FRISCO, Texas – Let's start off Shots today with something somewhat uplifting, born from something really sad.
This from Saturday evening's funeral service for Wade Wilson, the former Cowboys backup quarterback and quarterbacks coach for 14 years who passed away on Feb. 1, his 60th birthday.
No one would have guessed who was coming to Park Cities Baptist Church that night.
Now this in itself was somewhat surprising that former Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips, his son and former Cowboys assistant Wes, along with former Cowboys running backs coach Skip Peete made the trip in from Los Angeles out of respect for Wade Wilson and his family. Especially considering six days earlier the two Rams assistant coaches had just lost Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta.
But knowing Wade Phillips, as he said, being there was just "the right thing to do."
But there was this guy sitting two pews in front of me, on the aisle, who looked familiar. Was racking my brain, recognized him but the name escaping me. Then it hit: Ryan Leaf, former Cowboys quarterback in 2001. He was one of four starting quarterbacks that season, trying to jumpstart the failing career of the second pick in the 1997 draft.
Really? Him? Quite curious.
Remember pointing earlier in the week this Tweet from Leaf after his learning of Wade's passing: "He was an amazing mentor, friend, and father. God bless his family. #RIP."
That caught me by surprise. He spent only one full season with the Cowboys. Played in four games, starting three. Wade was indeed his QB coach.
So after the service, I re-introduced myself to him. He had always been cordial during that season here. But his life would spiral out of control several years later. He would be convicted of breaking into two houses in Montana to steal painkilling drugs, something he had become addicted to. Was sentenced to five years in prison, and paroled after 32 months, Dec. 3, 2014.
Told him I had read his Tweet, and didn't realize he remained close with Wade all these years later.
That's when Leaf, working hard to turn his life around over these last couple of years, told me, "Wade was one of the few people who would write to me while I was in prison."
Yep, that Wade indeed was a good guy.
And big of Ryan to pay his respects … in person.
· Feel Good: Want another feel-good story? Google the bio of D'Cota Dixon, safety, University of Wisconsin, and Tuesday night's winner of the second-annual Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award, given out here at the Ford Center banquet. Dixon's CliffsNotes journey version is this. Born in poverty-stricken Oak Hill, Fla., just outside of Miami. Dad wasn't around. Mom a drug addict and suffered from mental illness. Says in a story he hasn't seen mom since he was 12. Dad Daryl would return, but also addicted to drugs, disappeared again. D'Cota and brother Dexter enter into foster care. Then along comes his living angel and life's savior, stepmother Beth Caston … and now he's going to finish at Wisconsin with a degree in rehabilitation psychology, a hopeful NFL career and despite his upbringing, a Collegiate Man of the Year Award. A remarkable comeback.
· Pope of the Year: NFL Films recently released a two-part retrospective of long-time coach and former Cowboys tight ends coach Mike Pope, analyzing his life and the current battle with cancer that basically brought an end to the 76-year-old's 47-year coaching career, 34 of those in the NFL. When Witten was asked about his former coach prior to the banquet Tuesday night, he had this to say: "Mike's just legendary. I caught him at the tail end, but I've been a fan of his work, going back to the (scouting) combine in 2003. You know, Coach Pope, he is the guy, you know what I mean? He is the best tight end coach in NFL history. … I love him, appreciate him, so much wisdom. My gosh, to think what he's been through," battling his cancer over nearly the past three years.
· What's Right For The Goose: The Cleveland Browns have taken a giant leap of faith, signing running back Kareem Hunt, who is currently on the commissioner's exempt list for the domestic assault caught on camera, shoving and kicking a woman at his residence, which led to being released by Kansas City earlier this season. The NFL has yet to complete its investigation, though he wasn't arrested nor charged in the last February incident. Sound familiar to the Ezekiel Elliott ordeal landing him on a six-game NFL suspension in 2017? If that is base-line punishment for a similar incident, imagine Hunt faces at least a six-game suspension, and maybe more since his has been caught on camera.
· Nerves Firing: Cowboys center Travis Frederick is encouraged he'll be able to begin offseason workouts with the Cowboys in the spring, slowly recovering from the Guillain-Barre Syndrome that cost him the entire 2018 season, a neurological disease that attacks nerve endings. Said Frederick Tuesday night at Witten's awards banquet before introducing the fellow Badger that his upper-body strength is returning. "The electrical is there. Now it's about building strength that you lost at that point," Frederick said. "I'm talking 90 percent, 95 percent of what my best strength level was." Now it's about his lower-body strength improving, saying, "I was missing a little bit of explosion, but that's the last part of it."
· Scatter Shots: Carolina re-signs Eric Reid, three years, $22 million – $7.5 million signing bonus, $10 million guaranteed – but if you look at the fine print, essentially a one-year, $9.4 million deal. So does that set the bar for free agent-to-be Earl Thomas if the Cowboys are kicking tires? What does two years, $10 million, with a similar signing bonus sounds like? … Did you realize Rams nickel back Nickell Robey-Coleman, with his two fines for head-to-head contact in the three postseason games, has been docked $53,000, costing him 37 percent of the $142,000 playoff money earned? … Speaking of money, a report estimates NFL officials will average $205,000 over the course of this upcoming 2019, 16-game season. Now that takes into account various levels of pay, from head referee to like a line judge … More money issues, these with recently football-committed Kyler Murray, who, if indeed foregoes playing baseball, must return $1.29 million of the $1.5 million signing bonus he's already received from the Oakland A's. Hoping the Heisman Trophy-winning QB didn't start spending it all … And with Murray announcing a commitment to enter the NFL Draft, several starting quarterbacks potentially being released and Joe Flacco's impending trade, might that cause an early run on quarterbacks in the draft, pushing a few more position players toward the Cowboys at 58?
Man, always some shots to still chew on this time of year.