In just 24 hours the Dallas Cowboys will kick off their historic 50th NFL season against the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay. And that brings us to #1 in our sometimes ridiculous but always riveting Red Ribbon Review. We’ve been counting down the days to the season opener with a look at the second-best players in Cowboys history according to jersey number. And today’s #1 is an All-Pro, a Pro-Bowler, and a Super Bowl champion: placekicker Efren Herrera.
Hererra played just three seasons for the Cowboys — 1974, 1976, and 1977 — making 67.7% of his field goals and missing only two PATs in 108 attempts. 1976 was Herrera’s best year as a Cowboy. He led the NFL that season with a field goal percentage of 78.3% and finished in the top ten in most points scored, most field goals made, and most extra points. It was the following season that Herrera was rewarded with his Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors. His numbers had dropped from 1976 — his field goal percentage fell to 62.1% — but the Cowboys won Super Bowl XII that year, beating Denver 27-10. Herrera kicked two field goals that night in what would be his last game in a Cowboys uniform. Jose Rafael Septien replaced him the following season and led the Cowboys in scoring for the next nine years.
The 2009 Dallas Cowboys season will be one to remember. New stadium. New parking lots. New video scoreboard. New luxury suites. New concession items. New state-of-the-art retractable roof that’s always closed. New locker rooms. New standing-room-only ticket opportunities.
Is it just me or is the stadium the only thing that’s new about this team? Is the stadium the only thing people are talking about with this team? Is it the only thing anybody’s promoting? Is the stadium a massive technological screen, made up of many large technological screens, meant to distract us from the realities that this Cowboys team is not even as good as last year’s squad that folded down the stretch and missed the playoffs?
The following game-by-game predictions are meant purely for your entertainment pleasure. And mine. It’s raining outside. What else am I going to do today?
The Cowboys defense makes a huge opening statement on a cloudy Sunday afternoon in Tampa Bay. DeMarcus Ware sacks new Bucs quarterback Byron Leftwich four times, Bradie James intercepts two passes intended for Kellen Winslow, and the Cowboys roll 27-10. Dallas tight end Jason Witten provided much of the offense for Dallas, exploiting the middle of the Bucs’ defense for 191 yards on nine catches before halftime. Trailing 17-3 after two quarters, Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris fired defensive coordinator Jim Bates at halftime and brought Warren Sapp out of the press box to take over. But it was too late. The Cowboys three-headed running back situation sputtered at times. Marion Barber averaged 2.3 yards per carry and Felix Jones fumbled. But Wade Phillips says everything’s OK. The post-game handshakes got weird when Bill Parcells jumped out of an elevator underneath the stadium just to scream at Antonio Bryant. But the Cowboys head home with the win.
Dallas opens up their yet-to-be-named stadium in Arlington the same way they closed out Texas Stadium in Irving: with a heart-breaking loss. Pre-game ceremonies include the raising of the championship banners, the unveiling of the names in the Ring of Honor, and the announcement of the truffled swordfish filet now available at the concession stands on all six levels. Former Cowboys greats are introduced. George Teague gets the crowd riled up with a video-taped speech about “defending the star.” And Jerry Wayne has a Papa John’s delivery boy rapel from the rafters with the game ball and the commemorative coin. Eli Manning throws for 260 yards and two scores, going seven-for-eight in the final two minutes and capping the Giants’ last drive with a game-winning throw to rookie Hakeem Nicks, to beat the Cowboys 23-20. Roy Williams catches only one pass in the loss and tells reporters after the game that he’s still technically only playing in his first full season with Romo.
The Cowboys fall to 1-2 on the season with a Monday Night Football loss to Carolina. Fortunately, for Jerry Wayne, most DFW sports fans were tuned in to the Texas Rangers last series of the regular season against the Angels. So not too many people saw the debacle. Wade Phillips continues to search for an answer to his running backs problem. Marion Barber, Felix Jones, and Tashard Choice each get seven carries for a total of just 59 yards in what he had deemed earlier in the week would be a tryout for the full-time starting job. With no confidence in his wide receivers, Romo repeatedly forces the ball to a quadruple-covered Jason Witten and is picked off twice. Worse than the 17-10 loss is the season-ending knee injury to Flozell Adams. Adams hyper-extended his knee and tore two ligaments in the third quarter attempting to get back in his stance after jumping the count. Phillips vows to change and start yelling more.
Back on the road, the Cowboys get a much needed win over the pitiful Broncos in Denver, 38-20. Rookie receiver Kevin Ogletree had a breakout game, catching eight passes, four of them for first downs on third-and-long, for a total of 166 yards and two touchdowns. In the post-game locker room, Roy Williams blamed the high altitude and low oxygen levels for his three drops. It looks like Felix Jones has earned the right to most of the carries at running back. His 135 yard effort included electric runs of 21, 22, and 39 yards in which he juked defenders, spun out of tackles, and outran linebackers to the edge. After the game, Jerry Wayne begins secretly negotiating a head-coach-in-waiting contract with Jason Garrett.
The Cowboys improve to 3-2 with a wipeout of the Chiefs in Kansas City. The Chiefs homefield advantage was nullified by their throwback AFL Dallas Texans uniforms which sport a huge Texas map on the side of their helmets. Loyal Chiefs fans were paralyzed by the sight and rendered useless for cheering on their boys. Matt Cassell, just now beginning to realize he had signed with a Chiefs team that didn’t have Tony Gonzalez anymore, was sacked six times and intercepted once in the 28-3 Dallas win. The only dark spot for the Cowboys, other than Wade Phillips being late for kickoff while stuck in traffic coming from a barbecue place, is the injury to Andre Gurode. But Dallas goes into the bye week at 3-2, one game back of the Giants in the NFC East.
The bye week is busy. Martellus Bennett comes under fire for making sexist jokes and racial slurs on Conan O’Brien. Marion Barber hints to reporters that he might want to be traded if the Cowboys are going to give Felix Jones all the carries. Afterall, Barber needs his reps. And Jerry Wayne and Tom Hicks announce that they’re going to show all the Texas Rangers playoff games on the big video board at Cowboys Stadium. For $49, Rangers fans can cheer on their team while eating chocolate-covered strawberries and sipping $9 bottles of water. The idea turns out to be a huge success. The Rangers are swept by the Yankees in the first round. But Hicks makes enough money to pay the water bill at the Ballpark.
The Cowboys get their third straight win, their first at the new stadium, 27-20 over the Falcons. The game was momentarily halted late in the second quarter when Bobby Carpenter recorded his first tackle of the season. Afterwards, he presented the game ball to Tashard Choice, who hasn’t touched one in nearly a month.
Going into the Seattle game, Jerry Wayne notices that without Terrell Owens, Tank Johnson, PacMan Jones, and the other Roy Williams, the national media just aren’t paying enough attention to his Cowboys. So he swings a deal to bring in former Giants wide-receiver Plaxico Burress. Two-thirds of the Cowboys’ security personnel immediately resign. The receiver Roy Williams curls up in a fetal position in the corner of his locker and refuses to speak. And Marty B produces a tasteless music video about sweat pants and pistols. Dallas holds the Seahawks without a touchdown and wins the game 27-9. Julius Jones is not a factor as the former Cowboys running back nets just four yards on 13-carries. New Seahawks coach Jim Mora, Jr. borrows a post-game page from his dad and declares in a squeaky voice, “Our offense stinks, our defense stinks, our special teams stink, our coaches stink. We can’t move the ball, we can’t stop the ball, we can’t score the ball. We can’t convert a third-down. We can’t stop a third-down. We stink.” The Cowboys are 5-2 and, for the first time this year, Jerry Wayne mentions something about being good enough for the Super Bowl.
Reality comes crashing in on the Cowboys as their first division game in seven weeks turns into a nightmare. In a freezing rain in Philly, the Eagles whip Dallas 44-10. The team had been distracted by the news that offensive coordinator Jason Garrett was interviewing for the head coaching job in Cleveland. Wade Phillips had to leave the sidelines twice during the game after spending most of the night before scarfing cheesesteak sandwiches at Geno’s. But nobody saw this coming. Roy Williams drops two passes and blames the weather. He also raises eyebrows after the game by claiming he’s still working on his timing with Romo. Afterall, he’s only been with the team for 17 regular season games, four preseason games, three mini-camps, and a training camp. Marc Columbo goes down with an ankle injury slipping on the icy concrete on the way to the bus. And Michael Vick visits the Dallas locker room to give Marty B some advice about image. The Cowboys are 0-2 in the division and trail the Giants by two games.
In Green Bay, the Cowboys drop a tough one 15-14 on an un-timed last-play field goal for the Packers. Despite a starting offensive line that now includes Doug Free, Pat McQuistan, and Duke Preston, Dallas hangs tough through more than three quarters in a blizzard and sub-freezing temperatures at Lambeau Field. But the offense can’t do a thing. Romo’s romantic relationship with Taylor Swift had been made public by TMZ during the week. And his head’s just not right. He throws two interceptions and fumbles two snaps from Corey Proctor. Wade Phillips experiments with a “dream backfield” of Felix Jones and Marion Barber with little success. But the Cowboys defense scores two touchdowns on a 21-yard fumble return by Marcus Spears and a 30-yard interception return by Mike Jenkins. Leading 14-12 with less than a minute to play, the Cowboys allow Aaron Rodgers to lead the Packers down to the Dallas 40. An incomplete pass at the final gun seemingly ends the game. But Ken Hamlin is flagged for unnecessary roughness when he punches a Green Bay receiver in the kidneys on his way to the locker room. The penalty spots the ball at the Cowboys 25 and sets up the game-winning field goal with 0:00 on the clock. We can’t print here what Hamlin says after the game. But Wade Phillips reportedly hollered and yelled in the locker room.
At 5-4 and riding a two-game losing skid, Jerry Wayne decides to pull out all the stops for the home game against the Redskins. New concession stand items include full cornish game hen with all the trimmings, parma prosuitto, and seasoned skewers. Low-interest-rate loans can now be processed inside the stadium to help fans meet all their parking and concession needs on game day. And a hologram of Tom Landry actually greets fans at the main gates with his trademark “Hidey” from the 1982 American Express commercial in which the legendary coach finds himself “surrounded by Redskins.” It seems to work as Dallas defeats Washington 24-17. Plaxico Burress makes his first catch as a Cowboy, a ten yarder on an out-route midway through the first quarter. When asked about his own one-catch day, Roy Williams claims that Romo and Burress have been drawing up secret plays together over late-night tacquitos at Whataburger. After seeing the Cowboys new stadium first-hand, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder swears to construct a bigger and better stadium, a two-billion-dollar monument to American football, paid in full by the U.S. government, in time for the game against the Cowboys on December 27.
It’s a short work week for the Cowboys. But they take care of business with a 17-10 Thanksgiving Day win over the Raiders, the first Dallas win over Al Davis’ team in 15 years. Former Cowboy Greg Ellis actually started at wide receiver for Oakland after telling Davis during the week he could be a bigger factor for the team if he were allowed to play his natural position. Ellis had played receiver as a seven-year-old Pee Wee Leaguer in North Carolina. Following the game, Davis vowed never to return to Dallas again. Five hours in the hot sun melted away months and months of Davis’ makeup and TV cameras caught what had long been rumored to be underneath. Dallas goes into the dreaded month of December at 7-4, on a two-game winning streak, still two games behind the Giants.
The Cowboys start the final month of the season losing 23-10 to the Giants in New York. It looked to some observers that Barber was intentionally trying to injure Felix Jones when the two were on the field together. Marion ran up Jones’ back several times in short yardage situations and once in an obvious blocking circumstance on a long third down. The Cowboys offense is sputtering. Plaxico Burress is released after the game, in plenty of time to catch up with his buddies on the south side of NYC before closing time. Another injury on the offensive line has forced Montrae Holland into the lineup. And Martellus Bennett is actually playing left tackle. Jason Garrett isn’t interviewing anywhere. Taylor Swift breaks up with Romo. Only 32 more days until Rangers pitchers and catchers report.
LaDainian Tomlinson runs for 102 yards and three TDs in the Chargers 36-27 win over the Cowboys. San Diego defensive star Shawne Merriman is ejected after slugging Romo in the head on a second-quarter sack. Merriman explained that he was only trying to protect Romo from hitting the ground too hard. Jon Kitna makes his first appearance for the Cowboys and leads the team to three second-half touchdowns, two of those on long pass plays to Roy Williams, sparking an actual quarterback controversy in Dallas. Williams says Kitna “gets him” and then adds it’s important how the team does if the important players on the team realize it’s as important that he gets his catches. The Cowboys still trail New York by three games.
The Cowboys control their own playoff destiny after whipping the Saints in a Saturday night game in New Orleans 28-20. And everything, for the first time in a long time, seems to be clicking. All but one of the regular starters on the offensive line are back. Felix Jones ran for 110 yards and two touchdowns in the first half and Marion Barber bruised for 51 yards a score in the second half. Tashard Choice made some big catches on swing routes on third down. And Bobby Carpenter made his second tackle of the season, stepping up first to touch Reggie Bush after the Saints back had slipped on his own shoestring in the open field. At 8-6, the Cowboys only have to win one of their final two games to clinch a playoff spot. If they win one, they’re in.
Two days after Christmas, Dallas loses to the Redskins in the first game at the brand new Pentagon Park 23-17. Redskins owner Daniel Snyder came across as almost childish in his pre-game comments referring to Jerry Jones as a “loser owner with a loser team and the second-biggest football stadium in the country!” The Cowboys are 1-3 in December. Again. Wade Phillips can’t explain it. Lindsay Lohan announces her breakup with Tony Romo on Facebook. Still, if Dallas just wins the season finale at home against the Eagles, they’ll make the playoffs.
Philly 37, Dallas 28. The Cowboys finish their historic 50th season in the NFL at 8-8 and out of the post-season. Jerry Wayne cans Phillips during the post-game press conference and hires Barry Switzer. If it worked for Steinbrenner, Jones reasons, it’ll work for us. Romo says if this is the worst year of his life, then he’s having a pretty good life.