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Spagnola: Gut-Wrenching Memory & Good Advice


SHELTERED IN PLACE, Texas – Hang tight, we're going to get to Dak Prescott.

But got to get this off my chest first.

Watched last night on NFL's Greatest Games: Cowboys-Packers, Jan. 15, 2017, at AT&T Stadium, 93,000 strong. Now, if you've got the stomach for this – again – reminded myself of all it took for the Cowboys to lose that divisional-round playoff game after going 13-3 during the rookie seasons of Dak and Ezekiel Elliott and Anthony Brown and Maliek Collins to earn the NFC's No. 1 playoff seed.

Sure, we all remember _The Play,_ a scrambling Aaron Rodgers to his left on third-and-20 from the Green Bay 32-yard line with 12 seconds left in a tie game, firing a bullseye to tight end Jared Cook, with both feet inches from the sideline, for a 35-yard completion to the Cowboys' 33 with just three seconds left in the game, setting up kicker Mason Crosby's winning field goal for a 34-31 victory – the Packers and then-head coach Mike McCarthy leaving yet another hurtful playoff scab in Cowboys history.

But here is what we might have forgotten.

  • The Packers' prior possession, Crosby hit from 56 yards, his longest field goal of that 2016 season, to give Green Bay a 31-28 lead.
  • That highly debatable 15-yard penalty on Cowboys receiver Brice Butler for entering the "huddle" then leaving before the snap, when the Cowboys were still milling around, and there was no huddle, Dak obviously stepping away from everyone else, and the penalty wasn't called until Prescott had hit Terrence Williams for 22 yards to the Green Bay 15. That's automatic field-goal range for Dan Bailey, but instead now backed up to their 47, Cowboys end up punting. No points.
  • That Jeff Heath second interception wiped out by a pass interference call on Anthony Brown, when sure looked like it should have been holding, just a five-yard penalty instead of a 10, which might have meant Crosby would not have been close enough to attempt the 56-yarder on that drive.
  • Or Jeff Heath's 10-yard sack of Rodgers on the Packers' final possession, pushing them back to their own 32 with just 18 seconds left when Rodgers, somehow, someway did not lose the football, palming it with just his right hand while getting clobbered to the ground.
  • Crosby making that game-winner from 51 twice, Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett having called time out just before the snap, and then Crosby starting that second kick outside the left upright, narrowly fading in over the final rotations.

Sickening as this left Cowboys fans, even worse to think back to losing a playoff game and chance of advancing to the NFC title game while scoring 31 points, matching the most points the Cowboys have ever scored in a playoff defeat, the only other that 35-31 loss to Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XIII.

Lose a game your rookie quarterback throws for 302 yards, with a 103.2 QB rating, to Rodgers' 355 yards but 96.6 QB rating. Lose when your rookie running back pounds the Pack for 125 yards rushing. Lose when your indomitable receiver that day, Dez Bryant, catches nine passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns, enough if McCarthy goes back to watch that game to want Dez re-signed tomorrow.

That close to the NFC title game being played against Atlanta at AT&T, this bad memory making title of "Greatest Games" debatable.

Have mercy.

OK, and with that, we're going here:

Dak, Dak, Dak. Thought maybe he needs this reminder. Being the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys is not always a bowl of cherries.


For the majority of his four-year reign as the man behind center, save for a couple of stray dog instances, everything's been pretty much hunky-dory. On-field success. Off-field success. Charismatic. Down to earth. Charitable guy. Endorsement personable, probably earning him more money hocking product than his actual NFL contract has.

But as Bill Parcells is wont to say, there's always that other side of the pancake. That burnt side.

No public missteps allowed by a Cowboys quarterback. Not even perceived ones you might have to correct with statements put out by "your people." There is always someone watching, judging, even if in your opinion those so-called witnesses might have problems estimating the difference between what you insist is less than 10 and theirs almost 30 people, even when it's a mere dinner at your house during these days limited gatherings.


Again, you are the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, and don't you forget it. See, Tua Tagovailoa can hold those pre-draft workouts and post video online to prove to scouts he's healthy. You can't. Un-uh. You're the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys.

All your predecessors found that out before you, maybe with the exception of Roger Staubach. Don Meredith did. Craig Morton did. Hard to hide.

Troy Aikman did, not that he became a recluse or anything. But deception had to become part of his personal life. Like the time the late Joe Avezzano wanted them to stop in Memphis to visit Graceland on the way to the Country Music Awards in Nashville. Troy didn't want to go, dreading facing the attention he'd receive walking around Elvis' old place. So Joe told him, come on, put on a hat, a wig, sunglasses and a fake mustache. It'll be OK.

Or maybe the time one day out at practice this female stalker came rifling over the fence and bushes at The Ranch, running onto the practice field toward Troy, maybe the only time his offensive line mates parted like the Red Sea. Bet that doesn't happen in Buffalo.

Tony Romo learned, too. Hard to be dating celebs in public. Or tripping to Cabo on a weekend off. Then learned to watch carefully what he'd say in interviews, the very personable guy who now talks for a living purposely turning boring out of necessity in those group settings.

Oh, and when it comes to contracts, you're not the first Cowboys quarterback struggling to get what you want. Why, Staubach was getting stonewalled by president Tex Schramm on a new deal one year, and remember back then there was no free agency. Teams had all the rights. So there one day Roger lost his patience waiting outside the office to see Tex, taking matters into his own hands. Stepped out the window of the waiting room to the dismay of Tex's attending assistant, climbed onto the ledge of the high-rise office building and worked his way over to jump in front of Schramm's window, like Ta-dah, with arms spread wide out announcing his presence.

Tex, leaning back at his desk, nearly fell off his chair seeing his Super Bowl-winning, future Hall of Fame, franchise QB out there like seven stories high. But he got in all right. Like quick. Got his new deal, too.

And oh, about possibly not voluntarily participating in the virtual offseason meetings next week from home that's reached national news. Got an idea that if you're really going to be absent in protest, in this day and age without much going on, not sure your absence creates any real negotiating leverage for you. Come on, you guys are supposed to receive a minimum $235 per diem for participating. Don't need to drive in. No need to shower. No need to sweat. Just turn on your computer at home. Just be in front of the screen, paying attention optional.

Then when that check arrives, just go buy nurses and doctors at the local Baylor Scott & White lunches each week.

You'll be back in people's good graces. Back to being everyone's All-American Cowboys quarterback.

Oh, and you can thank me later when we're allowed to be within six feet of each other. Maybe even shake my hand.