THE LITTLE THINGS
Detail-oriented Chan Gailey is making a big difference in Dallas
Chan Gailey didn't raise his voice. His tone wasn't demeaning,
just emphatic. It was the same tone that the Cowboys' coach had
used three months earlier when he told his players that they
couldn't be late for meetings anymore and couldn't miss
weigh-ins anymore and had to adhere to a precise schedule for
the first time since Barry Switzer took over for Jimmy Johnson
after the 1993 season.
"In this game against the Cardinals, I want no presnap
penalties, no false starts, no offsides, no illegal formations,"
Gailey said to his team last week before its NFC East showdown
at Arizona. "I can understand when a face-mask penalty or a hold
happens. But I will not accept any more presnap penalties. They
show a lack of concentration."
Dallas scored on four of its first six possessions, racing to a
28-0 lead without committing any presnap penalties. The only
such miscue came 37 minutes into the game, when tight end David
LaFleur flinched before a snap. "That's the way it should be,"
Gailey said matter-of-factly, sitting by his locker after the
Cowboys' harrowing 35-28 win. "If you're a smart team--and you
have to be to win consistently--you don't commit those
penalties. I try not to make frivolous statements to the team. I
want them to know that everything I do has a direct correlation
Granted, the NFC East is probably the weakest it's been since the
1970 merger. But the fact that the Cowboys are 7-3 under Gailey
after going 6-10 in Switzer's final year makes two things clear:
One, hiring micromanager Gailey was the smartest move Jerry Jones
has made since he paid Deion Sanders $5 million a year to sign as
a free agent in 1995. Two, keeping Switzer for four years was the
dumbest thing Jones has done since he bought the Cowboys in
But Jones sees the light now. Sitting on a couch in his Phoenix
hotel suite last Saturday night, he confessed as much--that the
Cowboys would have been far better off if he had made the
painful decision to jettison Switzer after two or three years.
"I realize it's easy to say now," Jones said, "but if I had it
to do over again, I'd have made the change after we won the '95
Super Bowl. The way he was critiqued after that [27-17 win over
the Steelers] wasn't good for him. At the time I thought not
making a change was our best chance to keep winning. But
watching Chan work, the wisdom of making a change has been
reinforced time and again this year. His attention to every
detail, his work ethic, what he's done with our offense--he's
better than I could have ever imagined."
Right after the Cowboys broke training camp, Gailey laid down his
rules. Among other things, he announced that a team meeting would
be held every Monday at 12:30 p.m. In Week 1, two players were a
couple of minutes late. "This is your grace period," Gailey told
them. "Don't test me again." In the 10 Mondays since, no one has
"It's not just our Monday meeting," Gailey says, "it's every
meeting." That's quite a change from the days of the Switzer
regime, when players repeatedly straggled into meetings late but
The players are convinced that the renewed attention to
discipline has translated into victories. After going 3-5 in the
NFC East last year, Dallas is 6-0 this season. When the Cowboys
bolted to their big lead on Sunday, Cardinals quarterback Jake
Plummer went to the no-huddle and ran up most of his career-high
465 passing yards against a depleted secondary. (Sanders had a
sprained big toe and sat out two quarters, and fellow cornerback
Kevin Smith played on after separating his left shoulder in the
second period.) Plummer drove Arizona to the Dallas five with 11
seconds left, but his last two passes fell incomplete.
"In the first half you looked like the '93 Cowboys," a reporter
said to guard Nate Newton, referring to the team that won a
second straight Super Bowl for Dallas.
Newton nodded. "But in the second half, we looked like the '97
Cowboys," he said. "Still, we wouldn't have won this game last
That's the point. This is a flawed 7-3 team, but if a healthy
Sanders lines up at right corner, the other great players coupled
with the very good coaching will make Dallas the kind of
postseason threat it could only have imagined last season.
Beuerlein's New Contract
CAROLINA DOES THE RIGHT THING
This is a dream, Panthers quarterback Steve Beuerlein told
himself. Seated in the kitchen of his Charlotte home last week,
he was staring at the figures he had just jotted down during a
phone conversation with his agent, Tom Condon. Carolina's
bolt-from-the-blue offer to extend Beuerlein's contract broke
down as follows: $1.5 million to sign, $2.5 million in 1999,
$2.05 million in 2000, $2.95 million in 2001. He showed his
wife, Kristen, the proposal, and the shock registered in her
eyes. "Pretty hard to turn that down," she said.
"Can you believe this is happening to us?" he said.
After 12 years of playing Paul Shaffer to a succession of David
Lettermans, the 33-year-old Beuerlein is finally the star of his
own show. "A big factor is what a team player Steve's been in
his three years here," Carolina coach Dom Capers says. Beuerlein
has only an average arm and mediocre speed, but the book on him
is that he executes the offense superbly, is admired by
teammates and doesn't make stupid mistakes.
Beuerlein's windfall--like the rise of Randall Cunningham, Vinny
Testaverde and Doug Flutie, veterans who gladly took backup
roles, behaved unselfishly and became starters again--reaffirms
the notion that quarterbacks who check their egos at the locker
room door can resurrect seemingly dead careers. Beuerlein has
led the gypsy life: A fourth-round draft pick of the Raiders in
1987, he became a part-time starter; was traded to the Cowboys
in '91 and mostly served as Troy Aikman's caddie; collected
free-agency riches by signing a three-year, $7.5 million deal
with the Cardinals in '93 but got buried a year later by coach
Buddy Ryan; was Jacksonville's first pick in the expansion draft
in '95 and its projected starter but was demoted two months
later when the Jaguars traded for Mark Brunell; and signed as a
free agent with Carolina in '96, serving as Kerry Collins's
backup until Collins asked to be benched in early October and
was subsequently released.
"Five teams, eight head coaches, 12 years," Beuerlein mused last
week. "The thing I've never had a chance to get was comfortable.
But I've survived because I've always been able to find a ray of
In his first start after Collins's sudden removal, at Dallas on
Oct. 11, Beuerlein completed 18 of his first 19 passes. His
63.7% completion rate leads the NFL. "I'm not Steve Young or
John Elway," says Beuerlein, "but I can win football games. Now
somebody's giving me a chance."
PUSH BACK THE TRADE DEADLINE
It's absurd that the NFL's trading deadline falls in early to
mid-October, before teams have played even half their games. Two
thirds of the way through the baseball season, contending teams
are still able to trade for players who can get them into the
postseason, and bad clubs can land top prospects in return. NFL
teams should be able to do the same.
Take the cases of the Dolphins and the Rams. Miami, 7-3 and
leading the AFC East, might be in the market for a wideout to
add to its thin receiving corps. The 3-7 Rams are going nowhere
and would probably consider taking a high draft choice for
third-year wideout Eddie Kennison.
The NFL says it doesn't want to give a team the chance to rebuild
late in the season, but a Dec. 1 deadline wouldn't seem to be a
problem in a league in which trades are few and far between.
ELWAY WAVERING ON RETIREMENT
It was shortsighted of Broncos coach Mike Shanahan to let John
Elway play against the Chargers on Nov. 8, when the quarterback
aggravated a rib injury. Despite injuries that have forced him
to miss 4 1/2 games through Monday, Elway is hinting that he
wants to return in '99, according to a team source.... NFL
sources say Los Angeles, because of its large TV market, is a
heavy favorite to be awarded the league's 32nd franchise, but
Robert McNair remains confident about his bid to bring a team to
Houston. "It's simple, really," McNair said last week. "We met
the NFL requirements, and Los Angeles can't, not without a
miracle. I consider [commissioner] Paul Tagliabue to be a
personal friend. He advised me what was needed, and we've
The End Zone
THE SOUNDS OF SILENCE
Sunday's Falcons-49ers sellout was Atlanta's first in three
years. "You don't know how depressing small crowds are," says
tackle Bob Whitfield. "Usually you can hear the tight end
COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO The Cowboys were stingy against the run, limiting the Cardinals to 32 rushing yards on 21 attempts. [Cardinals runner being tackled by Cowboys defenders]
COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS [Gary Anderson kicking in game]
1. Peyton Arrives In the same week that fellow rookie Ryan Leaf
lost his starting job in San Diego, Colts quarterback Peyton
Manning enjoyed his finest hour in a 24-23 win over the Jets.
Down 23-10 and facing a hot defense, Manning rallied
Indianapolis with touchdown marches of 49 and 80 yards in the
final 25 minutes. The highlights of the winning drive:
converting a fourth-and-15 pass to Marshall Faulk, then throwing
the go-ahead score to tight end Marcus Pollard.
2. Carroll's Perils The Patriots are 5-5, eight starters are
hurt, quarterback Drew Bledsoe is slumping, and on Sunday they
lost to Doug Flutie and the Bills. It was the Pats' fourth loss
in their last five games. Things don't look too good down the
road either. Five of New England's final six foes (Bills,
Dolphins, Steelers, 49ers and Jets) have winning records. More
Sundays such as the one he endured in Buffalo, and coach Pete
Carroll will be a serious candidate for the firing line.
3. The Pack's Back? Baseball needed McGwire and Sosa. Paula
Jones needed a nose job. After serious injuries to Dorsey Levens
and Travis Jervey, Green Bay needed a running back. On Sunday at
the Meadowlands, Darick Holmes looked like Paul Hornung. Coming
off the bench midway through the first quarter, Holmes, acquired
in a Sept. 29 trade with the Bills, carried 27 times for 111
yards and a touchdown against the Giants. No accident that the
Packers won 37-3.
TOEING THE LINE
Through Monday three kickers who had at least 30 combined field
goal and extra point attempts this season--the Vikings' Gary
Anderson (above), the Broncos' Jason Elam and the Saints' Doug
Brien--still had a chance to achieve a perfect season, something
no kicker with a comparable workload has accomplished in NFL
history. "But now you get into the part of the season where
weather can have a big effect," Anderson says. "I'm lucky. I'm
in a dome late in the season. But going perfect--I'd say that's
the impossible dream." Handicapping their chances: Elam's are
slim, with his final six games all outdoors, including three at
weather-whipped Mile High Stadium and one at windy Giants
Stadium. Anderson's are better, with three in domes and only one
road game at a potential bad-weather site (Dec. 13 at
Baltimore). Brien's are best, with three warm-weather road games
and three in the Superdome. Here are the records of the three
kickers vying for a perfect season, plus those of the three who
have come the closest (based on percentage and a minimum of 30
combined attempts; kickers who attempted extra points but not
field goals were excluded).
Perfect This Season
TOTAL KICKS FIELD GOALS EXTRA POINTS
YEAR MADE-ATT. PCT. MADE-ATT. MADE-ATT.
Gary Anderson, Vikings 1998 56-56 100 18-18 38-38
Jason Elam, Broncos 1998 54-54 100 15-15 39-39
Doug Brien, Saints 1998 32-32 100 13-13 19-19
Top Three Seasons Alltime
TOTAL KICKS FIELD GOALS EXTRA POINTS
PLAYER, Team YEAR MADE-ATT. PCT. MADE-ATT. MADE-ATT.
Norm Johnson, Falcons 1993 60-61 98.4 26-27 34-34
Eddie Murray, Lions 1989 56-57 98.2 20-21 36-36
Tony Zendejas, L.A. Rams 1991 42-43 97.7 17-17 25-26