OXNARD , Calif. – We're back.
The Cowboys are back.
And nothing could be finer than to be in Southern Californ-i-a for Training Camp 2021.
To actually sit in person at the Cowboys' annual camp-opening press conference on Wednesday, this one with owner Jerry Jones, chief operating officer Stephen Jones and head coach Mike McCarthy, unlike in 2020 under the heavy cloud of COVID-19, the abundance of caution reducing any interaction to Zoom-like for an entire season.
Actually saw Dak Prescott heading to his room here Tuesday evening, giving me a shout out. Haven't been that close to him, within speaking distance, since the end of the 2019 season.
Ran into Randy Gregory this morning. Gave me a big smile and a fist bump, appearing to be a mighty happy camper, and why not. This is his first training camp since the 2018 season.
And unlike last year, with camp practices in Ford Center and outdoors at times at The Star, open only to a limited number of media members, fans will be allowed in here at the River Ridge Sports Complex to watch the first practice of camp, albeit no more than one of those minicamp-like practices for the first few days as a leadup to the pads coming on July 28.
And no one could be happier than the Cowboys' Top Three that training camp has returned much closer to normal for the 15th time at their Oxnard digs, especially Jerry Jones, so happy that at least three times grew emotional during this hour-long press conference. And for good reason.
Jerry loves this stuff. Loves this game of football. Loves being around his team, and while some might bemoan the presence of HBO's Hard Knocks crew following everyone closer than their shadows, Jerry understands the value this brings, and all the gathered media members bring, to the visibility of this NFL game.
So let's go, we've got more shots than we can shake a stick at.
- Shot In The Arm: When reports came out the Cowboys were not one of the few NFL teams with at least 85% of their players vaccinated, shots were taken (not in the arm), including by the franchise's Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin, emotionally saying not enough of these guys were committed like they should be for the team to have success. That players must do even more than everything possible to turn around last year's 6-10. Well, Jerry had this to say about that: "From the standpoint of the players, we probably have what I call 'in the pipeline' – that's committed but at some various stage of whether they need two vaccine shots and they've got one or whether they're waiting a period of time so that they can have had their vaccine and go through the protocol. We have, out of our 90 players here, we have a handful that, in my mind have still to commit to this. A handful – and a hand is five. And that's iffy in that several, in my mind, in that finger of five, are on their way to potentially having their vaccine. So, that's where we are relative to the league at some 77%. We're very satisfied at where the Dallas Cowboys are as far as looking at our competition in the next few weeks ahead." And speaking of that, Jerry Jones seemed rather convinced that by time the Cowboys play that first preseason game on Aug. 5 at the Pro Football Hall that "we'll be able to play anybody in the Hall of Fame game that we want to play." And Stephen went on to say he's confident the team will hit that 85% threshold "and more." That right there might be the best news coming out of this hour of gold.
- Dak Is Back: Yes, Dak Prescott physically is full go once practices begin on Thursday. No restrictions, other than that hands-off red jersey will be a deeper shade of red when the contact begins next week. But more importantly says McCarthy, is this: "But his leadership, and all that, to me that's part of the contract. When players receive big contracts, I view it as, and this is my opinion, obviously they are being rewarded and recognized for what they do on Sundays, but the responsibilities of what they have Mondays through Saturdays greatly increases. And nobody emulates that more than Dak Prescott." And all you must do is walk through the locker room to understand what Mike's talking about.
- Definition Of Urgency: Seems to come up the start of every training camp these past two decades, by Jerry is asked because of his advancing age – he turns 79 in October – if his "urgency" to win another Super Bowl continues to increase and if this is the team to get you there. "You've often heard me say you would be shocked if I could write a check and know I was going to get the Super Bowl what you would do with that." And when the old story about Jerry saying he sold his soul to the devil back in 1995 just to win another Super Bowl and that now he's still paying that debt, Jerry, smiling says, "But the facts are that I would right now, if I could, and I knew that I had a good chance to do it, I'd do anything known to man to get in a Super Bowl. That's a fact. There's nothing, in my mind, that have a higher priority than that . . . I feel as driven as when we first bought the team."
- Camp Shots: McCarthy on Hard Knocks cameras infiltrating training camp and if he needed to be talked into being on the series by Jerry: "I'm just going to be honest. I wrecked my truck when Jerry called me . . . I was driving through a rainstorm, but once I got back on the road, 'I'm all in, I'm excited about it.'" . . . At one point, Jerry talked about his Top 10-11 paid players, saying those guys can make major contributions. Problem in 2020 was, of the Top 11 paid players, eight of them missed a combined 75 games because of injury, and seven of those eight (Zeke only missed one game) missed 74 games (Dak 11), Zack Martin (6), Tyron Smith (14), La'el Collins (16), Blake Jarwin (15), Leighton Vander Esch (6) and Anthony Brown (6) . . . Then throw in starters like DT Trysten Hill (11), Trevon Diggs (4) and Chidobe Awuzie (8). That's a lot to overcome.
If Jerry got the first words during this hour-long of gold, then he serves this week's final word with story time with Jerry, when he was asked about his first coach Jimmy Johnson joining him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame after the Cowboys' preseason game that week against the Steelers in Canton, Ohio, and only a story as Jerry can tell it.
"So when I look back at the time we got to enjoy and what happen to us at that time I go back to what Barry Switzer said," Jerry began, taking us back to the spring of 1994 when the two parted company after winning back to back Super Bowls. "Barry Switzer came in the office and Jimmy had just left. And so Barry came down from Norman, Oklahoma, to talk about getting the job.
"And he comes in and says, 'Where's Jimmy?' Barry had coached us both (at Arkansas). He said, 'Where's Jimmy?'
"I said, 'Jimmy's gone.'
"He said, 'Well, that's not right, get him, get him in here. Where's Jimmy?'
"I said, 'Barry, Jimmy's gone, we're sitting here talking about you being the coach.' I said, 'What in the world are you so anxious to talk to Jimmy about?'
"(Switzer says) 'I just want to get both of you little (A-holes) on this couch and ask you both, how could you F this up.' That was Switzer."
And that's Jerry back in his element in top form.
Hard Knocks should have to pay for stuff like that.