When they were winning three Super Bowls in the mid-1990s, the
Cowboys had a high-powered offense that relied on a strong
running game but featured a controlled passing attack. Wide
receiver Michael Irvin roamed the middle of the field and ran
intermediate sideline routes while tight end Jay Novacek moved
the chains by making great catches in traffic.
Dallas has never found an adequate replacement for Novacek, who
retired four years ago, and now it will have to make do without
the feisty Irvin, who retired in July because of cervical
stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal column. In an attempt to
regain their aerial glory, the Cowboys have assembled a track
team in wideouts Rocket Ismail, James McKnight and newly acquired
Joey Galloway--all of whom run sub-4.4 in the 40. With those three
stretching the defense, and tight ends David LaFleur and Jackie
Harris going underneath, Dallas is hoping to make one more Super
Bowl run with 31-year-old Emmitt Smith carrying the ball and
33-year-old Troy Aikman at quarterback.
Whatever success the Cowboys have this year hinges on the answers
to several questions, among them: Can the 5'11", 188-pound
Galloway, who cost Dallas two first-round draft picks in a
February trade with Seattle, keep secondaries honest by making
the tough catches over the middle, which he's never been asked to
do in nine seasons of college and pro ball?
"I don't want to go underneath every play, but I look forward to
the challenge of proving I can do it," says Galloway. "There's
nothing that says I only run deep routes, and it isn't right to
say that because we have three speed guys, we're going to be
running deep routes on every play."
Dallas owner Jerry Jones liked the Galloway deal when he made it.
He loves it now. "I've only done this twice--laid out real serious
money [to acquire] a star," says Jones, who immediately signed
the 28-year-old receiver to a seven-year, $42 million contract.
"First with Deion Sanders, now with Joey. I thought speed would
help us more than a possession receiver would. I knew that to
draft a potential impact player to help our offense, we'd have
had to trade up in the draft this year by using next year's top
pick. That wasn't enough currency to move up for Peter Warrick.
The advice I got on Joey was to go get him. Deion told me, 'He's
the only guy in the league I can't cover.' Joey was the one
player I'd have done this for."
It's clear the Cowboys are playing for today. The vestiges of
their greatness are disappearing one by one--witness the
retirements of Irvin and fullback Daryl Johnston, the release of
Sanders and the imminent retirement of cornerback Kevin Smith.
Into this breach steps Campo, who despite the team's salary-cap
problems made sirloin out of ground chuck in his five years as
the club's defensive coordinator. Dallas finished in the top 10
in total defense four times over that span. Campo has already
taken one of Jones's high-risk pickups and turned him into a
solid contributor: Last season defensive tackle Alonzo Spellman,
out of the game for a year after being diagnosed with bipolar
disorder, became a regular while earning the minimum NFL wage;
now he's a dependable starter with a multiyear contract. This
year Campo will probably have another troubled defensive lineman,
former Vikings first-round draft choice Dimitrius Underwood, who
is also being treated for bipolar disorder, in the rotation. "Our
front four," says Campo, "will be the best it's been since the
Then there's rookie cornerback Kareem Larrimore, a fourth-round
draft pick out of West Texas A&M, who has been so spectacular in
camp that he has been penciled in as a starter. (Of course
Smith's retirement and second-round pick Dwayne Goodrich's
hamstring injury haven't hurt Larrimore's chances.) The reason he
fell so far in the draft? He tested positive for a banned
substance (widely reported to be marijuana) at the scouting
There is, of course, the little matter of the Redskins standing
between the Cowboys and NFC East supremacy. This is probably the
first time in nine years that Dallas hasn't been considered at
least a slight favorite to win the division. "I like being the
underdog," says Jones. "I like our quarterback better than [the
Redskins']. I like our running back better. I like our receivers.
I think the strength of our team is on the defensive line. I like
how we match up with them."
The outcome of the two regular-season dates with the Skins--Sept.
18 in Washington and Dec. 10 in Dallas--could depend on how
Galloway, the little man with the great burst of speed, performs.
"Talk about excited," he says. "I love it here. I love the
pressure. Last year, when I was holding out in Seattle, I used to
go on-line and read all the negative stuff in the Seattle papers
about me. Now people say I can't go over the middle, can't do
this, can't do that. It gets my juices flowing."
COLOR PHOTO: MICHAEL ZITO/SPORTSCHROME READY FOR LIFTOFF In the hope that speed kills, Dallas will try to wear out defenses with a trio of burners that includes Ismail.
COLOR PHOTO: DARREN CARROLL
Sept. 3 PHILADELPHIA
10 at Arizona
18 at Washington (Mon.)
24 SAN FRANCISCO
Oct. 1 at Carolina
8 Open date
15 at N.Y. Giants
Nov. 5 at Philadelphia
19 at Baltimore
23 MINNESOTA (Thurs.)
Dec. 3 at Tampa Bay
17 N.Y. GIANTS
25 at Tennessee (Mon.)
1999 Record 8-8 (2nd in NFC East)
NFL rank (rush/pass/total): offense 6(tie)/24/16; defense 6/13/9
2000 Schedule strength
NFL rank: 15 (tie)
Opponents' 1999 winning percentage: .500
Games against playoff teams: 6
PLAYER TO WATCH
"I take the attitude that I have to work harder than anyone else
to stay in the NFL," says second-year linebacker Dat Nguyen, the
son of Vietnamese immigrants. Undersized since high school, the
5'11", 231-pound Nguyen (pronounced win) has relied on his
quickness from sideline to sideline to forge a spot for himself
as a playmaking middle linebacker. Coach Dave Campo has always
liked fast linebackers who can slip through gaps. "Dat is
mentally sharp for a young player," says Campo. "He never makes
mistakes." Nguyen will continue to play on three special teams,
a role some veterans try to shed when they become starters. Not
Nguyen. "I'm living a dream," he says. "My whole life has been a
dream. I try to never forget that."
PROJECTED LINEUP WITH 1999 STATISTICS
Coach: Dave Campo
First season with Cowboys (0-0 in NFL)
Offensive Backs PVR*
QB Troy Aikman 36 442 att. 263 comp. 59.5% 2,964 yds.
17 TDs 12 int. 81.1 rtg.
RB Emmitt Smith 14 329 att. 1,397 yds. 4.2 avg. 27 rec.
119 yds. 4.4 avg. 13 TDs
RB Chris Warren 201 99 att. 403 yds. 4.1 avg. 34 rec.
224 yds. 6.6 avg. 2 TDs
FB Robert Thomas 300 8 att. 35 yds. 4.4 avg. 10 rec.
64 yds. 6.4 avg. 0 TDs
Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen
WR Joey Galloway 35 22 rec. 335 yds. 1 TD
WR Raghib Ismail 70 80 rec. 1,097 yds. 6 TDs
WR James McKnight[*] 249 21 rec. 346 yds. 2 TDs
TE David LaFleur 140 35 rec. 322 yds. 7 TDs
K Tim Seder[**](R) 268 22/24 XPs 14/19 FGs 64 pts.
PR Jason Tucker 226 4 ret. 13.0 avg. 0 TDs
KR Jason Tucker 226 22 ret. 27.9 avg. 0 TDs
LT Flozell Adams 6'7" 335 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LG Larry Allen 6'3" 326 lbs. 11 games 11 starts
C Mark Stepnoski 6'2" 265 lbs. 15 games 15 starts
RG Solomon Page 6'4" 321 lbs. 14 games 6 starts
RT Erik Williams 6'6" 311 lbs. 14 games 14 starts
LE Ebenezer Ekuban 23 tackles 2 1/2 sacks
LT Alonzo Spellman 16 tackles 5 sacks
RT Chad Hennings 61 tackles 5 sacks
RE Greg Ellis 42 tackles 7 1/2 sacks
OLB Joe Bowden 51 tackles 3 1/2 sacks
MLB Dat Nguyen 42 tackles 1 sack
OLB Dexter Coakley 86 tackles 4 int.
CB Ryan McNeil 81 tackles 0 int.
SS Darren Woodson 76 tackles 2 int.
FS George Teague 74 tackles 3 int.
CB Kareem Larrimore (R)32 tackles 5 int.
P Barry Cantrell [+] 39 punts 41.1 avg.
 New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 139)
[*]'98 stats [**]'97 college stats [+]'99 NFL Europe stats
THE BOOK an opposing team's scout sizes up the Cowboys
"I thought that tight end Jackie Harris was underused the last
two or three years in Tampa Bay and Tennessee. He's got
something left. If Harris returns to form, the Cowboys will win
10 or 11 games and make the playoffs.... Troy Aikman isn't
finished, but if you watched him play the last couple years, you
saw a guy who looked like he hated football. What worries me is
he hasn't inspired a struggling offense to play better. Great
quarterbacks win some games by themselves, and he hasn't done
that in years.... Erik Williams's decision to come back really
helps Emmitt Smith, who loves running right. Now Solomon Page, a
big body who's too slow, can move back to guard.... The
defensive line can be special. I think Alonzo Spellman is better
than Leon Lett, and you knew that could happen if Spellman ever
got his life together.... Deion Sanders is no big loss, the way
he was playing last year. But those cornerbacks they drafted
[Dwayne Goodrich, Kareem Larrimore and Mario Edwards] have to
play right away, or passing teams will eat them alive."