FRISCO, Texas – Bart Starr passing away last weekend at age 85 brought back memories of first meeting him midweek of Super Bowl XL in Detroit. Starr was making a Wednesday night appearance with three other Super Bowl MVP quarterbacks.
This was the year when three days later, on Feb. 4, 2006, Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman would be voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and I was writing a preview column on why Aikman deserved to be enshrined in Canton, Ohio.
Who better to ask about Troy's attributes than a Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback himself. Yet, even at my age, it was one of those awe moments when you wonder if you should even attempt to speak with a boyhood idol.
See, grew up in the suburbs of Chicago a staunch Green Bay Packers fan. Knew everything there was to know about Starr. Read whatever was written about him. Listened to anything and everything I could that he had said. And if the Packers games weren't on TV, I could pick up a Milwaukee station to listen on radio.
How ironic that I'd come to cover the very team Starr bedeviled in those consecutive NFL Championship Games during the 1966 and 1967 seasons, the latter forever more known as the "Ice Bowl."
The point of my column was to minimize those thinking Aikman's raw stats weren't Hall of Fame material, no matter he had led the Cowboys to three Super Bowl titles in four seasons and, as Roger Staubach pointed out that night, "resurrected" a franchise that had lost its way.
Without even having to ask a question in a group setting, Starr said of Aikman, "I liked his consistency. He was tough. Very, very talented. But I liked his consistent play. Never way up or way down. Always the same. Consistent. And because of that, he was a sound leader."
But just before the two-time Super Bowl MVP was leaving, I mustered up enough courage to ask him something like what do you say to those who are diminishing Aikman's Hall worthiness by claiming he was surrounded by so many other great players.
Here is what Starr said, staring a hole right through me:
"That's nuts. You have to have a great team to be successful, but you also have to have great leadership. That's the quarterback."
Then came maybe the highlight of the 25 Super Bowls I've covered, writing this that night of the rest of my exchange with Starr.
"And the leader has to contribute," he says, pausing before this monumental moment, and, as if to further enunciate his very next words, he begins poking me in the chest – Bart Starr, poking _me_ in the chest – while saying, "And (poke) he (poke) did (poke).
"So you have to pay your respects to him."
And now think it's only fair to pay my respects with a shot out to him.
- Witt's Return: Even though Cowboys former/new tight end Jason Witten is given off these Wednesday OTA workouts, the only ones we get to witness, he still is the same ol' Witt, turning to the crowd around his locker saying, "Good to see you guys again." Good to see him right where he belongs, where he feels at home, in the locker room and not in a broadcast booth. This Cowboys tight end position seems to be in good hands, and can see the maturation of the position's two heirs, Dalton Shultz and Blake Jarwin. They've been really good in these non-pad workouts. And as for Witten, and for those seemingly questioning the Cowboys re-signing their 16th-year veteran, he knows his place after a year removed from the game, saying, "I don't see myself playing every snap." Neither does this coaching staff.
- Down Goes Frazier: That's Kavon Frazier, the Cowboys safety having his knee scoped to repair some torn meniscus he suffered during these OTA workouts. If this were the regular season I'm told he might've been able to return in a couple of weeks. But since the start of training camp still is 57 days away, the training staff will shut him down until then.
- Kicking Tires: Always good to have some semblance of competition this time of year, and one reason why the Cowboys signed Kasey Redfern, listed as a punter. But Wednesday he showed he is a place-kicker, too. During special team drills, he drilled all five of his field-goal attempts and then, with the first and second teams participating in play-it-out sessions, the offense needing at least a field goal to tie the score in the final 1:24, the first-year kicker with two seconds left made his 38-yard attempt and then on a fourth-and-1with no timeouts left with the second offense, nailed a 53-yarder. Guess we should pay attention since this time last year we basically ignored backup kicker Brett Maher, only for him to win the job over Dan Bailey.
- Couple Observations: Maybe it's just on Wednesdays, but the for the second straight Wednesday OTA, the QB rotation remained the same – Dak Prescott, Mike White and Cooper Rush … New offensive coordinator Kellen Moore had the offense working on some four-receiver sets Wednesday, a few with those bunch formations that are becoming more popular these days … Told you last week how versatile slot receiver Randall Cobb could be moved around the formation. Well, Wednesday there were times he initially lined up in the backfield with Ezekiel Elliott, then reset into the slot. Nice look … Offensive line went back to normal with Cameron Fleming available this week. Fleming was at left tackle during Tyron Smith's off day and starting left guard Connor Williams moved back inside to his normal spot after playing a little tackle out of necessity last week.
- Last Shots: Gotta love Moore, when asked about how he is trying to solve the Cowboys' red-zone struggles of last season, after saying, "Simply execute," I'm sure he disappointed those looking for some fancy solution when he said, "Got to run the football." Hear that … When talking about the quarterback guidance he can receive from the likes of Moore, QB coach Jon Kitna and head coach Jason Garrett, all former NFL quarterbacks, Dak called them, "A special trio." … And speaking of shots, during the outdoor, country-setting wedding ceremony this weekend for Tony Avezzano, son of late Cowboys special teams coach Joe Avezzano, who passed away seven years ago, distant gunshots could be heard, prompting the celebrant to point out, "But this is not a _shot_gun wedding."
Coach Joe would have been all smiles.