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Spagnola: Once Again Cowboys Living Charmed Existence At Quarterback Position

FRISCO, Texas – Jerry Jones just had to pinch himself the other day. Maybe twice.

         Here is the Cowboys owner who had chased the quarterback position from 2001 through half the 2006 season. Here is the Cowboys owner who had been chasing backup quarterbacks, for the most part, from 2007 through the 2015 season.

         And on Tuesday, we'll all be darned, there the Cowboys were, with a rookie fourth-round draft choice starting at quarterback and posting an 8-1 record, more wins than any other Cowboys rookie quarterback in franchise history. Here they were with Dak Prescott leading Dallas to eight consecutive wins, tying the franchise single-season record, one set back 40 seasons ago in 1977 when future Hall of Famer Roger Staubach was at quarterback, future Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett at running back, and various other Hall of Famers with the organization, including Randy White, Rayfield Wright, Mel Renfro, Tom Landry and Tex Schramm.

         And on top of that, four-time Pro Bowl quarterback Tony Romo has been deemed healthy enough after missing the first nine games of the season with a compression fracture of the L1 vertebrae to handle the backup quarterback position, humbly taking a backseat to the rookie sensation.

         You kidding me? Dak and Tony now?

         That's when Jones had to pinch an inch.

         "To be sitting here with an accomplished Dak Prescott and a healthy Tony Romo in a world that depends on having excellent quarterback play, I have to pinch myself," Jones said.

         But you know what? This Cowboys franchise has been mighty lucky when it comes to franchise-type quarterbacks for nearly their entire 57-season existence. OK, check that, maybe not "lucky" since Jones hates the word. He prefers "serendipitous."

         See, this all started right from their 1960 beginning, the Cowboys void of a draft that inaugural season since the selections back then for the next season occurred in November, so 1959, that before the Cowboys were officially awarded the franchise for the 1960 season. So to help prevent the AFL upstart Dallas Texans from grabbing some territorial rights, the Chicago Bears, with the best interest of the NFL, traded their rights to some kid from SMU named Don Meredith to the Cowboys for a future third-rounder. How fortunate.

         Then in 1964 the Cowboys, in but the 10th round, took a flyer on Navy's Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Roger Staubach, knowing full well his military commitment would prevent him from playing any sooner than the 1969 season. You know the rest of that story, Staubach arriving in 1969, just when Meredith decided he was done with football and the harsh quarterback-critical fans of Dallas.

         Then how about this? The Cowboys had used the fifth pick in the 1965 draft on quarterback Craig Morton, presumably being groomed to eventually take over for Meredith. He did, but only for two full seasons, losing the starting job in 1971 to Staubach. So, moving forward, during the 1974 season the Cowboys trade Morton to the New York Giants for their 1975 first-round pick. Well, that first-round pick turns out to be the draft's second selection, and the Cowboys couldn't wait to grab defensive tackle Randy White.

         Oh, how they kept coming up roses at the position.

During the 1974 draft the Cowboys took another quarterback flyer in the third round, Arizona State's Danny White, who already had signed a personal services contract with Memphis of the upstart WFL. Well, Schramm, betting on future failure, won again, inheriting White's rights for the 1976 season after the fledgling league failed. Furthermore, while Staubach was entrenched as the starter, White became the team's backup quarterback and punter, and a fine punter at that. He then became the starting quarterback when Staubach retired somewhat prematurely after the 1979 season after suffering one too many concussions.

         Enough luck for one franchise, right?

Oh no, because a year after Steve Pelluer took over for White in 1988, the 3-13 Cowboys from that season bequeathed the first pick in the 1989 draft to the new regime, Jones and new head coach Jimmy Johnson. And who should be available with the first pick in the draft?

Ha, UCLA quarterback Troy Aikman.

         Can't make this stuff up.

         Aikman would start 12 consecutive years, helping the Cowboys to win three Super Bowls while carving out a Hall of Fame career. How much *serendipity *can befall one team?

         And while their luck seemingly ran out at the turn of the century, the gap was only temporary, the Cowboys signing some fresh-faced, undrafted kid from Eastern Illinois in 2003. Yep, Tony Romo, and likely would have cut him before the start of the 2004 campaign had their 2001 second-round pick, starting quarterback Quincy Carter, who had led the Cowboys to a 2003 season playoff appearance, not been released early in training camp for violating the team guidelines set for him.

         Now it might have taken a few more years, but by the seventh game of the 2006 season, Romo began what has turned out to be a four-time Pro Bowl career, having rewritten the team's record book – not bad for an original rookie free agent.

         If this were not enough quarterback fortune, well, you know all this: The Cowboys draft Prescott with their second fourth-round pick this year after not once, but twice failing to trade up for much higher-rated quarterbacks. Then when presumptive backup Kellen Moore suffers his season-ending ankle fracture, the seemingly desperate Cowboys' attempts to sign free-agent quarterback Nick Foles fail. They also decide Cleveland's asking price for veteran Josh McCown was far too high, throwing up their hands and saying, oh well, this kid has looked just fine so far, we'll go with Dak … as the backup.

         And of all things, Romo suffers the back injury, two and a half weeks before the start of the regular season, leaving the Cowboys with no other option at that late date than to start the raw-rookie Prescott in the season opener.

         They haven't gone back.

         You think teams such as Cleveland and Chicago and the Jets and Detroit until landing Matthew Stafford, along with many others over these past 20-some years, all wandering through quarterback oblivion, are enviously wondering, what the what at this point?

         So with seven games left in this season here the Cowboys are, sitting there with one of the hottest quarterbacks in the NFL, Prescott's 106.2 QB rating only behind the likes of Tom Brady (125.5 in just five games), Matt Ryan (115.1) and Drew Brees (106.4).

And now for backup duty, a healthy and rapidly-preparing Romo taking over from Mark Sanchez, and refusing to make a stink, saying earlier in the week, "I'm not going to allow this situation to negatively affect Dak or this football team by becoming a constant distraction."

Go head, Jerry, do it again.

         "We have a game, in the NFL, that has evolved and is designed so that one of its frailties almost depends on quarterback play," Jones said. "And compared to when we lost Tony in training camp and turn around and lose Kellen Moore, compared to that spot, to be sitting here with as accomplished as Dak Prescott has been and a healthy Tony Romo in a world that really depends on excellent quarterback play, I just have to pinch myself that we're in that shape with Dak Prescott playing at his level and Tony Romo healthy and ready to go."

         Yeah, you bet.

         And here is the other thing: The Cowboys have seven games remaining in this season. Sure they head into Sunday's play against the 5-4 Baltimore Ravens at AT&T Stadium with the absolute best record in the NFL, but in the NFL, seven games is a lifetime. Who knows what will take place.

         Maybe Dak can keep up his torrid pace. Maybe the Cowboys will have to go to the bullpen for Romo at some point. But what a blessing a healthy Romo is, just in case. And on top of that, having swallowed his starting pride, professing to be all in for the good of the team, no matter what.

         And you know what?

As long as we have delved into Cowboys history, remember this: In 1972 Staubach separated his shoulder in training camp, turning the team over to Morton, who led Dallas to a 10-4 record and a wild-card playoff berth. And when the Cowboys struggled in a divisional-round playoff game against San Francisco, Landry turned to Staubach late in the fourth quarter to pull out a comeback victory, 30-28, over San Francisco to earn next week's start against the Redskins in the NFC title game.[embeddedad0]

         OK, that didn't turn out so well with Staubach returning to the starting lineup, as the Cowboys lost badly, 26-3.

         Still, when it comes to the quarterback position, what a charmed life these Cowboys have lived, just one "serendipitous" break after another. And here they are again, a winning starting quarterback and now a healthy veteran backup to boot, one who has been a top five quarterback in this (once again) quarterback-deficient league.

         Doubling the Cowboys pleasure.

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