Bradie James was young and therefore did not know what he did not know when he entered the NFL. He planned for Super Bowls and “definitely thought I’d have at least two by now.”
And why not? He had been drafted by the Dallas Cowboys, with their history of Lombardi excess and an owner willing to spill as much money as necessary for the cause and a long list of Hall of Famers just waiting for a next generation to join them.
He knows now, as he prepares for his ninth season in Dallas.
“I think the entitlement kills us,” James said. “Our alumni, our former greats have made us America’s Team and we reap benefits that we haven’t earned — all the way around, as individuals, as a team. Those guys earned it. We just think we deserve it.”
As James and I stood there talking Sunday night, it hit me. The Cowboys are Jennifer Aniston.
This is not a compliment. And it probably necessitates an explainer on my Jen Aniston theory, which mostly is that she must be crazy pants — super-strength crazy pants. How else do you explain somebody that smoking hot, all legs and lean, having guys knocking people out of the way to get away from her? This could also be called my Halle Berry theory.
And this wait-what-is-wrong-with-them feeling definitely sums up the Cowboys.
They are consistently among the sexiest team in the league, all prime-time appearances and hyped players, the best stadium that also doubles as a money tree, the most all-in owner, bestest in every category that we keep score in except, well, the one that actually really counts.
W’s. For all of their bluster and hype, the Cowboys have one playoff win in 15 years.
All of that excess, and nothing of any consequence lying around to mark the time. Since I covered the Cowboys for years, people always ask what I think is wrong.
“Everything” springs to mind. But it feels a tad reactionary.
The easy answer, of course, is to blame owner Jerry Jones. He, after all, hired and keeps employed his failed general manager. He fired Jimmy Johnson and basically made every football mistake possible. And I am not going to lie — I have written this column and there is total validity to it. Except Jerry has proved himself to be overcomable if properly handled, by The Jimster. And I still believe you would rather have an owner storming into the locker room muttering about first-half yardage allowed — as Jerry did Sunday — than a guy looking at bottom lines from his beach house in Miami.
The problem is not a Jerry problem, per se, but a what-Jerry-values problem.
“It’s about putting down a foundation,” Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware said when I asked why a team blessed with so much has done so little. “We have everything at the top but what is holding it at the bottom? You have to have something holding it together and that is what we are working at.”
This is a really nice way of saying the Cowboys have valued flash over substance, which is amazingly honest and 100 percent accurate.
The excess is the problem, the hype, the entitlement, the feeling that simply being a Cowboy is a guarantee. The idea that drafting is boring and easily overcome in free agency, the idea that 500 coaches could lead them to the Super Bowl and the lack of focus on football infrastructure.
It is just a tiny example, well, a tiny example of overstuffed men, but the Cowboys offensive line was and might possibly still be a microcosm of what is wrong with this team. They simply ignored it in the draft and threw money at it in free agency and figured what little they had was enough and looked all stumped when year after year the line canceled out all of the flashy talent they love to collect — the Dez Bryants and T.O.s before him. It is probably too simple to lay this at the feet of coaching, but the key with the Cowboys is to have a coach willing to tell Jerry, “Hey, I’d love to sign Pacman Jones, but hell no. And, by the way, we need an offensive lineman who is not 45.”
Barry Switzer and Chan Gailey and Dave Campo and Coach Cupcake as I called Wade Phillips (and good luck with all of that Houston; I had sorority sisters with stronger backbones) were not those guys.
Jason Garrett is, or he has shown himself to be so far.
And even that guarantees little because, in seasons like this, when they finally have a real coach and talent in necessary areas, they have found ways to falter — at least in recent history.
This is the Anistonian part, the wait-what-are-we-missing conundrum. Why can they not get it together?
Many, including Jerry, believed 2010 to be a Super Bowl year for Dallas. That crashed and burned midway through the season; the nadir had to be quitting on Coach Cupcake midway through the Green Bay game and thus leading to his firing. Nor is the 2011 season guaranteed to be any better with Philly loaded for bear.
New Orleans is better than Dallas. So is Green Bay.
And possibly Atlanta and the Giants, Bucs and Bears as well.
And much like there is a shelf life for smoking hot — although my guy friends seem torn on whether Aniston has crossed this barrier and admittedly this is not my area of expertise — there is also a shelf life on championship potential. Nobody gets forever, not even the Dallas Cowboys.
This is what Bradie James knows now, how easily it can be wasted and how hard it is to get one.
“I’ve been on three of the most talented teams I have ever played on and hadn’t gotten it,” James said. “You are asking why and what is missing. What I am telling you is we will find out when we go earn ours.”
Because about the only thing the Cowboys are entitled to any more is doubt, doubt they are anything more than self-generated hype that typically dies from the what it takes to win in the league.