FRISCO, Texas – In the shadows of John Madden's death came the passing of Dan Reeves, a Cowboys fan favorite during his playing and coaching days with the team from 1965-80.
Reeves passed away after battling dementia this past Saturday at the age of 77, and while he became known as a successful NFL head coach with Denver, the Giants and Atlanta, he first made his name with the Cowboys, a rookie free agent running back who had played quarterback in college at South Carolina. The Cowboys had planned to turn him into a defensive back, but out of necessity developed him as a fullback.
My gosh, the guy played in three Super Bowls and took his teams as a head coach to four more, a story certainly worthy of Hall of Fame consideration.
Check this out: In 1966, Reeves led the Cowboys with 16 touchdowns, eight rushing and eight receiving, when they achieved their first winning season in franchise history (10-3-1) and ended up losing to Green Bay in their first NFL Championship Game, 34-27. The next year he led them with 11 touchdowns, once again the Cowboys losing to the Packers in the NFL Championship Game, the noted Ice Bowl, 21-17, before a knee injury in 1968 shortened his career.
Reeves in 1970 became a player-coach and then a full-time assistant coach with the Cowboys in 1973 before the always thought to be heir-apparent to Tom Landry as the next Cowboys head coach left to become the Broncos head coach in 1981, leading them to three Super Bowl appearances before going on to the Giants and then the Falcons.
What I remember most about Reeves, after being told of just how competitive he had been during his time with the Cowboys, were two brushes with him. First in 1989, the Cowboys playing the Broncos in a preseason game at Mile High Stadium in Denver, the year Landry, after 29 years as head coach, had been relieved of his duties when the Jerry Jones-Jimmy Johnson era began.
Dan wasn't happy about how "his" coach had been treated, though before the preseason game, when asked about if this was a revenge game, he was quoted as saying, "I felt sad. I think everybody felt sad. … Certainly he was hurt by it."
Ah, but his competitive spirit in the game took over. With Johnson's crew leading 21-14, there was his Pro Bowl quarterback John Elway still playing into the fourth quarter of the third preseason game, actually throwing a 14-yard touchdown pass with one second left to send the preseason game into overtime. Preseason now.
Nope, that wasn't enough. Elway continued to play into overtime when he completed passes of 24 and 17 yards, setting up David Treadwell's game-winning field goal for the 24-21 win.
Take that Cowboys.
Then there was Super Bowl XXXIII, his Atlanta Falcons vs. his former Denver Broncos, the Falcons then known as the "Dirty Birds." That year I was serving as the pool reporter for the NFC team, basically writing a sanitized report on the Atlanta practice. Thinking this was common knowledge, included a sentence or two about a Falcons offensive guard working at fullback for the game. Uh, not sanitized enough.
Dan blew a gasket, not at me but at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Falcons beat writer for including that information in the morning paper. Chewed him out but good. So that next practice I outed myself to Reeves, apologizing, telling him my bad and that it wasn't the reporter's fault, that everybody knew about it.
And Reeves scoffed, "Yeah, well, he should have known better." Thus, my feeble attempt to calm him down.
Well, after Denver won the game, 34-19, we crossed paths as he was walking in for his postgame press conference. He made eye contact with me, actually creasing a small smile and saying, "I guess that fullback thing didn't have much to do with the game."
Really good guy.
· Rough Few Days: While Reeves passed away on Saturday, former Cowboys four-time All-Pro offensive lineman Ralph Neely passed away on Wednesday at the age of 78. Neeley, a second-round pick in 1965, played 13 seasons for the Cowboys and retired after the team won Super Bowl XII that 1977 season, spending the majority of his career as a bookend tackle with Hall of Famer Rayfield Wright. Neely was a 1960s All-Decade player, though a motorcycle accident injury in 1971 caused him to miss the franchise's first Super Bowl victory. But at least he was there for the second one, having played in 11 playoffs and four Super Bowls during his career.
· About Face: So last year the Cowboys defense was noted ignominiously for giving up the most single-season points in franchise history, 473, breaking the previous high by 37 points (2010). Now this year the Cowboys have tied the franchise single-season high for points scored with 479 in 16 games, matching the previous record set in 1983 and distancing the second most of 467 scored in 2014 for 16-game seasons. And to think they still have one game to go, so assuming they aren't shut out this will be the record for a 17-game season.
· Rushing to Judgment: Much is being made of Ezekiel Elliott's lack of yards rushing this season after he had gotten off to a fast start, gaining 622 yards in the first eight games of the season. Although he's at 915 right now, 85 yards shy of 1,000, there currently are just five running backs in the NFL this season with 1,000-yard seasons: Colts Jonathon Taylor (1,734), Bengals Joe Mixon (1,205), Browns Nick Chubb (1,201), Steelers Najee Harris (1,172) and Vikings Dalvin Cook 1,080). Since there is a good chance Titans running back Derrick Henry (937) will miss the final game of the season (foot), Zeke then is the only likely running back to hit the 1,000-yard mark needing less than 100 yards in the final regular-season game. Not bad for a guy who has been playing these last several games with a brace on his knee. Plus, did you realize that unless a couple of backs explode for 100-yard games this weekend, this will be the first time since the NFL went to a 16-game season that there hasn't been at least seven 1,000-yard rushers in the league? Sense a growing trend here.
· New Year Shots: So much is made about the Cowboys owning only three victories over teams with winning records (Chargers 9-7, Eagles 9-7, Patriots 10-6), with the possibility of two more if they beat the Eagles on Saturday and the 8-8 Saints win on Sunday. But the Eagles still do not have a win over a team with a winning record, though they have a chance if they beat the Cowboys and/or the Saints win on Sunday … If he said it once, Mike McCarthy must have said like five times Wednesday, the Cowboys' 122 penalties rank "32nd" in the NFL … Not sure about the relevancy of this, but the Cowboys are 15-14 playing in regular-season Saturday games, last winning Dec. 17, 2011, 31-15 over Tampa Bay … And just in case they play a Saturday playoff game, the Cowboys are 6-6, having lost their last three, the last win coming on Dec. 28, 1996, 40-15 over Minnesota.
And even though the Cowboys were forced to place rookie Micah Parsons on Reserve/COVID Wednesday, putting him in jeopardy of missing Saturday's game in Philly but also forfeiting a chance to break the NFL rookie sack record of 14.5 belonging to Jevon Kearse (Parsons has 13), the overriding choice to win NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year gets the last word before the last regular-season game.
He was asked about his versatility and the possibility of becoming the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year, along with the NFL DROTY thanks to only totaling those team-leading 13 sacks playing the majority of snaps at linebacker but also leading the team with 42 QB pressures, 12 tackles for loss and is tied for the lead with three forced fumbles, not to mention fourth with 64 total tackles.
"I would put myself up there with the elite guys around the league in terms of impacting the game," he safys. "It definitely hasn't been a one-man job. I would say the DBs help me a lot to hold the receivers so I can get the pressure, the sacks, things like that.
"You know, I think I just do a lot of very different things on the defense that change the game. Like, I never just play one position. I feel like if I could just rush, I might be an 18-20 sack, guy, too. If I just stayed in pass coverage, in run, I'd be a 100-tackle guy, too, you know.
"Because of my abilities, in certain things throughout the game I've got to own a role throughout the game so I can put my team in the best position to win, and sometimes it's sacrificing those extra sacks or things like that. So, I think when it comes to terms like that of just impacting the game, I would definitely put myself up with those guys of being a defensive player."
No arguments here.