Offseason | 2021

Spagnola: Just Maybe We Are Back To The Future

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FRISCO, Texas – Just like old times.

Finally.

Like a press conference. A real, live press conference. In person, but socially distanced.

Good gosh, went on for nearly 90 minutes, only the way the Joneses can do.

You realize Wednesday, in the sparkle-lit grand foyer of The Star, that was the first time the media, in person, has spoken with Jerry Jones and Stephen Jones since the introduction of Mike McCarthy as the new head coach on Jan. 8, uh, 2020.

That was 426 days ago.

You realize that was the first time we've spoken to Dak Prescott since Oct. 8, 2020, in the locker room on the Thursday before suffering his horrific ankle injury against the Giants at AT&T Stadium, Sunday, Oct. 11. Yep, we had gone 153 days without any up close and personal interaction with the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys.

That has to be some kind of franchise record.

For sure, blame all that on COVID-19 and the subsequent NFL safety restrictions successfully implemented to navigate a 32-team, 164-game league through the 2020 season, with strict adherence to every single protocol. And obviously on Dak, having suffered that fateful Sunday the compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle that left his right foot nearly pointing a disturbing 45 degrees to the right of his leg, all in need of immediate surgery.

But also leave it to Dak, this franchise's newest Pied Piper, to bring everyone back together again with the celebration of signing his four-year, $160 million contract earlier in the day. Yep, there he was, flashing that charismatic, disarming smile, walking smartly onto the riser, taking his seat between owner and son.

Gathered all of us just the way he had gathered those 50-some other guys in that locker room, led them onto the field, some even onto his backyard practice field during last year's interrupted offseason, a quality of such importance to a football team no NFL stat can quantify.

An innate talent even Cowboys Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach recognizes, once telling Jerry Jones when he goes looking for a quarterback, "Get somebody at quarterback the players will follow. That's the biggest thing of all."

Dat's Dak for sure. Heck, we all follow.

And you know what on that March 10 day? Never has usual felt so usual. Not since, oh, a year ago this time, when on March 11 COVID-19 not only swept into our existence and consciousness but overwhelmed this nation, nearly causing our earth to stand still.

We were actually asking questions again out here at The Star. No Zoom conference calls. No WebEx hookups. Oh, we were wearing masks. We were seated six feet across and deep in rows from each other. But we were here. They were here. We actually in person could see Jerry and Stephen, both having relied on their flagship station 105.3 The Fan radio segments during the 2020 season to speak to the rest of the media and, most importantly, the sporting fans.

And Jerry was at his Jerry-best. Where else in the NFL can you hear "circumcised mosquito" or "honky-tonkin'" or a slip of the tongue on a four-letter word meaning "stuff" during a press conference? Where else does the son refer to dad as "the 78-year-old man to my left"? Or when asked if there were any heated conversations during the negotiations, as they had back in 1995 when the Cowboys signed Deion Sanders, with dad saying of son, "Well, Stephen has gotten to where he has some deference in the physical area, too, as time has moved along."

Or not a soul on stage biting their tongue when asked if having Dak back in the fold makes the Cowboys the best team in the NFC East, even Dak with a resounding "Yes" beating Stephen's "absolutely" to the punch, where, for a change, there was no need for usually boastful Jerry to light up the Eagles' bulletin boards.

And leave it to Dak, not shying away from the expectations that come with a contract guaranteeing 126 million smakeroos.

"As I said, as a guy that lives by faith, as long as you have a family and an organization that says, 'We want you at the forefront, go do it,' that's everything because I want to give them everything that they want, everything that they invested in," Dak said from his heart. "As I said, if I manifest it, if I put everything in, it'll happen in the back end.

"I'm just excited to be on the front end of this. We'll all be celebrating when it pays off."

Don't be naïve. We know what _celebrating_ means. Only the Cowboys, right, coming off a 6-10 season, beat up physically and giving up the most points of any team in the franchise's previous 61 years, could unabashedly invoke _Super Bowl_ into a March discussion.

Just like old times.

Why, this is Dak's opening statement after Jerry's introduction.

"Overwhelmed with so many different emotions right now, from love, from support, from the faith that has just been instilled in me by an amazing organization. From the support that Mr. Jones talked about that so many people came in on my behalf and spoke of. Eagerness, excitement, anxiousness to give this organization and the Jones Family everything that they invested in, and that's a Super Bowl. And that's to go win."

So for those out there thinking they've been cute ever since this four-year, $160 million deal has been announced, trying to say Dak winning a Super Bowl, as if he can do that all by himself, is the only way he can qualifying receiving such riches, otherwise the deal is a failure, forget about it. Dak's always been immune to that sort of artificial pressure.

"Pressure is privilege," said Dak, brushing off the question the way he has so many blitzing linebackers. "And I am privileged to have it. I am privileged that this organization believes in me. They put their faith in me. If you know me, you know who I am. I walk every day with faith and what I believe in. My expectations are so high. My expectations in myself are higher than anybody's out there.

"All this contract does is raise those expectations for everyone else. I think higher expectations create higher results. I am all for it. I am excited. It's a privilege to have this pressure. I am just excited to go out there and do what I can."

And don't think invoking Super Bowl into the discussion just moments after signing this deal was a slip of the tongue. Dak doesn't do verbal slips. He knows what he's saying.

"It's behind me," Dak said of the lengthy negotiations. "If anything, that is what it's more about, free head space. Get that behind me. I don't have to dodge y'alls questions or hide from y'all on that point. I can just move forward and worry about winning a Super Bowl."

See what I mean?

Then there is Stephen. Mincing words? Ha.

"It's just a great feeling seeing him here and ready to go to work to get a championship for the Dallas Cowboys," he said.

And just how great was it to have Jerry back on stage? Come on, admit it. You guys missed his candor. His unbridled optimism. His unique way with words. We all sure did.

Yep, there was this for those who feel obligated to declare winners and losers in these negotiations.

"It's not as simple as Dak wins, Jerry wins," Jerry says. "The Cowboys win. The Cowboys won today. They won today, and I'm excited about the future. And that's what we're all interested in – the future."

And you know darn well what the "78-year-old man" means.

See what I mean? Vaccination-shot availability appears to be multiplying, and maybe the spread of COVID is slowing down now a year later from the outbreak in this country, though deaths continue to be reported daily and there are those still testing positive by the hundreds. But on this day, this all at least was a sign of a normalcy seemingly long forgotten.

Real press conference. Live Joneses. And maybe most of all, Dak reminding us, too, of Dak. How engaging he can be, here trying to explain the touching picture and that celebratory bearhug between himself and his brother Tad.

"That was a very special moment," Dak said, not minding revealing his inner emotions or shying away from mentioning his deceased mother Peggy and brother Jace. "I was just looking at that picture today and thinking I don't know if the world knows what that was truly about. That moment was truly about my mom and my brother. As we were sitting there overcome with emotions and excitement, I felt my mom and my brother as much as I do now. Right there in that moment, and as I told Tad, they are here. This is for all of us. Give me a hug. We jumped up. We hugged.

"That is everything we have been through. There are not that many people in this world who know where I started and to where I am now, but also know my belief and where I am going to go. … That was a special moment. Very emotional. A lot of hard work coming together.

"But just knowing it's the stat and the beginning to even greater things."

How we have sorely missed all of this.

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