OXNARD, Calif. – Sitting under the sun beating down on us here on the tennis courts at training camp, a toasty 70 degrees, listening to him on stage fielding questions from the media for the first time at training camp, this occurred to me:
How utterly lucky the Dallas Cowboys are to have Dak Prescott at quarterback today.
As if this little leprechaun landed on their shoulder right out here early in training camp six years ago, presenting the Cowboys a gift that keeps on giving.
And how utterly fortunate they are. At the time, 2016, Tony Romo was the veteran incumbent quarterback, 36 years old yet still with a few years left ahead of him. Kellen Moore was the projected backup quarterback. And the rookie Dak, well, he was a fourth-round afterthought, somewhat battling Jameille Showers for the third QB spot on the 53-man roster.
Then the dominoes from above, or maybe that was leprechaun dust, began to fall. Moore has the misfortune of suffering a season-ending injury early in camp, initially causing the Cowboys to start scouring available free agents with NFL experience, although they didn't overreact.
Then in the third preseason game, after the kid from Mississippi State sparkled during his turn in the first one against the Rams at Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, Romo suffered that blasted compression fracture at the L-1 vertebrae on the third play of the game, knocking him out for a projected six to 10 weeks.
In stepped Prescott that night in Seattle, and on his first play, third-and-8 from his own 38-yard line, he hits Cole Beasley for 12 yards and a first down. And on his second possession, Dak marches the Cowboys 81 yards in seven plays, nailing Jason Witten on a 17-yard touchdown pass and, well, the rest is history.
Hard to believe Dak is turning 29 today on the 29th. Hard to believe this is his seventh NFL season. How time flies. Hard to believe he actually rose from those rookie ashes to signing last year a four-year, $160 million contract with $126 million guaranteed.
From those humble beginnings, remembering Dak was the Cowboys' _second_ fourth-round draft choice that year – they took defensive end Charles Tapper 24 picks ahead of him – to now having veteran Pro Bowl guard Zack Martin say, "He has command of the team.
"He really sets the tone for the football team."
In everything he does.
Dak is the reason this Cowboys team, less such previous vital contributors like Amari Cooper, Randy Gregory, Cedrick Wilson and La'el Collins, still has hopes of becoming the first NFC East team to defend its division title since the Eagles in 2004. The Cowboys have Dak. Them others in the East don't.
"I feel like we have one of the best people at that position, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said during Tuesday's camp-opening press conference.
Understand, Jones did not say "quarterbacks." That's understandable. He said "people." And that position demands the quarterback be "good people." Anything less fractures a locker room. This guy cements it.
Just listening to Dak handle questions Thursday during his first media meeting of camp caused my reflection. He does so with ease. Without hesitation. With this charisma and this disarming smile that would melt his harshest critics.
When we see other teams struggling at the quarterback position, Jones must break out in a big ol' grin. He didn't have to give up The Ranch to trade up into the first round to snatch Dak in the draft. He did not have to spend years' worth of draft capital to trade for someone else's quarterback, and then pay said quarterback $230 million guaranteed.
Jones did not have to put an independent "study" clause into his quarterback's contract to insure he was doing what the good quarterbacks are doing daily. He didn't have to take multiple shots to find just one franchise quality guy, as the Cowboys were doing from 2001-05 until falling equally fortunate in developing Romo.
Think about this: Heading into the 2022 season, 13 NFL teams have either traded for or signed in free agency their projected starting quarterback. Think Cleveland (we think), Denver, Tampa Bay, Washington, Minnesota and New Orleans to name a few.
And as we have come to know, it's nearly impossible to win consistently and big in the NFL with just _a_ guy at the quarterback position. You must have _the_ guy.
Or as McCarthy said, "This is Dak Prescott's offense, and I think you see him really taking ownership in that."
And after a brief pause, McCarthy rattled the hornet's nest by saying, "At the end of the day, defense wins championships but the Super Bowl is won by the quarterback. … That is my opinion.
"That's how I envision the journey of how you prepare your team and what the team needs to look like. And I think he's a guy that emulates exactly what you are looking for."
Oh, boy. Thanks, Mike. _Super Bowl is won by the quarterback._ Put those three words in one sentence, Super Bowl and quarterback, and what do you think the first question was Dak faced on Thursday?
"Earlier today Mike said while defenses win championships, he believes quarterbacks win Super Bowls, and I'm sure he's mentioned that to you. What do you think about that?"
Dak handled the perceived hardball question with acute aplomb, turning it into a softball, but first thanking Cowboys director of football communications Scott Agulnek for tipping him off to what surely was coming after McCarthy's statement. And went as far as thanking him, saying with a big smile, "Scott warned me about it, yeah, he's doing a great job."
Then he launched:
"I feel like we (he and McCarthy) have talked about that in a lot of conversations. … Obviously you know the old saying defenses win championships, and that's true. And when he said quarterbacks win the Super Bowl, he means they've got to make big plays in big moments of the game, and things like that.
"Just the way this game has evolved into such a spread game now in the NFL that you've got to make big-time throws, whether it's third down or fourth down, to win games. And that's the biggest game, and the biggest moments they happen in that game. One hundred percent understand what he is saying and just trying to do whatever I can to get to that moment, really."
So, does he think about that in the back of his mind? How quarterbacks are judged by winning a Super Bowl?
"A lot, a lot," Dak says. "Obviously knowing the quarterbacks that played specifically for this team and in knowing their legacy, and the ones we hold to a high standard are the ones who won Super Bowl rings. It starts there for me as I'm in trying to fill the shoes of those guys who have come before me and do something for this organization that hasn't been done for a long time."
See what I mean? Quite honest. Sincere. No shrinking violet under this team's center. Broad shoulders. But don't assume traits such as those are low-hanging fruit. They are hard to come by.
And he sure seems poised to take another step past even the step he took last year, when coming back from his gruesome ankle injury and ensuing surgeries to put up 11 wins, the third-best QB rating in the NFL (104.2), the fourth-best completion percentage (68.8), the fourth-most touchdowns thrown (37), which in turn set the franchise's single season record, and raising his career QB rating to 98.7, tying Drew Brees for fifth highest all-time among quarterbacks attempting a minimum of 1,500 passes, also a Cowboys record heading into his seventh season.
These rare guys don't simply grow on trees, or as Bill Parcells was known to say, can't just go down to the Texaco and buy one. And if you could, chances are these days the shelves would be empty.
Yep, shaking my head knowingly, how darn lucky the Cowboys are to have this guy Dak.