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San Antonio Express-News: Cowboys' playoff drought Q&A


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Web Posted: 09/01/2007 08:25 PM CDT


Jerry Briggs

Some NFL franchises could start a season-ticket campaign based on four or five successful runs to the playoffs every decade.

Not the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys have made the postseason four times in the past 10 years. Twice more during that stretch, they came within one or two regular-season victories from qualifying.

And yet, in Dallas, fans are wringing their hands and longing for an end to the mediocrity.

After all, 10 seasons have passed without a playoff victory.

That constitutes a franchise record-setting drought in Dallas, where the Cowboys have won an NFL-record 32 playoff games and have made 28 postseason appearances, tied for first with the New York Giants.

The Cowboys' postseason legacy makes their failure to win a playoff game since 1996 all the more mystifying.

But it's true. In seasons spanning a stretch from 1997-2006, they are 0 for 4 when it counts.The Cowboys won three Super Bowls in four years from 1992-95. How did they fall into this decade-long rut?

One theory is that you can blame the demise of the dynasty on the changing business picture of the NFL. The league instituted a salary cap and free agency before the start of the 1994 season. Three years later, the Cowboys had lost 20 players to free agency, including nine defensive starters.

As a consequence, management was left with a dwindling core of aging stars and a lack of depth.

Why, if the rules of business are the same for everybody, are the Cowboys one of only eight teams to get shut out on playoff victories since 1997?

That's a sticky issue.

One explanation might be the ever-changing face of the coaching staff. First-year coach Wade Phillips is the fifth coach the Cowboys have employed since Jimmy Johnson left in a huff after the 1993 season. A lack of continuity in coaching is never a good thing for a pro sports franchise.

How has the team's front office done in moves to restock the roster over the past decade?

It's not like the Cowboys have made any disastrous decisions. But since Troy Aikman retired after the 2000 season, the quarterback situation, in particular, has been in flux.

You had some misguided experiments with young players such as Tony Banks, Quincy Carter and Drew Henson and veterans such as Vinny Testaverde and Drew Bledsoe.

Then you had a few transactions that seemed to yield much greater benefit to other teams.

In 2000, the Cowboys traded two first-round draft picks to Seattle for receiver Joey Galloway. Galloway never played up to his potential in four seasons with the Cowboys, while the Seahawks used one of the draft picks to take RB Shaun Alexander. Alexander won MVP honors and led Seattle to the Super Bowl after the 2005 season.

Also, in the 2004 draft, the Cowboys had a chance to land running back Steven Jackson and passed on him to trade down for depth. It was a move that yielded running back Julius Jones and defensive end Marcus Spears, both starters.

But with Jackson coming off a season in which he compiled more than 2,300 yards in combined rushing and receiving for the St. Louis Rams, the Cowboys may have passed on a star. The Rams are glad they did.

What has been more disappointing? The decline of the dynasty in the late 1990s or Bill Parcells' record — 34-30 in the regular season and 0-2 in the postseason?

Without a doubt, the Cowboys' 1998 playoff debacle against Arizona at Texas Stadium might have been one of the worst days in franchise history.

The Cowboys had a 10-6 record. They had the offensive trio of Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin, and they had flashy Deion Sanders, returning to duty after sitting out five games with a sore big toe.

In the end, the Cardinals won their first playoff game in more than 50 years, trouncing the Cowboys 20-7.

In the waning moments of the game, Sanders ripped into his teammates. Standing on the sidelines, he yelled, "How are you going to feel about yourselves tomorrow?"

But what about the legacy of Parcells? Didn't it take a hit?

Without a doubt, it did. But in fairness to Parcells, the franchise is in much better condition today than when he arrived in 2003.

Taking over for Dave Campo, who strung together three five-win seasons, Parcells coached the Cowboys to three winning records in four seasons, qualifying for the playoffs in 2003 and again last year.

Early in his tenure, he survived a roster hit when Carter was waived because of a failed drug test. He survived Billy Cundiff and Mike Vanderjagt, kickers waived because they couldn't split the uprights under pressure.

Parcells even survived a bizarre start to Terrell Owens' career in Dallas.

Last summer, Owens raised red flags when he balked at practicing in training camp. Last September, he shocked fans when he was transported to a hospital in a reported accidental overdose. It didn't help that linebacker Greg Ellis blew out his Achilles and was lost for the season.

Through it all, Parcells guided the team to the playoffs. He showed guts in benching Drew Bledsoe and giving the starting quarterback job to untested Tony Romo sits to pee.

But in the end, the Cowboys — specifically Romo sits to pee — came unglued under pressure. In a wild-card playoff game at Seattle, the Cowboys set up for a late game-winning field goal.

With the Cowboys trailing by one point, Romo sits to pee bobbled the snap. The Seahawks held on to win by ... one point.

Who is responsible for raising the bar of expectations so high in Dallas?

Without question, those hard-working Cowboys in the 1960s and early '70s laid the foundation for success. They also made it extremely tough on everyone who followed them.

From 1991-96, the team enjoyed the best six-year run in franchise history with a 70-26 record in the regular season. They were 12-2 in the playoffs and won Super Bowls after the 1992, '93 and '95 seasons.

Not surprisingly, Dallas fans were awash with playoff glory.

Ten years is a long time to go without one drink from the well.

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