Imagine how good the Dallas Cowboys would be if they generated half as many headlines on the field as off.
Since being humiliated Sunday by the Eagles in Philadelphia, we've already read about two players fighting on the plane ride home and heard two different NFL-stars-turned-TV-talking-heads call for Terrell Owens to be shot -- "I take one bullet and put it right in him. Bam!" ESPN's Cris Carter said on a radio show, before apologizing -- or excised like a "cancer."
Then there was the late hit by linebacker Bradie James on a fan protesting in front of the team's training complex Monday. Who knew anybody inside the organization still cared that much?
But James confronted a man marching up and down Cowboys Parkway wearing a sign that read "Our team has no heart" on the front and "Wade Phillips is an embarrassment to the star" on the back. The player tore the sign off the man's back and broke his glasses, though James eventually gift-wrapped a new pair, apologized and they wound up shaking hands.
"I told him, 'I share your frustrations. But where we differ is I wouldn't go to anybody's job -- especially not with 300-pound guys -- trying to tell them what they didn't do right," James said. "But that's it. It's over." Au contraire.
The Cowboys might be the least disciplined, most dysfunctional pro football team since ESPN disbanded the fictional "Cougars" and took "Playmakers" off the air.
It starts at the top with owner Jerry Jones, whose ability to assess talent is so poor that he appointed himself general manager as well. It continues on down through coach Wade Phillips, who is still scared of his own shadow and still doesn't know what to do with the Boys' Town-styled collection of talented troublemakers -- Owens, Pacman Jones, Tank Johnson -- that Jones dumped in his lap.
On top of that, there are enough warring factions in the locker room -- Owens vs. quarterback Tony Romo and his favorite target, tight end Jason Witten; all three vs. offensive coordinator Jason Garrett -- to occupy a U.N. peacekeeping force for a year.
"We have a plan," Jones said, "and I'm sticking with the plan."
For the record, Gen. Custer had a plan, too, and everybody knows how that worked out. Jones' scheme doesn't include what he called "human changes," meaning the same cast of characters will be back next season, but somehow with better attitudes. And apparently, it begins with Phillips.
"You can't say, 'Well, OK, everything's going to be all right,' because it's not going to be all right if you do the same thing and I'm talking about myself," Phillips said. "I have to look at myself from how I deal with things, from how we have training camp, how we have practices, whatever." Got that?
Of all the signs that the Cowboys were headed for this kind of fall, none was more damning than Bill Parcells walking away from Dallas at the end of 2006 with a year left on his contract as coach. Parcells had been a success at every one of his previous stops, with the Giants, Patriots and Jets, and would be again this season by helping turn the 1-15 Dolphins into AFC East champions and playoff contestant.
It wasn't the staff that was holding Parcells' Dallas teams back, since he took several of them to Miami, most notably offensive line coach Tony Sparano, who became the Dolphins head coach, and quarterbacks coach David Lee, who was Romo's mentor. It was, Parcells hinted soon after his arrival there, the sense of entitlement that seemed to be embedded in the Cowboys' DNA.
"I don't want bad character guys," he said at the news conference in Miami called to announce his hiring as executive vice president of football operations. "I don't want problem children.
"I'm more than willing to let someone else try to address those things with other people. I want to get a good base of good character people that are dependable, reliable employees and come to work with the idea of trying to win football games for the Miami Dolphins."
The NFL has never been more of a quick-buck league than it is at the moment. Owners like Jones see other teams turn it around fast -- besides the Dolphins, the Ravens and Falcons also reversed course and made the playoffs with rookie coaches -- and keep looking for shortcuts, never realizing that's what got them in trouble in the first place.