It was an in-your-face to Jimmy Johnson, and for a while it
looked good. Then last year the whole thing fell apart.
When Johnson and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones parted company after
winning Super Bowl XXVIII in January 1994, Jones made his
feelings clear: It was the organization, not the coach, that
made Dallas a champion. The organization was so strong that it
could overcome anything--so strong that he could hire a guy off
the street to coach the Cowboys, and they'd still win it all.
Which Jones did, and in Barry Switzer's second year as coach,
Dallas did win it all. Then things began to slip, and last year
the wheels fell off. The Cowboys lost their final five games to
drop to 6-10. They couldn't run the ball or stop the run. They
couldn't score. People were hurt, tired, worn-out. The Cowboys
were an undisciplined, demoralized team, and by December they
were just going through the motions.
Everyone took heat. The offensive line had lost its punch. The
zip had gone out of Emmitt Smith's legs. Troy Aikman was trying
to run a one-receiver offense, and he was getting hammered. The
defense was soft up the gut. Switzer resigned. Coordinator Ernie
Zampese, coaching the same Norv Turner-style offense that won
three Super Bowls, collected his share of rips (although he's
now being hailed as a savior in New England). And on and on.
Then in February, Jones brought in a soft-spoken, hard-working
veteran NFL assistant named Chan Gailey from Pittsburgh to put
things in order. Jones wanted an offensive coach, and Gailey,
who had coached the attacks of two Super Bowl teams--the Broncos
and the Steelers--has impeccable credentials. Everyone likes his
system. The run, Denver- and Pittsburgh-style, is his platform.
Stretch the strong side of the line, cut back weak. Then there's
the imaginative element, the exotics, the four- and
five-receiver spread formations, with wideouts coming out of
backfield alignments and all sorts of trickery. What's not to
So it's been a happy time at the Cowboys' new summer camp in
Wichita Falls, Texas. On one 106? Friday in July, Aikman
stripped off his shoulder pads after practice and ran 10
voluntary 100-yard gassers, accompanied by a pair of
third-stringers. "I owe it to the man," Aikman said of the new
coach, "to be in the best shape I can."
Or how about the numbers All-Pro guard Larry Allen put up on
timing and measuring day? First he bench-pressed a team-record
600 pounds. Then he ran a five-flat 40, at 320 pounds. "I was
embarrassed by the season I had last year," Allen said. "I don't
even know why I was picked All-Pro. I regard this year as a
Everything seems fine, right? But here's the bad news. Starting
with Johnson's last season in Dallas, the Cowboys have suffered
a steady talent drain to free agency, coupled with up-and-down
drafts. In the five years from 1993 to '97, the draft, which
should have been laying the foundation of young talent, produced
only five players currently penciled in as starters. (By
comparison, the Packers produced 13.)
The offensive line was a mess last year. Left guard Nate Newton,
36 and sore-legged, took most of the blame (and responded by
dropping 75 pounds from his '97 playing weight), but everyone
slipped--or was hurt. The only new face is Everett McIver, an
undistinguished former Jet and Dolphin, who goes to right guard,
with Allen switching to left tackle. On paper it's an O.K. unit.
If someone gets hurt, look out.
Then there's Emmitt (backed up by Chris Warren, who was released
by Seattle to make room for Ricky Watters). The Cowboys like the
way he has looked in camp, but that's running against air,
against no tackling. The key to Gailey's attack is the quick
cutback, and Smith has been rounding off his cuts. People shrug.
Gotta adjust to the new system, they say. But no one knows what
they have--the furious Emmitt of old, or an ordinary back, a la
the '97 Smith. He's taken way too many hits in his career.
The big question in defensive coordinator Dave Campo's unit,
which always seems able to play sound football no matter how
many players leave, is the pair of young ends: Kavika Pittman,
the 1996 second-round pick who has done zip in his two years as
a Cowboy, playing the open side, where Charles Haley once
roamed; and 1998 first-rounder Greg Ellis taking over for the
retired Tony Tolbert on the power side. The run defense, which
got battered last year when the enemy realized it didn't have to
score a lot of points to beat Dallas and could play ball
control, should be O.K., with Chad Hennings healthy and Leon
Lett back full time. The pass rush is iffy.
But at least spirits are high. There's a feeling that the people
in charge know what they're doing, and that's a start. --P.Z.
COLOR PHOTO: JAY CRIHFIELD/SPURLOCK PHOTO CATCH 22 The Cowboys' conundrum is how much to rely on Smith, who shows troubling signs of wear but remains vital to the offense. [Emmitt Smith in game]
B/W PHOTO: LOUIS DELUCA Mills [Ernie Mills]
Sept. 6 ARIZONA
13 at Denver
21 at N.Y. Giants (Mon.)
Oct. 4 at Washington
18 at Chicago
25 OPEN DATE
Nov. 2 at Philadelphia (Mon.)
8 N.Y. GIANTS
15 at Arizona
26 MINNESOTA (Thurs.)
Dec. 6 at New Orleans
13 at Kansas City
1997 Record 6-10 (4th in NFC East) NFL rank
(rush/pass/total): offense 20/20/20; defense 24/1/2
1998 Schedule strength NFL rank: 23 (tie) Opponents' 1997
winning percentage: .477 Games against playoff teams: 5
Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin have led the Cowboys
in passing yards, rushing yards and receptions, respectively, in
each of the last seven years. That's an NFL record that, in the
age of the salary cap and veteran free agency, will be hard to
match. Two troikas have current three-year streaks: Detroit's
Scott Mitchell, Barry Sanders and Herman Moore, and Denver's
John Elway, Terrell Davis and Shannon Sharpe.
Seasons Yrs. Leading passer Leading rusher Leading receiver
1991-97 7 Troy Aikman Emmitt Smith Michael Irvin
1988-92 5 Jim Kelly Thurman Thomas Andre Reed
1980-83 4 Dan Fouts Chuck Muncie Kellen Winslow
1976-79 4 Jim Zorn Sherman Smith Steve Largent
1975-78 4 Terry Bradshaw Franco Harris Lynn Swann
1956-59 4 Charlie Conerly Frank Gifford Frank Gifford
The Cowboys have not had a consistent No. 2 receiver since Alvin
Harper left after the 1994 season. Will free-agent pickup Ernie
Mills (138 catches in seven years) be the solution? He knows
Chan Gailey's offense from their three years together in
Pittsburgh (1994 to '96) but has been hampered since then by the
left knee injury he suffered in Super Bowl XXX.... Gailey's more
disciplined approach could benefit once dominant left offensive
tackle Erik Williams, who had a lackluster '97 under Barry
Switzer's loose rein and made the Pro Bowl on reputation.... The
Cowboys are adjusting to a new system for audibles, which uses
words for pass plays and numbers for runs. Dallas's old system
was just the opposite.... No. 1 pick Greg Ellis's $5.4 million
signing bonus surpassed what either Williams, Darren Woodson or
Leon Lett--all Pro Bowlers--got upon re-signing in '96.
Projected Lineup With 1997 statistics
Coach: Chan Gailey
First season with Cowboys (0-0 in NFL)
Offensive Backs PVR*
QB Troy Aikman 46[PVR*] 518 att. 292 comp. 56.4%
3,283 yds. 19 TDs 12 int. 78.0 rtg.
RB Emmitt Smith 61[PVR*] 261 att. 1,074 yds. 4.1
avg. 40 rec. 234 yds. 5.9 avg. 4 TDs
FB Daryl Johnston 243[PVR*] 2 att. 3 yds. 1.5 avg.
18 rec. 166 yds. 9.2 avg. 1 TD
RB Chris Warren[N] 199[PVR*] 200 att. 847 yds. 4.2 avg.
45 rec. 257 yds. 5.7 avg. 4 TDs
Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen
WR Michael Irvin 57[PVR*] 75 rec. 1,180 yds. 9 TDs
WR Ernie Mills[N] 190[PVR*] 11 rec. 127 yds. 1 TD
WR Billy Davis 270[PVR*] 3 rec. 33 yds. 0 TDs
TE David LaFleur 175[PVR*] 18 rec. 122 yds. 2 TDs
K Richie Cunningham 38[PVR*] 24/24 XPs 34/37 FGs 126 pts.
PR Deion Sanders 377[PVR*] 33 ret. 12.3 avg. 1 TD
KR Jimmy Oliver**[N] 412[PVR*] 44 ret. 23.4 avg. 0 TDs
LT Larry Allen 6'3" 326 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LG Nate Newton 6'3" 295 lbs. 13 games 13 starts
C Clay Shiver 6'2" 294 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RG Everett McIver[N] 6'5" 318 lbs. 14 games 14 starts
RT Erik Williams 6'6" 328 lbs. 15 games 15 starts
LE Greg Ellis[N](R) 87 tackles 9 sacks
LT Chad Hennings 31 tackles 4 1/2 sacks
RT Leon Lett 10 tackles 1/2 sack
RE Kavika Pittman 5 tackles 1 sack
OLB Randall Godfrey 97 tackles 1 sack
MLB Fred Strickland 95 tackles 1/2 sack
OLB Dexter Coakley 89 tackles 2 1/2 sacks
CB Kevin Smith 54 tackles 1 int.
SS Darren Woodson 73 tackles 1 int.
FS George Teague[N] 39 tackles 2 int.
CB Deion Sanders 33 tackles 2 int.
P Toby Gowin 86 punts 41.8 avg.
[N]New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college
year) *PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 88)
**1994 college statistics