! The owner and general manager of America's Team is depressed? Weird, because Jones is nothing if not resilient, stubborn and one of the best spin doctors in the history of professional sports. But last season he had grand plans. His Cowboys—picked by many to be one of the best teams in football—were poised to be the first NFL team to play a Super Bowl in its own stadium.
But then came the botched play at the end of the first half of the first game in Washington, a season-ending injury to quarterback Tony Romo and then a humiliating surrender on a Sunday night in Green Bay that bottomed the franchise out at 1-7 and cost head coach Wade Phillips his job.
"The embarrassing feeling is dominant," Jones said. "There is nothing as far as looking ahead regarding what we can do that overshadows the disappointment that we had last year."
Wow. Rarely in his 23 years in charge of the Cowboys have I heard Jones so downtrodden. Immediately after games, maybe, but not like this. After the season-ending, 44-6, loss to the Philadelphia Eagles which busted another "Super Bowl or Bust" season in 2008, he talked of taking his entire organization to the "woodshed."
But the latest Cowboys season ended two months ago. Maybe his mood is also down in the dumps because the Super Bowl ended only three weeks ago.
Jones said in Indy that he accepts some of the responsibility for what happened to hundreds of fans who couldn't get proper seating at Cowboys Stadium before and during Super Bowl XLV. Hours before the Green Bay Packers defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers in a stirring game on the field, the NFL announced that 1,250 temporary seats were deemed unsafe, and 400 fans were forced to watch the game from standing-room-only corners throughout Jones' sprawling stadium.
His team threw Jones to the ground, and then his league kicked him when he was down.
"I do, along with the NFL, take responsibility for the seating issue and some of the things that we would like to improve on regarding the seating issues," Jones said. "The informing of the fans that were involved, the NFL and I take responsibility for. You always like to look at areas you can do better, get better. We certainly intend to and will get much better in terms of the seating and how that is handled."
Just two days before XLV, Jones was beaming, giddy that—despite ice, snowstorms and the metroplex's coldest temperatures in 20 years—his Super Bowl would be the biggest and best in NFL history.
"We're getting this bad stuff out of the way early in the week," Jones said on the Thursday before XLV at the Sheraton hotel. "By Sunday, it's all going to come together and we're going to put on a big show that the fans, the Cowboys and all the NFL will be proud of."
Instead, fans in cold weather endured three-hour security lines outside the stadium and a group of displaced fans have sued the NFL and Jones for their inconvenience on Super Bowl Sunday. Before the game—in the shadow of his $1.2 billion baby—some disgruntled fans showed their displeasure by chanting "Jerry sucks!"
Despite the weather-related issues—which included six people being injured by falling ice from Cowboys Stadium's roof—Jones' determination is durable enough that he believes North Texas will get a chance to host another Super Bowl.
"Many things went right and went to plan, to the extent that we in any way were compromised with the weather," Jones said. "I think that the fact that we hadn't had schools closed for four days ever, we hadn't had some of the weather issues we were dealing with, that will always be recognized as an exception for our area relative to future Super Bowls."
While accepting responsibility and blaming Old Man Winter for XLV, Jones at some point will summon the gumption to get excited about 2011.
When he does he'll find a team that remains talented, with Romo, linebacker DeMarcus Ware and tight end Jason Witten, elite players in the primes of their careers, and overpriced, underwhelming running back Marion Barber, in desperate need of being released. He'll find glaring needs at safety, where the Cowboys haven't had two playmakers together since Roy Williams and Darren Woodson in 2003, and along the offensive line, where starters Doug Free and Kyle Kosier are free agents.
To fill those needs and reboot expectations, Jones will start with the ninth overall pick in the draft. He created a buzz last week by interviewing Auburn quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton, but the Cowboys will talk to 60 players at the combine, including Texas A&M quarterback Jerrod Johnson.
It would be more of a story if the Cowboys didn't formally interview Newton, but Dallas—despite the season and the Super Bowl—still prompts national reaction to its local maneuvering. Or does it? In the wake of being humbled, sure sounds like America's Team has also become timid.
It's almost refreshing.
Last week at Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium, New York Jets' bombastic head coach Rex Ryan confidently strode to the podium for a pre-combine press conference.
"I believe this is the year we're going to win the Super Bowl," Ryan boasted. "I guarantee we'll win it this year."
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Ryan was followed to the microphone by Dallas head coach Jason Garrett. Fresh off a 5-3 stint as interim coach the second half of the season and a five-day educational shadowing of college basketball coaching legend Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, surely he'd restore some confidence in the Cowboys. Maybe a hint of bravado. Perhaps even a Ryan-like Super Bowl guarantee?
"I cannot do the same," Garrett said. "We certainly all want to compete and participate and win a Super Bowl. But we're going to be more focused on the process along the way."
Prestige. Power. Pizzazz. Playoffs.
Sorry, Cowboys fans. But with Jones' funk and Garrett's focus, the only P-word these days is process.