Perfect Fit

It's always something out at Valley Ranch, but it's rarely good. This time around, the media pack--I wonder, if pack reporting were outlawed, would there be any sports coverage in D-FW?--has descended upon Dwayne Goodrich. Apart from being a terrible cornerback, Goodrich is also apparently fatigued; he's fielding questions about accusations that he sleeps during team meetings. Personally, I don't blame him, because who doesn't like an afternoon nap? But, see, now I've strayed from the intended topic.

What you've got to understand is how easily things are shaken up out here. The Cowboys are a football team, sure, but they're also a vehicle for the fantastic and the foolish, and what makes for better sound bites than that?

He did what? He slept? Did he have a pillow? Was there a blanket? So many questions. Better send out two camera crews today...

Across the locker room, La'Roi Glover--a guy who's quietly having an extremely productive season, a guy who's helped the Cowboys defense immensely, a guy who isn't narcoleptic--sits by himself and watches it all unfold.

"It's frustrating--that's a good way to describe it: frustrating," Glover says, carefully choosing his words. He has a look about him, the look of a pensive, displeased man who understands what he sees but doesn't necessarily like it. "There's always a side story. But things haven't gone the way we'd hoped, so people have to talk about something. That's just NFL football. From a player standpoint, that shouldn't change our approach. We should still go out there, fly to the ball, kick people around, do what we have to do. That shouldn't change our approach. We have to go out there and try to win the ball game every week. When you don't win, when you don't translate what you're doing into wins, things get lost in the shuffle. A lot of things get lost in the shuffle when your win-loss record isn't as spectacular as you want it to be."

There's been a good deal of Cowboy bashing this year, much of it done in this space and almost all of it for good reason. And so it's been simple enough to miss what's gone right. Amid the maddening losses and the quarterback controversy and the questionable, sometimes laughable, coaching, has been a defense that until Sunday's embarrassment had proven passable. In the middle of that defense, in the center of the action but obscured by all the locker room drama, you'll find Glover.

When the Pokes signed him as a free agent in the off-season, it figured to be a sound move, but not a spectacular one. He'd been a two-time Pro Bowler, and there wasn't any doubt that he could get after the quarterback (25 sacks in his last two seasons as a Saint), something you rarely see from a defensive tackle. Plus, he came cheap--he signed a five-year deal for $22.5 million, but six mil of that was paid out in a bonus and only $1.75 mil counted against this year's cap. Not too bad, but it was kind of like shopping at Target: You can get some nice stuff there, but if you had more money, you'd probably go elsewhere.

That's what the Saints decided to do. Despite Glover's production in New Orleans, they watched him go and didn't shed a tear. Hardly anyone did. The big paper in town, The Times-Picayune, barely blinked when he left. And this was supposed to be the big Dallas pickup?

"He's going to perform exactly the way he did in New Orleans," defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer promised back in March, visibly thrilled. At the time, I thought he was just coach-speaking. Turns out the statement was prescient.

This year, Glover has helped steel a unit that's an acceptable 14th in total defense. He's been routinely attacked by opposing offensive lines, double-teamed on most every play. Still, he's managed 43 tackles. More impressively, he has 6.5 sacks, which puts him second on the team behind Greg Ellis. Again, that's significant, because defensive tackles don't tend to be pass rushers. They tend to be space eaters and run stoppers and buffet killers, but few are pass rushers.

"He's been a huge addition to our team, no question about it," says d-lineman Brandon Noble. "If you look at what he's done...the media, you guys make a big deal out of sacks. Sacks are the big thing. There are a lot of other things that we focus on that are just as important, when we're watching film, or more important than a sack. That's because sacks are hard to get in this league. I don't think the media or the fans really appreciate how hard it is. I mean, Glover and Ellis got off to hot starts, and so everyone started three-step dropping us. Getting to a quarterback who does a three-step drop is impossible. You can't do it. It's a living bitch. So now, to get a sack, you have to do it on the rare occasion when you see a five-step or seven-step drop.

"All I can tell you is, he's definitely made an impact. I'm not sure what New Orleans was thinking when they let him go."

The Saints were thinking what most clubs think--that your interior linemen ought to be big, that their asses shouldn't fit properly into seats and their cheeks should jiggle hypnotically when they walk. That's hardly La'Roi Glover. He's generously listed at 6-2, 285 pounds. He might weigh that much, but only if those smart-looking glasses he rocks are 15 pounds heavier than they appear.

"That whole size issue, that just makes me want to prove people wrong," says Glover, who's pretty much done that. New Orleans went out and got a 300-something-pound beefeater named Grady Jackson to replace him. Jackson has three fewer sacks than Glover and close to 10 fewer tackles. "Yeah, I saw that. I've been watching. I watch everyone, I'm a fan of this game, but I especially watch that. But I've also watched them win, and I'd rather be doing that than getting mine."

That was the trade-off. He knew it from the moment Jerry Jones began wooing him. Come to Dallas where you're wanted. Come and be a star...but nothing else is promised. Of course, when it's the off-season, and you haven't played any games yet, hope isn't exclusive and winning seems so damn assured. Glover says he was just like the fans, just like you--optimistic and eager.

Things are decidedly different now. All that we-can-do-it, rah-rah crap has been long since abandoned by most of the 'Boys. Reality has descended, cold and grating. With the losses and the weekly commotion, with the Saints playing for a playoff spot and the Cowboys merely playing, it would be natural for him to long for his former digs.

"You know, I don't," Glover says, looking me in the eye. "You can't do it; you can't have those types of thoughts. I never second-guess. I want to get things going here. I want to start winning some games here."

That's a cute trick, especially with this bunch. General Jerry ought to give him a raise based on his resolve alone.

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John Gonzalez
Contact: John Gonzalez

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