If enthusiasm burned calories and built muscle-mass you could count on Joe Looney showing up to the start of the 2020 NFL season as one of the leanest, strongest players in the entire league. It's hard to imagine a person better equipped to weather the stressors and inconveniences of a global pandemic than Looney, whose love for life is apparent in the way he carries himself on and off the field.
Looney will enter perhaps the biggest opportunity of his career coming off what is sure to be the strangest off-season he'll ever experience. The presumptive starting center in the wake of Travis Frederick's unexpected retirement, Looney is just trying to soak in the uniqueness of working from home.
"That's been a feat during this time, trying to get these workouts in," Looney said recently, fresh off a daily run. "Because as football players we're so used to the gym and what not, so we've really had to get creative with workouts. It's been fun though."
When last season officially ended and the Cowboys entered an off-season with myriad questions to be answered, re-signing Looney seemed like a potential luxury more than a priority. Fortunately, the two sides managed to work out a deal with the versatile lineman back in March, and only a few weeks later the move would look crucial in retrospect. Looney claims that he had no idea that Frederick was planning to hang up his cleats when he re-signed in Dallas.
"We found out like everybody else found out," he said. "I had no idea he was going to retire. Me and Travis are great friends. We sat next to each other in meetings every day."
Looney, who has also played games for the Cowboys at guard, started at center in 2018 when Frederick was sidelined with Guillain-Barre syndrome. While most hoped he was just keeping the position occupied until Frederick could return, his next opportunity could prove to be as a long-term place in the starting lineup, and playing behind and with Frederick is an advantage he holds in any position battle.
"We've had some great centers here in the past, and Travis set a standard for me when I first got here," Looney said. "Him, Zack, Tyron, LC, the way these guys work just makes you want to be better at your craft."
Make no doubt about it, Looney is in the NFL because of apparent skill, but he's been particularly valued on the Cowboys for his ability to stay ready to contribute and his energetic optimism no matter the circumstances. The moods around the Dallas Cowboys have been high and low since Looney joined the team in 2016, but throughout it all he could be found smiling in the locker room or dancing on the practice field during warm-ups.
So, even as a potential starter, Looney knows that the Dallas Cowboys are an organization that appreciates him for what he provides as a person. So if Tyler Biadasz, the center Dallas selected in the fourth round of last month's draft, expected the veteran cold shoulder from Looney, he should be relieved to know he'll be getting an energetic mentor.
"In the year that [Frederick] had his health issues going on, he talked to me and said, 'Hey Joe, all of this is about confidence. Go out there and believe you can do it,'" Looney recalled. "You want to talk about powerful words. I held on to that that season and from here on out. I'm just going to tell these young guys what he told me."
Until he can get back on the field, Looney will just be working out, "having a blast" virtually getting to know his new coaching staff, and taking advantage of the increased family time he never would have gotten otherwise. Looney is living with his son and daughter, both under 6-years-old. Essentially a giant kid himself, he and his little ones have been dancing to music, choreographing their own player introductions, and playing video games.
"Back in the day, me and my sister would play Donkey Kong all the time, so I was able to get my hands on a Super Nintendo," he said with the excitement of someone who's never worried about sounding cool.
If Looney ever played a bit role with the Dallas Cowboys, he still would have done it in a way that radiates a passion for not just football but life. That role looks to expand going forward, and he'll be trying to prove that a lot of hard work was hiding behind that smile.
"I'm just trying to keep the tradition of centers being a known position on this team."