IRVING, Texas – Well, here we go, we're doing it again, neutering another player's personality, turning him into "Boring Man."
Seen this occur time and time again during all of these years covering the Dallas Cowboys. Turn a guy with a gift for gab, someone who gives us entertainment gold, into a flowing stream of verbal clichés. One after another after another.
Saw this happen with Danny White by the end of his career. A guy with a really good personality that we readily see these days, he became cautious during interviews in the mid-1980s, barely saying anything back then worth wasting your time to listen.
Same happened with Troy Aikman, a very forthcoming rookie, that same guy you love to hear these days analyze games on TV, turned into robot man when the camera lights came on during interview sessions in the locker room within a few years.
Same with Tony Romo. He can be engaging. Funny. Introspective. Insightful. Truthful … as long as it's not a group interview or the cameras are rolling, knowing how easily his words can be misconstrued or taken out of context. Took him about three years as the starter to catch on, and now he dumbs it down for the most part, making sure there is no way whatever he says can create waves, one way or another.
Crazy, isn't it? We in the media are supposed to be in the entertainment business, especially when covering sports. This is not life or death. We are your conduits to these players.
But no, not enough of us understand when we have entertainment gold, becoming all sanctimonious when someone happens to speak their mind, when they say something off the cuff, as if we are covering Watergate or something. This ain't Watergate, OK, it's sports, it's entertainment. Don't turn statements into a national crisis. Don't bite the hand that willingly feeds you.
But we've done it again, made what Cowboys running back Joe Randle said last week, speaking his mind, really no more than a molehill of a statement, into this mountain of controversy. How dare he criticize DeMarco Murray, the NFL's reigning rushing king who set the Cowboys single-season record last year with 1,845 rushing yards, more yards than the likes of Hall of Famers Tony Dorsett or Emmitt Smith ever gained in a single season for the team.
By now you're well familiar with what he said, his words having gone viral worldwide during the first week of OTAs out here at The Ranch, the third-year running back currently alternating days with veteran Darren McFadden (when he's healthy) taking the first snaps in team drills with the first-team offense.
Randle was asked in front of his locker during a huge group interview about the opportunity at hand, the Cowboys having decided against drafting a running back, instead figuring the combination of McFadden, Randle, Lance Dunbar and Ryan Williams could cobble together an efficient enough running game – as long as Tony Romo is throwing the ball, Dez Bryant is catching the ball, Jason Witten is threatening defenses and this offensive line continues to brutalize opponents.
He very respectfully said, "We've got a lot of older guys that I've still got to gain the trust of, especially with losing DeMarco from last year," Randle began honestly and innocently enough, "so I've got to step in there, you know, I've got to earn the trust of the older players on the team."
Then a media member points out that Murray had 1,800 yards last season, so "you must be champing at the bit to get a chance to get out there."
Randle, who, OK, look I'll admit he's proven to possess a little knucklehead factor at times, spoke his mind, failing to keep to the more acceptable script:
"Yeah, he had a great year last year, but I … you know … I got to sit back and watch a lot, and I felt like there was a lot of meat left on the bone."
You'd have thought Randle had just dropped the atom bomb, this former 2013 fifth-round running back having the audacity to ridicule the work of Murray, who turned those 1,845 yards into a five-year, $40 million deal with the Eagles, half the amount guaranteed. It was as if a bunch of bees had been let out of the hive, buzzing Randle's words back to Murray in Philadelphia in a hurry. They couldn't wait until this week to find out what head coach Jason Garrett thought of Joe's words, to find out what running backs coach Gary Brown thought of that comment, to find out what COO Stephen Jones thought of that "meat" being left on the bone.
Say it ain't so, Joe. The nerve.
Truth of the matter is twofold, and this is not in any way to denigrate Murray's season:
First, if everyone had closely watched games or took the time to analyze game tape, as incredulous as it might sound after the guy sets the franchise single-season rushing record, Murray did leave yards on the field. How many times did he get run down from behind? How many times did he miss a gaping hole? How many times did he put the ball on the ground? Lose it? You could easily make an argument he missed the opportunity to set the NFL's single-season rushing record.
Two, did it ever occur to anyone that Randle's comment might not have been an original thought, that somewhere along the line he heard someone else at The Ranch say the same thing – privately – or in a meeting watching tape? It's not as if he coined a new phrase. His problem was he spoke his mind publicly, creating a social media firestorm.
Thank goodness guys such as Michael Irvin or Nate Newton or Everson Walls or Hollywood Henderson never learned that lesson of saying nothing when saying something. Man, I can remember saying about former White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen that he either needed to come equipped with a seven-second delay or someone alongside with a mute button on hand. But, what great entertainment that there wasn't.
None of these guys ever cared what people thought of what they said. They'd just say it.
Well, so on Wednesday, the second time the media had access to OTA practices and the players in the locker room, here we go again. Randle totally aware of the criticism, no doubt. He heard from his position coach that you might want to cool it. Garrett, when asked about the verbal incident, said he's suggested to the players they worry more about playing than talking.
But to Joe's credit, he didn't run and hide. He strode right to his locker after practice. He knew what was coming, willingly facing the music. And darn it, he turned into Boring Man on cue.
He was told of what Garrett had to say, the part about playing more than talking, that the head coach didn't seem real thrilled about your comment of "leaving meat on the bone."
"We were just going out there trying to grind every day, so I can earn some playing time."
What did it mean to you when the Cowboys decided not to draft a running back and put faith in the guys who are here after Murray's departure?
"Just keep grinding, do more of the same."
What do you think of this group of running backs the Cowboys have?
"All working hard and trying to be the best we can be today."
Do you feel more pressure to be a leader now that DeMarco is out of the picture because you were the backup last year?
"Lance was the backup last year."
You'd have thought Joe had taken *Bull Durham *lessons. Couldn't help recalling the scene with raw minor league pitcher "Nuke" LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) on the bus ride home after a victory asking Kevin Costner's character, his catcher "Crash" Davis, to teach him something new:
Davis: It's time to work on your interviews. *LaLoosh: My interviews? What do I gotta do? Davis:You're gonna have to learn your clichés. You're gonna have to study them, you're gonna have to know them. They're your friends. Write this down: "We gotta play it one day at a time." LaLoosh:Got to play … it's pretty boring. *Davis: *'Course it's boring, that's the point. Write it down.*
As you might remember, Nuke eventually gets called up to "The Show," and there is the near-closing scene in that Major League ballpark, the young pitcher conducting an interview with a television reporter. Apparently Nuke learned his lessons well:
Nuke: *Ya know, I'm just happy to be here and hope I can help the ball club. I just want to give it my best shot and good Lord willing, things'll work out … gotta play 'em one day at a time, ya know … *
Yeah, we do. Sort of like "grinding it out" and "earning some playing time," right?
Amazing how Oscar Wilde told us a long time ago that life imitates art far more than art imitates life. Well, ol' Oscky, apparently so.
Too bad we all can't handle just a little more meat on the bone, ya know …