They sell tickets and trinkets and advertising space in national magazines. A lot of people get rich off the Cowboys. When they win the Super Bowl, business weeklies and psychology journals assign reporters to do in-depth studies on organizational planning and motivational techniques. When they fail, the hee-haws start. America's Team, huh? What a laugh.
Then the drug investigations hit, and all of a sudden it just wasn't fun to pick on the Cowboys anymore. Poor devils, leave 'em alone. They've got enough problems. Going into the playoffs last year, Tom Landry said, "The spark is missing." But no one believed him. They took him a bit more seriously when rumors surfaced that some Cowboys were out after curfew the night before the Redskins NFC title game. "I heard enough stories from enough people that there must have been some substance to it," Cowboy President Tex Schramm said. In the off-season Landry studied his charts and scratched his head.
"Some things mystify you," he said. "In each of our last five games we had an interception or a fumble run back for a touchdown. That's never happened to me before—probably to no one else either. How do you figure it?"
Landry called for more dedication and self-sacrifice this year, and he ran a tighter and tougher camp. He said all starting jobs would be wide open, including that of Quarterback Danny White, who engaged in a spirited battle with Gary Hogeboom. "It's for real, it's not hype," one Cowboy says. "Gary could really end up with the job." There is a feeling of the tightening of ranks on the club, "an us-against-them, circle-the-wagons type of thing," says team publicist Greg Aiello. And that's when the Cowboys perform best, when a little hunger creeps into the operation, and for that reason I think Dallas will be the NFC rep in Supe XVIII.
The offense and defense remain basically the same, which is plenty good enough. Oh, there's a little fiddling here and there, more one-back offense with Fullback Ron Springs shifting to the slot, outside linebackers setting up in conventional left and right instead of strong and weak, a few new faces in the lineup. Anthony Dickerson, the nickel linebacker, is now the regular on the right side; he brings a capacity for the big play—and the big mistake. After an off year in '82, Defensive Tackle Randy White is ready for a big season. The club told him to bulk up last year, to get heavy to face the massive guards. It didn't work. Now he's light—and nasty. And that should help a rushing defense that has been having a case of the slips.
They've been robbed of their best one-liner: "Nobody believes us; we'll show 'em." So they showed 'em, and now we believe. What next? History majors might point out that the last three Super Bowl champs nosedived the following year. The most recent two even had losing records. Can't happen here? Well, maybe not. The Redskins' off-season certainly hasn't been peaceful.
Strong Safety Tony Peters was busted for drugs. Peters' absence widens a hole in the secondary that started when Cornerback Jeris White became a contract holdout. Right Guard Fred Dean, who started in the Super Bowl, jumped to the USFL. Another guard, Mark May, tore a triceps but should be ready for the season opener. Wide Receiver Art Monk hurt his knee. The draft was only so-so.
Now, none of these ailments is terminal if the fires that burned so brightly in Coach Joe Gibbs's club last year are still there. But an off-season as defending champ in the nation's capital? Well, that's a lot of tinsel.
Owner Jack Kent Cooke did a clever psychological thing when he quickly, and without fanfare, signed John Riggins to one of pro football's most lucrative contracts shortly after the Super Bowl, thus keeping him from the USFL. From a corporate standpoint, signing Riggins could have been argued against—What the hell, the guy's 34 years old, how much more football can he have left? Better off letting those guys have him. But paying Riggins well was a lot smarter. It showed the fellas that all you have to do is carry the ball 34 times a game, as Riggins did down the stretch, and set a bunch of records, and you, too, will be rewarded.
The Redskins, with Riggins and little Joe Washington, who's coming back off knee surgery, will continue to run well as long as there are Hogs up front. The Skins have the best three-man run-blocking combo in football in Center Jeff Bostic, Left Guard Russ Grimm and 300-pound Left Tackle Joe Jacoby, who will be one of the NFL's superstars this year. Quarterback Joe Theismann had his best year in '82. Charlie Brown caught eight TD passes in nine games, and of the team's 10 longest gainers, he signed his name to eight of them. Defensive Coach Richie Petitbon's attacking, gambling outfit held the enemy to 128 points in '82, an NFL low, but the Redskins are still looking for people to fill Peters' and White's spots. Eventually the left corner might go to No. 1 draft choice Darrell Green, a shrimp at 5'8" but a tough hitter and probably the fastest man ever to wear a Skins uniform. The first time Green touched the ball he went 61 yards on a punt return.
NEW YORK GIANTS
The Giants are the Penn State of pro football: Linebacker U. Three of their starting four, Lawrence Taylor and Brad Van Pelt on the outside and Harry Carson on the inside, are Pro Bowl fixtures. The fourth, Brian Kelley, is the brains of the operation. Three more could start for most teams: Byron Hunt, Frank Marion and their sleeper of the '83 draft, Andy Headen. And now the guy who coached them last season, Bill Parcells—Coach Tuna, the players call him—is running the whole show, Ray Perkins having gone south to Alabama. The linebackers are the cornerstones of a defense that has been one of the NFL's soundest the last couple of years, and with a unit like this you'll never be that far off the pace. The Giants, though, are still one good draft away from the higher echelons.
Strangely enough, they went for defense in this last draft. Their first pick, Terry Kinard, was supposed to take Free Safety Beasley Reece's job, but hasn't yet. Leonard Marshall, the No. 2 choice, was supposed to fill the hole created when Defensive End Gary Jeter was traded to the Rams, but all the early camp stories were about the rookie's weight problems. Scratch another. Meanwhile, the offense gets by as well as it can. The quarterback battle between Phil Simms and Scott Brunner seems unresolvable. Today one looks better, tomorrow the other. There are guys who can run the ball if they've got holes, but the line is below average. The receivers dazzle you one play, drop the ball the next. A bright new face has emerged in free agent Tight End Zeke Mowatt from Florida State, and ninth-round draft Ali Haji-Shiekh from Michigan might displace the regular kicker, Joe Danelo. But in the whole offensive unit, there's not one man who was, is, or looks as though he will ever be a Pro Bowl choice. Their most effective weapon is Punter Dave Jennings.
Freed of corporate control, Offensive Coordinator Ron Erhardt might do some interesting things. Last year he put in his stuff, only to see it overruled by Perkins. Once he got so frustrated that he tore off his headphones in the coaches' box and flung them to the ground. This should be an easier year for headphones—maybe for the Giants, too.
ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
When Jim Hanifan was named coach in 1980, you knew that sooner or later they'd have a formidable offensive line. Wasn't he the man who coached those great pass-protection units under Don Coryell at St. Louis? Sure enough, last year's rookie tackle tandem of Luis Sharpe and Tootie Robbins added the final ingredients to a very sound unit. When Floyd Peters took over the defensive line last season you started thinking of nicknames. He had the Gold Rush at San Francisco and the Silver Rush at Detroit. How about the Crimson Rush? Nope, too bloody. Anyway his new acquisition, sack specialist Bubba Baker from the Lions, should put the finishing touch on a group that will be able to rush the passer with anybody.
The most recent coaching import is Rod Dowhower, who will coordinate the offense, which grew a bit static last year. Neil Lomax is a gifted young quarterback, and wide receivers Pat Tilley and Roy Green and Running Back O.J. Anderson can catch the ball, but the Cards threw the fewest passes in the NFC last year. More motion in the offense, Dowhower promises. More sets. Get more receivers into the picture.
E.J. Junior's four-game cocaine suspension will not help the linebacker corps, and Cornerback Jeff Griffin's broken forearm will keep him out for a month. His spot will go to second-round draft choice Cedric Mack, who moved ahead of the No. 1, Leonard Smith, the spearhead of a five-defensive-back draft.
We've saved the worst news for last. Gone will be that marvelous press brunch on Game Day. No more lox. No more bagels. Goodby biscuits and omelets and sausages and those sizzling hash browns, all of which constituted the finest feed in the NFL. Susan Fletcher, the daughter of owner Leonard Tose has taken over operations and is cutting down on extravagances. Say hello to soggy hot dogs.
Mrs. Fletcher has installed a time clock in the office, a symbolic gesture. High-level employees have been axed left and right. The books show four straight years of red ink, almost an impossibility in the TV gold-mine era of NFL football.
Defensive leader Marion Campbell has replaced burnout victim Dick Vermeil as head coach. Campbell knows his business, but the formula is against him. The guy who follows a firebrand such as Vermeil, a man who squeezes the utmost out of his players, usually inherits a letdown. A major restructuring job is needed. The defense lost one of its finest players in Linebacker Frank LeMaster, out two months with a dislocated shoulder. The offense lost Halfback Wilbert Montgomery, who'll miss a month with a sprained right knee. His spot will be taken by Michael Haddix, the No. 1 draft choice. The prognosis is grim. The coffee is cold. The lox are back in the deli window.
Every position is up for grabs in Dallas, where White contends with a dark horse at quarterback.
New York Giants 8-8
St. Louis 8-8