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by Mike Fisher    Tue, Dec 27, 2005, 11:12 PM

Fast-forward yourself ahead. The champagne bottle is empty. The Doritos are gone. And to ring in the New Year, just before bedtime your Cowboys just finished up crushing the visiting Rams. And Dallas is 10-6!

But. ...

Earlier in the day, Carolina beat Atlanta. Or Washington beat Philly. Rendering the 10-6 Cowboys a non-playoff team.

Are you, Dear Cowboys fan, kind of satisfied with your season?

The oddsmakers predict the above scenario is exactly what will unfold this weekend. Three at-the-moment highly functional teams, contenders all, are playing three wobbly losers.

Carolina still believes it is the best team in the conference, and can continue attempting to prove it if they simply go to Atlanta and survive a disappointing Falcons club that is rumored to be coming apart at the seams, from the team president and coach on down. Jim Mora is more accurate throwing radio equipment than Michael Vick is throwing the football.

And the Panthers are favored.

Washington believes it is the best team in the conference, having just slapped around a pair of NFC East foes in back-to-back games by lopsided scores. And now comes yet another NFC East'er, the grounded Eagles, who are at home but will be without every single Philly headliner on offense. ... unless you like the McMahon-to-McMullen combination, which sounds like a heckuva way to score a header in Ireland but a lousy way to beat the scary Redskins.

And the Redskins are favored.

At Texas Stadium, all Dallas has to do is survive visiting St. Louis, an organization in such disarray that Rams people threaten to murder one another. Not only cannot they not figure out who their quarterback will be on a week-to-week basis, no one is quite sure who their head coach is.

And the Cowboys are favored. ... by 13!

Of course, beating the Rams is NOT ALL the Cowboys need to do. They also need help from the Eagles or the Falcons. (There are alternative complications. ... but let's keep things simple here.)

So fast-forward again, and while you sift through scouting reports and significant quotes and historical trends and tea leaves and then figure out where is your lucky spot on the sofa, ask yourself if 10-6 -- even without the playoffs -- qualifies as "satisfying.''

Parcells says no. So do his players, told by him on Monday, "If someone says to you (during training camp) that in Week 17, 'you've got a chance to do something,' would you take it?' It would have been a unanimous vote. We're in Week 17 and we've got a chance to do something.''

And maybe that -- the chance -- is an accomplishment.

After all, the Cowboys were 6-10 last year. They have a blue-chip quarterback who is admired by teammates, a hanful of dynamic young weapons on offense, the youthful foundation of a championship defense, the best owner in football and a Hall-of-Fame coach (who, once he catches his breath and gets the dough he wants, ought to be hanging around for a bit.)

My prediction going into the year was 8-8. What was yours?

My hope going into the year was "meaningful games in December.'' What was yours?

I understand both the argument for "disappointment'' (Parcells' word) and satisfaction. Hey, if you never thought Halle Berry would ever look twice at you, and then you found out too late than she actually wanted to sleep with you, what you you feel?

Satisfaction? After all, Halle Berry used to DIG you!

Or disappointment? After all, Halle Berry has since changed her mind!

You can let the metronome of this season make the determination for you: There is, after all, something a bit unsettling about a team that begins the season by registering a win, then a loss, then a win, then a loss, then a win, and is now in a string of loss-win-loss-win. ... and this Sunday.

You can let the high expectations of the oft-spoiled Cowboys Nation make the determination for you: After all, the Cowboys are simply SUPPOSED to be in the playoffs every year, right? No matter that Seattle and Washington and Washington again rightfully took it away from them. ... well, it still just ain't right!

Or, ultimately, you can decide: No more champagne. No more Doritos. Sunday night, hoist yourself off the sofa because it's time for bed: Is 10-6 "pretty good'' no matter what? Or is "nothing short of the playoffs'' the only way to take satisfaction from the 2005 Cowboys?


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Millwood's a Ranger...Rocket Next??? Print E-mail
by Norm Hitzges    Tue, Dec 27, 2005, 12:08 AM

Merry Christmas, Ranger fans. Kevin Millwood is a Ranger. But the best present may be yet to come. What could be bigger than Kevin Millwood you ask?

Roger Clemens.

Yes, that’s right. I think that the Millwood signing is one of the first steps in bringing The Rocket to the Ballpark.

It is currently 8:45pm as I write this entry (actually as Friedo types this entry) and no more than 2 hours ago Tom Hicks told me that, if Clemens decides to play in 2006, the Rangers will be a player.

It’s great to hear those words. But, right now they are just words. It will take more than words to get Roger Clemens. It will take action.

If Clemens decides to play, he is not going to sign with a team that hasn’t proven that it is serious about winning now. The Millwood signing coupled with the acquisitions of Adam Eaton, Vicente Padilla and Brad Wilkerson prove that the Rangers are serious about winning in 2006.

The Rangers were very aggressive in their pursuit of Millwood. It is believed that they offered at least 1 more year and at least $4 million more than their closest competitor. Ordinarily I would say that the Rangers overpaid for Millwood. But, in this case the Rangers did exactly what they needed to do. They got their man. And that is important.

There is no doubt that Ameriquest Field is a hitter’s ballpark. There is no doubt that a pitcher that comes to this ballpark is probably going to have to deal with some inflated numbers. There is no doubt that it is going to take a mentally strong man to pitch in Arlington.

In Millwood, the Rangers snagged a quality pitcher who is not afraid of the ballpark. They took the first step in reversing the years and years of bad reputation that has been built in Arlington.

Millwood realizes that while his numbers may be inflated in Arlington, so will his opponent’s. He knows that he is not pitching against the park, he’s pitching against his opponent.

If Millwood succeeds in Arlington other pitchers will take notice. Other pitcher’s including Roger Clemens. Clemens is at a point in his career where he is not as concerned about his ERA as much as he is concerned about winning.

The Rangers are in the process of turning around their reputation. And, the signing of Kevin Millwood is a huge step in the right direction.
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Still Alive!! Still Alive!! Print E-mail
by Norm Hitzges    Mon, Dec 26, 2005, 11:20 AM

They’re alive. As hard as it is to believe, they are alive. It all comes down to the final week of the season. With a victory over St. Louis and a little help from Philadelphia or Atlanta, the Cowboys are in the playoffs. The Cowboys bounced back from that incredible loss at Washington and actually beat Carolina.

I’m starting to think more and more that the size of the Washington beating actually helped Dallas. It so embarrassed Dallas that it unified the team. Everybody was getting yelled at. Everybody was forced to look at themselves and their individual contributions to the team.

The playoff situation is now very clear. Before the Cowboys kickoff Sunday night, they will know if they can make the playoffs. A Carolina loss or a Washington loss coupled with a Cowboys victory sends the Cowboys to the post season.

Washington travels to Philadelphia. Carolina goes to Atlanta. I think Washington has a great shot at beating Philly. But Carolina and Atlanta is very interesting to me.

I don’t know how to gauge Atlanta. What is Atlanta’s mood going into the Carolina game? Atlanta has no playoff hopes, they’ve had a very disappointing season. I just don’t know what the mood in Atlanta is right now.

I don’t think Philadelphia can beat Washington. But, I do know that they will play hard and give Washington a game. They may have nothing to play for, but they will play with a ton of pride.

Carolina plays the early game and Washington plays the late game. If Carolina wins the early game, Cowboys fans will immediately become Eagles fans. Imagine that.

If everything works out right for the Cowboys they will be playing St. Louis for a wildcard berth. And, if that happens, St. Louis better watch out! The Cowboys will kill the Rams.

Not only do the Rams have no heart, they also have no game plan. They have some talent but you would never know it by the way they’ve played in 2005. This is a team that simply should not be able to compete on the same field as a Cowboy team that is focused on making the playoffs.

In a season that has been filled with close games and close calls it is only fitting that this season comes down to the final game.
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by Mike Fisher    Sun, Dec 25, 2005, 01:52 AM

At halftime of the Cowboys-Panthers duel, Fox's Pam Oliver reported on her obligatory off-camera visit with Dallas' Bill Parcells. She paraphrased Coach Contradiction by quoting him as saying that even though his club was down by three points, considering all the mistakes committed in the first half, "We oughta be winning.''

Ah, but tap those breaks, Mr. "You-Are-What-You-Are'': If the Cowboys have learned anything this year, it should be that while there is a special column for "wins'' and another special column for "losses,'' there is no column for "oughtas.''

Should Dallas have won, 24-20, as the scoreboard reads, because of Terry Glenn's end-zone tippy-toeing with 24 seconds left in Carolina?

Or does Bill really want to wrestle with all the "oughtas''?

* Billy Cundiff missed a game-tying field goal with 15 with 78 seconds left, but the Cowboys received a reprieve (that set up Glenn's score) when the refs decided, somewhat dubiously, that the Panthers bumped into the kicker. Maybe that oughta have been a non-call.

* Carolina receiver Steve Smith -- deemed before the game by Parcells as one of the top 10 players in the sport -- was limited to one catch for 18 yards. Course, he might've caught more had he not been ejected from the contest when he protested a call by getting physical with a ref. What "oughta'' happen there? Fox voice Troy Aikman said it was an overofficious ruling, arguing especially that it was especially so because of Smith's stature. Aikman's wrong there -- what are we saying, Troy, that the bigger star you are, the more you get to push around the refs? -- but heck, maybe that oughta have been a non-call.

* Tyson Thompson fumbled a kickoff return, and Carolina recovered. Factoring in momentum, the Panthers might've figured to bury Dallas from there. Carolina being up 10-0 might've done it, too. Maybe surviving that oughta count as a pro-Dallas break.

* After the intermission, and coach Parcells' inspirational "We oughta be winning'' assessment, his offense didn't exactly respond. First play after the half, Bledsoe delays in pitching left to Julius Jones, then kinda pitches to him. Loss of one. Second down, they fumble the snap. Loss of one. Third-and-12, they execute a get-us-the-hell-outta-here running play. Punt. Maybe that oughta count as a pro-Dallas break.

Parcells doesn't have this in him, but maybe he should just conduct the entirety of the rest of his press conferences this year with shoulders locked in permanent "I-dunno'' shrugs. Consider, as you weigh the contradictions of it all, his week-long pregame theme regarding the Cowboys' supposedly crippling excess of youth.

"We're too young to win,'' Parcells essentially repeated, over and over this week.

Really, Coach Contradiction? Then how come the two best Cowboys on the field on Christmas Eve day were defensive baby-face DeMarcus Ware, who responded to a week of "he-ain't-Merriman'' talk with a spectacular nine tackles, three sacks and three forced fumbles, and offensive baby-face Julius Jones, who reponded to "whatever-happened-to-Julius?'' talk by scoring two TDs and sprinting for 194 yards.

"We oughta be winning.'' Or should you have been, Coach Contradiction?

"You are what you are.'' Or are you, Coach Contradiction?

And then there is the retirement thing. After the game, someone brought up the report that he was considering retirement. And Coach Contradiction does what he does best: He put people in their place by saying absolutely nothing -- but by doing so with great force.

"I don't know where these guys. ... you media guys. ... I don't know where that comes from,'' sputtered Bill.

Um, Bill, the "guy'' was ESPN's Chris Mortensen. You know damn well it was him. You know damn well who he is. Mort was your co-worker at ESPN when he helped arrange your job interview with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, remember? Ol' Mort?

Where would Mort get the idea that you are experiencing some autumnal feelings about life? Geez, Bill, maybe from you. ... since he's one of the handful of reporters you confer with privately on a regular basis.

You can't make any sense of Coach Contradiction. You can't hold Coach Contradiction to a word he says.

You can't base anything sensible on the "oughtas'' of this Cowboys team, either. Which for one more week, was a very good thing.

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by Mike Fisher    Fri, Dec 23, 2005, 03:38 AM

It's Christmastime, and look who is stuck coming down your chimney! It's. ... Jolly Ol' Saint Nate!

OK, so Nate Newton isn't a saint. The former Cowboys offensive-line star once warned his first wife that if she married him, it was at her own risk. Then came the six Pro Bowls and the three Super Bowls. And the arrest at a dog fight. And the DWI. And the strange charge of misdemeanor assault. And a charge of rape that was eventually dropped. And his X-rated participation in the team's "White House.''

"For 12 years,'' Newton told me recently, in his first print interview since his release from prison, "I lived on 2 ½ hours sleep. That’s the way I rolled: Butt-naked booty bumpin’."

Then came the drug-related arrests.

On Nov. 4, 2001, the retired-from-football Newton was getting deeper and deeper into the business of drug trafficking. He was stopped for a driving violation but arrested that day when Louisiana State Troopers looked in the back of his white van and found bags of marijuana that totaled 213 pounds.

Newton was released on bail -- and then five weeks later, on Dec. 12, got stopped again. This time it was in Ellis County in Texas. This time it was U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents. This time it was his F-150 truck storing $10,000 in cash and 175 pounds of pot, street value $700,000.

And so there was Newton, sitting in the Seagoville Detention Center for eight months awaiting trial, the judge denying him bail. Then in August 2002 he listened while wearing ankle chains to his sentence: 32 months in prison and a $25,000 fine. Then came the stint in Louisiana’s Avoyelles State Prison, where, Newton tells me, "They don’t play around at that joint. I slept on a concrete slab, in a cell with 40 dudes … one toilet. I don’t even like to think about that place."

Ah, but think about it he does. No, Nate Newton isn't a saint. But he remains jolly, a bigger-than-life figure in more ways than one, fully willing to take the blame for his foolishness, his arrogance, his greed, his sins, while he attempts to recover his life.

Says Newton: "Weird thing is, I don’t even like pot. It just makes me hungry. If I smoked out, I’d weigh 800 pounds. ... but at the time I was going to Hell, full-speed. That’s just the way I do things, all the way. If I was a killer, I’d take ‘em all out. Everybody. Not just one or two."

I've known Nate Newton for 16 years now, and he's telling the truth: In his own way, he has always been doubly committed to being twice the man you are. So he became twice the athlete you are. (As a Jabba-the-Hutt-shaped offensive lineman who was only 6-2, he could nevertheless dunk a basketball.) He became twice the NFL player anyone ever dreamed he could be, plowing his way off the waiver wire to become a rarity, an offensive lineman whose identity was well-known. He was always twice as funny as you, twice as brutal at you, twice as devoted as you. ... even twice your size, during his playing days sometimes weighing in at as much as 400 pounds.

Like many jocks, he developed an air of invincibility. That trait is valuable in sports, dangerous in life. He became "The Kitchen.'' A party guy. A member of an infamous Family Tree of Cowboys. ... except that this tree grows funny leaves.

Newton fit right in with the franchise of "North Dallas Forty'' and Bob Hayes and Hollywood Henderson and Harvey Martin and Mark Tuinei and Michael Irvin and geez, even when the Cowboys go legit, they still go there with a joint between their lips. (Or have you forgotten that one of the bigwigs in NORML, the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws, is old buddy Mark Stepnoski?).

But other teams, other people, tend to fake their way through apologizes for such behavior. ... once they get caught, of course.

Nate? Whatever you think of him, know this: Nate IS different.

What Nate said back then when the White House became public: "We've got a little place over here where we're running some whores in and out, trying to be responsible."

True responsibility escaped him for a while. Thus, the drug trafficking.

"I had blown a lot of money from football, but I wasn’t broke,'' Newton says. "(Drug transporting) just seemed too good to pass up.''

Did it seem like easy money? I ask him.

"It didn’t SEEM like easy money,'' Newton says frankly, "it WAS easy money.''

The jail time, however, was no picnic, was not funny. He hoarded cigarettes and traded them for Twinkies. He stood up for himself when confronted and didn't sense that his celebrity earned him any respect. And he didn't accept guests. Just as he had disassociated himself from some members of his family when he was involved in the drug trafficking -- believing that the less they knew, the less danger they'd ever be in -- he also declined visitors to prison. He discouraged the kids from coming. He turned down meetings with the likes of Deion Sanders and Barry Switzer.

I told Newton that I view his actions as unforgivable because while he didn't literally drive his van onto the school playgrounds of my two sons, he did do so figuratively. And so he knows that I view him as something less than a saint.

But he is jolly. And at 370 pounds -- "I probably need to lose about 40 pounds right now,'' Nate tells me -- he would get stuck in your chimney.

And as his Christmas present to you and to himself, he is trying to do the right thing.

After one year as a free man, he's trying to give back. He's a regional coordinator for O-D Sports football camp. He has a fine relationship with his ex-wife, and he is remarried. He's devoted to his children, including Tre' Newton, a star running back as a sophomore at national power Southlake Carroll High School. He spoke before the Tulane football team after the hurricane hit New Orleans, and he accepted the Cowboys' invitation to speak to their rookies this fall.

"I told those kids to only share their glory with the right people," Nate says. "Look at me and learn from my mistakes. Take control now, or lose control later."

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