Dallas Cowboys coach Bill Parcells' training camp T-shirt reads "Who's All In?", a poker reference to risking it all in a do-or-die hand. Terrell Owens is here in Oxnard, California, a gamble of apocalyptic proportions. Kicker Mike Vanderjagt is here, a safe, sure cure for the special teams woes that cost Dallas three games last season. Owner Jerry Jones won't say the words "Super" and "Bowl" together, but the climate of camp is undeniably geared toward winning a championship--this season.
"We've made decisions that indicate we're going for it this year," Jones says. "It's pretty obvious we have high expectations."
So why is an organization pushing all its chips to the center holding only 34-year-old Drew Bledsoe and two inexperienced and inept dudes named Tony Romo and Drew Henson? That's a house of cards threatening to tump over at any moment.
Try to follow this logic: Parcells is a soon-to-be 65-year-old man married to minutiae. In practices he'll actually have his offense run plays designed specifically to run out the clock in end-of-game situations that'll arise oh, maybe, once a decade. The other day, for example, Bledsoe practiced the rare fourth-and-6-with-five-seconds-on-the-clock play by dropping back and throwing a rainbow so high that by the time it hit out of bounds, the clock would run out. The next day he took the snap, turned and threw the ball through the goal posts in his own end zone, a play called to handle fourth-and-10 with two seconds remaining, the ball inside your own 20 and a 3-point lead. You get me? I mean, yeah, Parcells' shit is that detailed.
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Amidst it all, however, is the obvious oversight that his second- and third-string quarterbacks can't play a lick. The housekeeper so anal about cleanliness is somehow allowing dogs with muddy feet to take a nap on the couch.
Romo, who's listed at 6-foot-2 but is barely taller than me (5-foot-9), has all the pedigree of a five-buck mutt at Traders Village. Undrafted, he signed as a free agent in '03 after playing at the football factory known as Eastern Illinois. As Bledsoe's backup last year, he threw fewer passes than receiver Keyshawn Johnson and in camp consistently throws too late or too low, by-products of a weak arm and slow reads. Privately, the Cowboys think Romo has the skill set of a Drew Brees, and a scout told me Saturday that "he's got the intangibles of a winner," but I ain't buyin' it. Don't even get me started on Henson, who has thrown more bounce passes than Devin Harris and generally looks like a guy closer to getting cut than promoted.
The philosophy for supposed Super Bowl contenders to have untested, inexperienced backup quarterbacks is illogical, even unprecedented. When the Cowboys won their first Super Bowl, a fella named Roger Staubach was backed up by a fella named Craig Morton. Second Super Bowl: Staubach was backed up by Danny White. During their '90s dynasty the Cowboys were always smart enough to back up Troy Aikman with veteran insurance policies like Steve Beuerlein, Bernie Kosar and Wade Wilson. Even Parcells himself won a Super Bowl with the New York Giants when third-round draft choice Jeff Hostetler filled in for injured starter Phil Simms.
Despite all their transactions, proclamations and expectations, one thing seems painfully clear early in training camp: If Bledsoe goes down, so do the Cowboys. --Richie Whitt