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With the Addition of Pacman Jones, Valley Ranch Has Become a Halfway House

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Attention Jerry Jones:

Michael Vick gets out of prison in 15 months. Rae Carruth will be only 44 when he's eligible for parole in 2019. Dwayne Goodrich is almost halfway through his sentence. Art Schlichter is a free man. No one avoids his pursuers like O.J. Simpson. And, who knows, Charles Manson could've won California's Corcoran State Prison fantasy football league last season.

Just some names to keep handy. Since, obviously, your Dallas Cowboys no longer give a damn about class and character.


Dallas Cowboys

And you know what? They shouldn't.

Commence cringing.

There arose much hand-wringing and a nauseous spewing of righteous indignation about the Cowboys and their owner trading for Adam "Pacman" Jones last week. But c'mon, admit it. Deep down, wouldn't you rather win with the sinners than lose with the saints?

Thought so.

As has been the case throughout the decadent days of Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson, Michael Irvin, Mark Stepnoski, Charles Haley and Nate Newton, the Cowboys are responsible for assembling talented football players, not tithing church deacons. You win Super Bowls not with role models nominated for NFL Man of the Year, but with stars who play in Pro Bowls. If you can have both—like Jason Witten or Emmitt Smith—fantastic. But when in doubt, yep, sell your soul to Beelzebub.

Go ahead, get your bitchin' out of the way now. Because you'll look really silly doing it in your Pacman jersey.

"If character really doesn't matter, why don't they sign Osama bin Laden to play wide receiver?" WFAA-Channel 8 sports anchor Dale Hansen whined last week. "They need one, and he's 6-foot-4 and we know nobody can catch him."

Humor aside, the thing is—and no one knows this better than Hansen— the first time Pacman takes a punt to the house, all will be forgiven. If it hasn't been already.

I met Pacman at a Mavericks game last month, hours after he appeared on Michael Irvin's "ESPN Radio"-103.3 FM radio show. He was clean cut, humble, polite and was followed by neither police, raining dollar bills or 666.

"Nice to meet you, Mr. Whitt," he said.

As we shook hands, I couldn't help but shake the Etch-O-Sketch. You'd be smart to give Pacman a clean slate as well. Because Jerry's latest acquisition of Pacman is definitely bold and probably brilliant.

Not that I'd exactly want him to move in next door. The dude's judgment makes Josh Howard look like Pat Boone.

Since entering the NFL in 2005, Pacman has been questioned by police in 10 separate criminal incidents. He pleaded "no contest" last year to conspiracy to commit disorderly conduct as part of a plea deal for his role in a February 2007 melee at a Las Vegas topless joint that ended with three people shot and one paralyzed. His off-field conduct—from "making it rain" by showering strippers with dollar bills to allegedly throwing a punch at an officer while being arrested for possession of marijuana—is silly, if not altogether stupid. The night before a face-to-face meeting about his wayward conduct with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, the genius showed up at a New York City strip club.

But when he appeared on HBO's Real Sports and Irvin's radio show, Pacman responded with a quizzical shrug, as though trouble always riding shotgun is nothing more than a bunch of illogical, unlucky coincidences.

There are legit reasons why the Cowboys were his only suitor. Pacman isn't the most intelligent player to ever strap on cleats. He's stubborn, clearly in denial. And there's a chance, of course, that he'll never be reinstated or play a down in Dallas or anywhere else.

"If you ask me if I'm totally convinced," admits Jerry, "no, I don't know that for sure."

"I'm encouraged by some of the things I'm hearing," Goodell said at a recent SMU Athletic Forum. "But I will meet with him before training camp starts to gauge personally some of the things he's doing."

Granted, it was a better world when the Mavericks didn't open their arms to Dennis Rodman, when the Rangers didn't feel moved to gamble on John Rocker and when punks like Clint Longley sucker-punched Roger Staubach and were traded by sundown. But these days we're a forgiving society, especially when it's self-serving.

You want to watch a team saturated with milk-and-cookies character? The Rangers, led by Boy Scouts like Michael Young and Kevin Millwood, are again goody two-shoeing into last place. Enjoy.

Like it or not, this is how it works: The hot blonde with the curves and the cleavage doesn't get a ticket for driving 88 in a 55. And the 24-year-old cornerback/kick returner with the mad skillz gets a second and third chance. Remember, just last season, Cowboys fans cheered catches by star-stomping Terrell Owens and tackles by gun-toting Tank Johnson.

Pacman's redemption—further erosion of America's Team be damned—is just an interception away.

The only speed bump in our acceptance is trying to differentiate between who Pacman is and what Pacman is. In today's warped sports environment, great player trumps bad guy. Especially when your secondary is desperately depleted.

Since dropping that agonizing playoff game to the New York Giants, the Cowboys have lost cornerbacks Nate Jones and Jacques Reeves and safety Keith Davis in free agency. Both starting corners Terence Newman and Anthony Henry have contracts expiring after 2009. Pacman—baggage and all—is worth the risk. The minuscule risk.

Why? Because, first and foremost, he can play. He's an athletic shut-down corner who, with the Tennessee Titans in 2006, returned three punts for touchdowns. The Cowboys have only four this millennium.

Why? Because Pacman's reward dwarfs the gamble. The Cowboys are getting the sixth player taken in the 2005 draft in exchange for a fourth-round pick this year and, if he stays out of trouble, a sixth-rounder next year. If Pacman is never reinstated, Dallas gets the fourth-rounder back. Risk?

It's all relative, but Pacman seems to be showing remorse, accepting responsibility and absorbing his punishment. His four-year contract with the Cowboys includes no guaranteed money and no signing bonus. He agreed to forfeit his salary and not collect on $1.5 million in incentives owed him by Tennessee and donate $500,000 to a charity of the Titans' choosing.

In making the first trade in NFL history for a suspended player, Jerry Jones took another small step toward burying his biggest regret as Cowboys' general manager. In 1998 he drafted defensive end Greg Ellis, passing on a receiver with character issues. A receiver named Randy Moss.

Since that day—through the acquisitions of Alonzo Spellman and Dimitrius Underwood and Keyshawn Johnson and Terry Glenn and Owens and Tank Johnson and now Pacman—Jerry has prioritized talent over temperament, unafraid to turn Valley Ranch into a halfway house in pursuit of championships over class.

Like it or not, Pacman Jones will help the Dallas Cowboys win games this season.

And like it not, Jessica Simpson is off the hook if things totally implode.

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