Tuesday, February 5, 2013

O.J. Santiago Trade Just Another Swing-and-Miss Moment At Tight End For Dallas Cowboys & Jerry Jones

O. J. Santiago

Tight ends had become a difficult position to get a handle on for the Dallas Cowboys in the wake of Jay Novacek’s retirement some three seasons before.  They became even more so when backup tight end Mike Lucky suffered a season-ending injury during the early portion of training camp 2000.

Lucky’s misfortune left management scrambling to fit two able bodies behind starter David LaFleur on the depth chart.  And after more than three weeks of searching and five tryouts, the Cowboys had managed to wrangle veteran Jackie Harris onto the team, but still needed more.  That’s when the Falcons phoned and shipped fourth-year player O.J. Santiago their way, allegedly solving all of the Cowboys’ problems.

Granted, it cost Dallas fourth and seventh round draft picks, but that was chump change for shoring up what had long been a weakness for the Dallas offense.  And remember, giving away draft selections had become somewhat of a fad around Valley Ranch in those days, the Cowboys only months removed from swapping two No. 1 choices with Seattle for speedy receiver Joey Galloway.

The Cowboys considered Santiago a dual threat on offense from the tight end position with a proficiency in both run-blocking – he helped Jamal Anderson lead the NFC in rushing two years before – and pass receiving, having hauled in a total of 42 passes over the previous two seasons.  New head coach Dave Campo envisioned pairing Santiago with LaFleur on early downs, and with Harris on passing downs, providing the Cowboys with a rare flexibility to threaten the middle of the field at any time. “I feel very comfortable he’ll be able to walk in and contribute immediately,” Campo said.

So it happened that a full week before the season was scheduled to begin, Santiago boarded a flight to Dallas, holding tight to a Cowboys playbook.  Rumor has it that his plane never landed.

Though active for the first eleven games, Santiago was released prior to Dallas’ Thanksgiving Day game versus Minnesota, having placed nary a scratch on a stat sheet.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

27-0 Embarrassment Versus Super Bowl-bound Ravens Left Jerry Jones Little Room To Dodge Reality

There's not much to say!

Throughout the twenty-first century, a bitter war between reality and perception has been waged within the confines of Valley Ranch.  Though perception persists, reality has nevertheless prevailed, even sometimes in alarming fashion.

So in honor of today’s Super Bowl XLVII participant from the AFC, let’s take a peek back into history and remind everybody just how good the Baltimore Ravens were back in the year 2000…and how low the Dallas Cowboys of once mighty glory had descended.

The Ravens were a Super Bowl-bound team reliant on a powerful rushing attack led by rookie running back Jamal Lewis and a tenacious, hard-hitting defense.  The Cowboys, on the other hand, were a bad 4-6 squad that owner Jerry Jones envisioned on the way back up, a week removed from a gut-wrenching overtime defeat in Philadelphia with backup quarterback Randall Cunningham filling in for Troy Aikman.  Now, with Aikman slotted to be back in the starting lineup, Jones thought nothing could stop the Cowboys from muscling past an unproven Ravens squad in an unfamiliar environment in Maryland.

What transpired, however, on a cold Sunday afternoon before a Fox television audience was an omen of eventual triumph for the Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV against New York a few weeks later, and a harsh reminder that the Team of the ‘90s was nothing more than a tread mark on the highway of irrelevance.

Going left, right and anywhere he pleased, Lewis rushed for 187 yards on only 28 totes.  Of Lewis’ carries, 17 went for 7 yards or more, and seven rushing attempts totaled 10 yards or more.  Coupled with a Dallas offensive attack that never got off the team bus, it all added up to a 27-0 hope-shattering defeat that left Jones little place to hide.

“This is very embarrassing,” said Jones following the game.  “This is stunning.
“Overtime losses have you looking at turnovers, at mistakes. This is a clearer read on where we are.  The way Baltimore ran the ball on us almost at will this left no doubt today.”

The head coach tried to be diplomatic in defeat, but even he was rendered speechless.  ““They came out and blocked us,” Dave Campo said.  “Why?  We’ll have to look at the film and find out why.”

The “why” in it all can, in retrospect, be linked to the ultimate destiny of each respective franchise. 

Brian Billick, Art Modell and Ray Lewis stood tall celebrating a championship season for the ages in early February, while Jones and Co. licked their wounds at Valley Ranch trying to figure out how such a 5-11 squad could have fooled them into thinking that a Super Bowl was imminent.

Here we are twelve years later with Baltimore still playing and Dallas back at home, the victim of sabotaged expectations yet again.  One will be making another attempt at football immortality, while the other continues to grapple with a reality that fails to line up with in-house perception.

Some things never change.

The Day Jerry Jones Tossed Troy Aikman Aside

In Search For Head Coach, Jones’ Politics Reveals Just Whose Image Is No. 1 At Valley Ranch

Terry Donahue
Public criticism had dogged his and his Cowboys’ steps every inch of the way through a turbulent season that concluded in the smoke of a 6-10 train wreck.  A very self-aware Jerry Jones had just witnessed the official end to the Cowboys dynasty of the 1990’s as Dallas wobbled, teetered, and then finally crashed down the stretch of the 1997 campaign, missing out on the playoffs for the first time in seven years.

Now, Jones was out to do more than just replace the departed Barry Switzer as head coach.  He was out to protect the two sacred foundational pieces that make up the bottom-line in Big D’; his trophy case and, yes, himself. 

He desperately wanted to hire a head coach who called his own plays, if only to quell the crazy rumor going around that a meddlesome Jones spent the previous season in the suite of offensive coordinator Ernie Zampese suggesting plays.  Publicly, the status-quo linked the necessity for an offensive mind with the health of battered quarterback Troy Aikman.

That much was well known.  What was not known, however, was just how sensitive the owner’s public image had become.

After a few weeks of what was repeatedly referred to as an “intensive coaching search,” it appeared that Aikman’s old ball coach at UCLA, Terry Donahue, was all locked up for the job.  Uh, in fact he was.  A news conference announcing the hiring of the fourth head coach in franchise history had been scheduled.

But then Donahue read the small print on the contract.

The Cowboys had included a clause in Donahue’s contract, clearly stating that he would be fined $25,000 every time he said anything that might throw a poor light on the Cowboys, or in particular, Jerry Jones.

Donahue balked at it and walked away.

“We never thought the insubordination clause, and certainly the money ($500,000 annually), would be the thing that turned it one way or the other,” Jones said.  “He was offered the job…I did feel he’d come in as a coordinator on an entry-level basis [pay scale] into the NFL as opposed to coming in as a Super Bowl coach.”

But then Jones tried to smooth things over and suggest that Donahue wasn’t really the right man for the job, ignoring the fact that he was merely hours away from announcing the news to the entire world. “…We were not on the same page of how we were going to do things on offense,” Jones said.  “I was on the page whether he could do it or not, but when the issues on the contract came up, I talked with my son Stephen and we realized we were trying to put a larger foot in a small shoe here.  We’re trying to make something happen, and we’re not a team that needs years to make something happen.”

Donahue wasn’t willing to tow the company line every week during the season, especially on a team such as Dallas coming off a 6-10 season and with many bumps still in front of them.

Jones finally found his man in Chan Gailey, who reportedly signed the contract with the same clause in it that Donahue had issues with.
Chan Gailey
 And this doesn’t mean that Gailey, an up and coming assistant, was desperate for a head coaching job. Calling out his players or owner publicly simply wasn’t in Gailey’s nature.  Agreeing to those terms didn’t bother him in the least.
No Protection
 But rather than protecting Aikman’s backside, the hiring of Gailey proved to only shelter Jones.  The Cowboys now not only had a head coach doubling as an offensive coordinator, but a man able and ready to wield feather duster and furniture polish in honor of the Owner to each and every press conference.
All is Well!
 So, with Jones having alighted upon the perfect solution to safeguard his own domicile, the fact that his good buddy Aikman was to be saddled with an offensive scheme that he couldn’t appreciate had suddenly lost any significance.