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by Mike Fisher    Fri, Jan 20, 2006, 10:22 AM

       Generally speaking, covering, following or rooting passionately for the Dallas Mavericks is an extremely pleasurable experience. The Mavs are a collection of good people teaming to play a good sport with mostly great results.

       It is, for the most part, a real-life sporting version of Seinfeld's "Super Terrific Happy Hour,'' the Japanese TV show that earned Jerry a monthly royalry check worth pennies, all because his face appeared at the beginning of the overseas program.

       "Super Terrific Happy Hour.'' That's our Mavs.

         But I need to leave Jerry Seinfeld now, to instead borrow philosophical phrasing from a trio of other pop-culture icons.

         I give you Popeye: "That's all I can stands, I can't stands no more!''

       I give you "Network'' anchorman Howard Beale: "I'm mad as Hell and I'm not gonna take it anymore!''

      I give you Dallas' own Leon Simon: "What you do speak so loud I cain't here what you sayin'.''

        You see, I'm upset. The Mavs are 29-10. They are "Super Terrific Happy Hour.'' Now, I'm really not a big proponent of boo-hooing because "The media doesn't give us enough credit'' or "So-and-so website doesn't rank us high enough'' or "Sponge Chuck Fat Pants made fun of us on TNT again.'' In terms of respect, who cares what some writer says, when the standings say that the Mavericks in this century have won 53 games, 57 games, 60 games, 52 games, 58 games, and this year, after Wednesday's impressive 103-76 road pounding of Houston, boast a record that again places Dallas among the very elite clubs in the NBA?

      I won't even bother providing evidence to prove my coming assertion; arguing against me here makes you a basketball idiot: No good NBA team -- let alone a great one -- gets dissed like Dallas gets dissed.

        OK, I'll relent. I'll provide one example, and one only. I won't seek out Peter Vescey or Sam Smith or Charles Barkley or some other nationally prominent charlatan/hater. That's too easy for me (and apparently, when it comes to Mavs-aimed potshots, too easy for them). Instead, I'll roam no farther than the hometown studio of ESPN 103.3, the D/FW-based flagship station of your Mavs.
        The Wednesday night postgame call-in show featured a topic I must admit I never saw coming: Dirk Nowitzki, the boys announced, is not among the top clutch offensive players in the game today.
        Are you friggin' kidding me?
      The fellas behind the mikes offered up a wide range of candidates for the honor of being better in the clutch on offense than The UberMan. LeBron. Billups. Kobe. AI. Duncan. Wade. Gosh, they names a lot of guys! When somebody nominated both Rip Hamilton and Robert Horry as being superior weapons to Dirk, I just about put my head through the dashboard.
       Far be it from me to tell somebody else how to conduct their talk show. (I've got enough talk-show problems myself, you know!) But given that this is the Topic of the Day moments after Nowitzki just dominated a game so completely that he needed only half a game to get to 29 points, and, well. ... So even the guys who ostensibly watch and study the Dallas Mavericks don't see how good they are?
       You watch. The win over Houston will be dismissed as "not counting'' because of the injury absence of Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady. Now obviously, that was the Rockets' B-team (C-team?) that allowed Dirk 29 points in 25 minutes, that got nine points, 16 rebounds and six blocks from its three centers, that was outplayed over the course of the final quarter-plus by the likes of DJ Mbenga and Josh Powell and Darrell Armstrong.
      But what were the Mavs supposed to do here to earn some props? Win by 60? By 70?
      Next time you hear the criticism of the Mavs, run it through a filter. A filter that essentially asks, "If it's true that Dallas sucks at (fill in the blank), how have they accomplished (fill in the blank again)?''
      Let's try it:
     "If it's true that Dallas' point guards don't really know how to play the position, how is it they've led the team to the third most wins in the NBA?
     "If it's true that Dallas' centers are incompetent, how is it they've helped the Mavs re-make themselves into a good rebounding team, ranking sixth in the league, while also ranking as the third best shot-blocking team?
      "If it's true that Dallas' head coach is either too old (Nellie) or too young (Avery), how is it that despite the change the Mavs remain a league scoring leader in the 100-ppg range?
      "If it's true that Dallas never plays defense, how is it they've managed to be the third best team in terms of points differential?
    "If it's true that Dallas' owner is a 'distraction,' how is it that in terms of entertainment value, customer satisfaction and marquee reputation, the Mavs are somehow a model franchise?
"If it's true that Dallas' ability to run is not a foundation asset, how is it that even when it was a run-first team, it was able to advance to a Western Conference Finals?
        "If it's true that Dallas' MVP isn't truly a clutch player, how is it they've won games in every possible way behind the 26-ppg effort of Nowitzki?
       Seriously, if the critics -- national and local -- are correct, the Mavs can't handle point guard or center, can't coach or play defense, can't win with offense or a flashy owner, and damn sure can't win if led by Nowitzki, how in the hell are they in position to finish this season with -- check this out -- a 61-21 record?
       How is it that EVERYTHING around here is broken. ... except when it comes to W's and L's?
       I'll calm down from my Popeye position. I'm not going "Network'' on you. But the Leon Simonism, I'm sticking with. And paraphrasing: What the Mavs do speak so loud, I cain't hear what the critics are sayin.'' That's the only way to keep up the "Super Terrific Happy Hour'' mood the Mavs deserve.

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Avery is One Focused Coach Print E-mail
by Norm Hitzges    Wed, Jan 18, 2006, 10:52 PM

If you read this blog regularly, you must know that I’m a real fan of Avery Johnson. I like the way he handles himself on and off the court. He is a man of great integrity. But more important than that to the Dallas Maverick fan, he is completely focused on bringing a championship to Dallas.

We are fortunate to talk to Avery on the air every Wednesday. Avery is a very easy interview for me. He is always honest and forthcoming.

Today, on the show, two of his answers really show what Avery is all about:

I pointed out that the Mavs are on pace to win 57+ games. I went on to say that 57 wins means that you’ve got a very good basketball team. His response just confirms everything I’ve thought about Avery:

It probably is a good basketball team but we are trying to get the basketball team to function as a championship caliber team. We've seen good before. We've set our goals a little higher. And sometimes when you set your goals a little higher the criticism when you lose is greater. But that's what we want now and that's the direction we are moving in.

His success as Mavs Coach will be measured by Championships not regular season wins and he knows it..

I asked him if he cared if he coached the All-Star team?

NO...You know what my goal here is Norm? I'd love to be the Coach of the Month in May and June...If I get voted the Coach of the Month in May and June then something special has happened.

What a great answer…Avery is well aware that this is a good team. He knows that it’s his job to take this team to the next level. And every move he makes is an attempt to move the Mavs closer to a title. He will not be satisfied with anything less.
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by Mike Fisher    Wed, Jan 18, 2006, 09:14 AM

As first reported in this space on Jan. 10 -- and suggested at the bottom of a Dallas Morning News story a week later -- Cowboys receivers coach Todd Haley is the next man in line to move up to offensive coordinator in place of Sean Payton. And now that Payton's depature to New Orleans to be the head coach there is official, the game of "Title-On-The-Door Checkers'' begins.

We were told on Tuesday afternoon that Payton would like to take with him to New Orleans assistants Tony Sparano and Gary Gibbs. Sparano is Dallas' offensive line coach and "running game coordinator.'' Gibbs, the former Oklahoma head coach, supervises Dallas linebackers.

What happens in the wake of this?

Possibility No. 1: Haley moves up to offensive coordinator or "passing game coordinator.'' Assistant Anthony Lynn gets interviewed to be the "running game coordinator.'' Parcells lets Sparano out of his contract reluctantly. He lets Gibbs leave. ... without, we hear, the same sort of reluctance.

Possibility No. 2: Parcells decides Sparano is too important to let go. (A dubious belief, given the work of the Cowboys' O-line, but a possibility). He promotes Sparano to "assistant head coach.'' Haley gets to move up a little (passing game coordinator?), Gibbs still gets to move on.

Possibility No. 3: It's highly unlikely, but possible, that Parcells will go outside the staff to fill the o-coordinator job. Want to fantasize about "name brands'' like Mike Martz or Dan Henning? Don't bother.

Keep in mind also the possibility of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer following Payton out the Valley Ranch door by landing a head job elsehwhere. That would send in motion another game of "Title-On-The-Door Checkers,'' with secondary coach Todd Bowles our sources' top pick as the new Cowboys defensive coordinator.

You heard it here first -- and hopefully, once again seven days ahead of the mainstream news outlets.

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Henson's European Vacation--Or Is It? Print E-mail
by Norm Hitzges    Tue, Jan 17, 2006, 02:19 PM

The Cowboys have announced that they will be sending their #3 QB, Drew Henson, to Europe for the summer.

I just have one question about this. Why not Tony Romo?

Who is the Cowboys backup QB? It’s Tony Romo. The Cowboys signaled that during the season. It’s Tony Romo.

When I asked Jerry Jones last week if the Cowboys intended on signing a veteran QB to backup Drew Bledsoe, he said no. The Cowboys have their backup. It’s Tony Romo.

I don’t understand why the Cowboys don’t want to send Tony Romo to Europe for some experience. Tony Romo’s total game experience in his 3 year NFL career came this year. The Cowboys were blowing out the Eagles and Romo came in to take a knee on the final two plays of the game.

IF Romo is the man that a heartbeat away from taking the helm for the Cowboys, why not get him some valuable experience in Europe. It has been 3 years since Romo has played in a game of meaning at all. It’s hard for me to believe that, without that experience, Romo will be even close to consistent if he had to step in for Bledsoe.

What are the possible reasons that the Cowboys chose to send Henson to Europe rather than Romo?

1) Fear of injury—The logic is: being the Cowboys #2 QB, you may not want to expose Romo to unnecessary injury. This reason does not hold water for me. As far as I’m concerned the benefit of game action far outweighs the risk of injury.

2) Henson fits into the Cowboys plans for the future more than Romo—Once again, I’m not at all going to buy into this reason. Parcells has made it very clear: he thinks more of Romo than he does of Henson

3) Romo needs to stay in Dallas and work with his teammates—I think that is a plausible reason…and the most logical…As the #2 QB Romo could benefit from working with the regulars during the off-season…But I still think getting him some game experience is more important.

4) The Cowboys are trying to showcase Henson for a possible trade—This is the only reason that I can really support. If Henson goes to Europe and performs well, the Cowboys may be able to get something for him.

Whatever the reasons are, I am definitely going to watch NFL Europe games much closer this year than in year’s past.

Whatever the reason, I do look forward to seeing how Henson performs in Europe.

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by Mike Fisher    Mon, Jan 16, 2006, 12:20 PM

Assorted Cowboys observations while perched atop the Fish barstool:

* I have faith in Drew Bledsoe, assuming he's allowed to perform behind an offensive line made up of something more than has-beens and might-could-be's and never-was'es.

I have no faith, though, in Tony Romo -- because the Cowboys demonstrate that they have so little.

And I've lost all faith in the blue-chipness of Europe-bound Drew Henson, who once upon a time was the college equal of Michican teammate Tom Brady.

None of this is the fault of the athletes, by the way; to borrow from Bill, "it is what it is.''

The mystifying thing is how this franchise could allow itself to go three years without a backup QB. ... and how, due to Parcells' odd handling of the situation, there is the possibility that Dallas will go a fourth year with a lack of depth at the position that is literally unprecedented in recent NFL history.

* History will recall that because of the events that unfolded earlier in the final regular-season weekend -- the Cowboys were eliminated from the playoff picture approximately 100 minutes before the Jan. 1, 2006 kickoff at Texas Stadium -- Dallas missed out on a postseason berth when Washington lifted itself in with a come-from-behind win in Philadelphia.

History will be wrong. Twice.

The Cowboys didn't lose out in Week 17. The Cowboys lost out on six assorted other weekends, too. Weekends in Oakland and D.C. and Seattle. Weekends against the Redskins and the Giants and the Broncos. Those players that watched hotel TVs with dismay on Jan. 1 would have been better served funneling their anger, emotion and efforts into the previous 16 weekends.

And how is history wrong a second time?

Because the Cowboys didn't just miss out on a playoff spot; they missed out on a Super Bowl.

No guarantees here, but look at the NFC field as it opened: the favorite is a Seattle team that is not really any better, head-to-head, than Dallas. A Giants team that isn't better than Dallas. Chicago and Washington and Carolina and Tampa Bay, all teams the Cowboys either have beaten or can beat.

And look at the NFC title game now: Seattle, maybe without Shawn Alexander. Carolina, apparently without DeShawn Foster.

Yes, Cowboys fans, this could've been the year.

So Jan. 1 wasn't the fateful day; there were a lot of fateful days.

And a playoff berth wasn't all that was at stake; a Super Bowl berth was what was at stake.

* Attention, Cowboys: Kickers matter.

It matters that they aren't yelled at just because they're smaller than their teammates.

It matters that their head coach doesn't both the pronounciation of their names just because their less well-known than their teammates.

You don't fire a kicking coach and not replace him, then change out long-snappers three or so times, then change out holders a couple of times, and then change out kickers. ... what, six times? ... without the kicking game being affected.

Bill, find a kicker. And before I ask you to learn how to coach him (because you've done nothing in Dallas to convince us that you know how to do that), I ask you to at least learn the boy's name.

* Got a big rush out of Parcells, before announcing he was staying in Dallas, "challenging'' any person claiming to have knowledge of his job-related feelings to come forth. ... and then the ESPN cameras go to their own Chris Mortensen, who was that guy with that knowledge. ... and Mort kinda experienced Seinfeldian "shrinkage,'' right there on the Bristol, Conn., set.

Why didn't Mort back up his scoop? Why not muscle up and defend himself?

If you don't smell a Parcells-Mort conspiracy behind that whole story, your nose is as malfunctioning as Michael Jackson's.

* I made an issue of this in August (and got in a pissin' match with Jean-Jacques Taylor over it), and I'll do it again:

When next season begins, this offense will feature Bledsoe, Johnson, Rivera and Larry Allen, all at age 34. Is that too old?

Only if they aren't any good.

You're not bad if you're old.

You're old if you're bad.

* In my recent "Eight Simple Rules'' column about fixing the 2006 Cowboys, I mention acquiring acquiring a big-time, consistently great WR. I didn't mention any names.

Did I need to?

* You want evidence that Dallas' offensive line is a mess? In the Cowboys' last five games, Drew Bledsoe was sacked 25 times.

* And in another recent column, I continued my assault on all involved in the Hall of Fame process. Dallas rep Rick Gosselin is presently on trial around here, the crime: the shortage of deserving Cowboys in the Hall.

I don't need to be informed that some of the failures pre-date Gosselin, that Frank Luksa was formerly the rep. Nor does it help the matter to have some twist this anti-Cowboy issue into a pro-Fisher or anti-Fisher issue. The bottom line is this: I've had dozens of talks with Luksa about this, and he remains torn up over whatever he might've done wrong during the HOF "campaign-manager'' process. "I lose sleep over it,'' Frank tells me.

Meanwhile, Rick at best talks and writes as if he's far above "losing sleep'' over the Cowboys in the Hall. At best, he talks and writes as if he would not dare lower himself to being a Dallas rep (even though that's exactly what he is supposed to be). And that's "at best.''

"At worst,'' Gosselin is a voter openly on record as saying he can't even be bothered even making a case for Michael Irvin or Rayfield Wright.

And to me, that is indefensible.


* A mathematical equation: What's 10 times 10?

A tough 2006, that's what.

Next season's Cowboys schedule features traditional NFC power Philadelphia, a team capable of winning 10 next year. And scary Atlanta, a team capable of winning 10. And Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Carolina, Tampa Bay, Washington, Washington again, the Giants and the Giants again.
It's impossible to forecast success and failure a year in advance; heck, in this NFL, it's impossible to forecast success and failure a WEEK in advance. But on paper, the Cowboys are scheduled to play 10 games against teams that might win 10 games.



* If you start 7-3, and you finish 2-4, and that's never happened before in Cowboys history, have you just participated in the worst collapse in franchise history?

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