Back in May 2007, when NFL owners voted to stage Super Bowl XLV in the Dallas Cowboys' yet-to-be-constructed stadium, executive vice president Stephen Jones looked ahead excitedly to the week when he'd welcome the football world to North Texas.
Though he knew it was a statistical longshot – no team has played in a Super Bowl held in its home stadium – Jones had daydreams about the prospect of the Cowboys serving as the NFC's representative, the ultimate fantasy for the Ultimate Game. At the very least, Jones and his father, Jerry – the Cowboys' extroverted owner – believed heading into the 2010 season that their 'Boys would be squarely in the championship mix.
Instead, over the next 10 days, the Joneses will experience the semi-nauseating endeavor of hosting a Texas-sized spectacle of a Super Bowl in the wake of what Stephen characterized as the most dismal season of their two-plus-decade tenure as owners.
"In the 21 years we've had it, I'd say it's the worst one we've had," the younger Jones said earlier this week. "We've had bad teams that didn't do well, but maybe you had that feeling going in. This year, we were so hopeful about our chances, and there we were at 1-5 with no quarterback and pretty much knowing where we'd end up."
"We had such high expectations for this team – and that's why this is the toughest season we've had. The overwhelming thing you think about is what went wrong. And to sit there and have to chew on that, there's not a lot of happiness."
So, while two other storied NFL franchises, the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers, celebrate the prospect of another title, the men who run the Cowboys will do their best to suppress their jealousy.
This was not a collapse they saw coming. After a promising 2009 season that featured an NFC East title and a first-round playoff victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, the Cowboys enjoyed a relatively uneventful offseason, as the Joneses believed they had the goods to make a title run.
Then the games began, and calamity ensued. Quarterback Tony Romo(notes) sustained a season-ending collarbone fracture in a 41-35 Monday-night loss to the Giants which dropped Dallas to 1-5. Two weeks and two listless defeats later, head coach Wade Phillips was fired and replaced by offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, who won five of eight games to boost the Cowboys' record to 6-10 and was ultimately hired on a non-interim basis.
As a result, Stephen Jones is hopeful that the team can bounce back in 2011 – though there's the small matter of an anticipated labor crisis and owner-imposed lockout. In the meantime, a week's worth of schmoozing, glad-handing and grinning and bearing the lingering disappointment awaits.
"We'll be running around a bunch, but we don't really have a ton of responsibilities, other than taking care of our sponsors and such," Jones said. "We'll obviously be there as ambassadors, but for the most part they're not our parties and it's not our show. The league takes over our stadium, and we get an increased ticket allotment – more than a normal team but not as much as the participating teams. We don't get as much as you might think."
The Joneses will host a party next Thursday night for their fellow owners at Cowboys Stadium, but three days later the league will control the cavernous venue. It was the NFL's idea to sell the thousands of party passes which will allow fans to stand outside the stadium and watch the game on a large video screen at $200 a pop. The Cowboys employ a similar concept during regular-season games, but those tickets cost $29 and allow standing-room access inside the stadium.
"We met with some league people and told them how it worked and how it's been a great experience for our fans," Jones said. "They took it from there."
As for where the Cowboys go from here, Jones said not to expect drastic changes.
"We still have a belief that we've got good football players," he said. "If you talk to a lot of people in this league, I'd say we rate pretty high in terms of talent. But just 'cause you've got skill and talent, it doesn't mean you're going to win games – as we saw this season."
"In this business, you've got caps and commitments, and you can only change so much. We like Tony, and we like a lot of our core players. And that's good because, realistically, you can't just start over in any given year."
Jones also reiterated his recent denial of an ESPN Dallas report that the team would consider trading 2010 first-round draft pick Dez Bryant(notes), who enjoyed a promising rookie season before breaking his ankle in early December. The report, citing a Cowboys front-office source, was precipitated by a radio interview in which former Cowboys and current San Diego Chargers wideout Patrick Crayton(notes) questioned Bryant's work ethic.
"Not true," Jones said of the notion that Bryant might be traded. "We don't put any credence in reports from anybody outside of our organization."
The organizations which will play in Super Bowl XLV have each faced off against the Cowboys in some storied postseason clashes and, like Dallas, have followings which extend well beyond their respective geographical areas. Some Cowboys fans would call the Packers and Steelers rivals, but Jones said he's not bothered by those teams' presence more than he would be by any others.
"If it can't be us, we're happy to have these two teams," he said. "It'll be a great game, which we're thrilled about. It'll be great for North Texas, and we hope this is a good enough experience that we get to host another one."
At which point, naturally, the daydreams will begin anew.
TAKE IT TO THE ATM
Michael Vick(notes) – provided he gets a decent amount of playing time – will be the Pro Bowl MVP. … There will be a shocking amount of boys named Jimmer born in Utah this year – and 99 percent of them will go by "Jim" as adults. … Jeff Fisher will have a sweet TV gig within weeks and numerous conversations with NFL teams contemplating coaching changes between Halloween and New Year's Day.
PLEASE, BOSS, SEND ME TO …
Dallas, in time to watch the Pro Bowl on TV (not attentively, but I can fake it with the best of them), write the second-to-last Morning Rush of the season and begin my quest to consume as much Mexican food as I did during the Houston Super Bowl seven years ago (which may not be possible).
LIES, LIES, LIES
1. Told that Fox announcer Troy Aikman is interested in a front-office job, Lions owner William Clay Ford offered him a 10-year, $50 million deal, "with the power to hire three head coaches whose last name begins with 'M.' "
3. Upon learning the NBA rejected Heat guard Dwyane Wade's tinted goggles before Thursday night's game against the Knicks, former 49ers coach Mike Singletary complained, "David Stern has no sense of style."
LET'S DO SOME DON JULIO SILVER SHOTS FOR …
Warrick Dunn(notes), Kurt Warner(notes) and Aaron Rodgers(notes) – three terrific football players deeply committed to helping others. Dunn, the former Bucs and Falcons standout, is one of 10 finalists for the Jefferson Award, meaning he's part of a "Dream Team For Public Service." Warner, the ex-Rams, Giants and Cardinals quarterback who spearheads so many charitable endeavors through his First Things First Foundation, is selling an iPhone/iPad football app for kids that should satiate the appetite of rabid young fans, including a couple I can think of in my household.
As for Rodgers, who took a public beating after a Green Bay television station aired footage of him failing to sign an autograph for a cancer patient? I had a chance to touch base with the Packers' quarterback earlier this week about his involvement with the MACC (Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer) Fund and the major fund-raising event he's planning for this spring. The second annual "Evening With Aaron Rodgers" will take place May 17 at the Milwaukee Hyatt Regency, with ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer serving as the event's co-host. "The MACC Fund, and its work to fight against childhood cancer and blood disorders, are very important to me," Rodgers says. "I'm honored that I'm able to participate in the fight to end childhood disease." If this event is anything like last year's, it will be incredibly inspirational for those who attend.
THIS WEEK'S PROOF THAT CAL IS THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE
Now that Jennifer Granholm has gone from being Michigan's chief executive to a distinguished professor at her alma mater, I expect her to recast her softball sensibilities and join me in obsessing over the 12th-ranked Golden Bears, who begin their season Feb. 11 at the Arizona State Tournament and will end it in early June in Oklahoma City.
Speaking of future champions, Jack Clark will march his 9-0 rugby team down to Stanford on Saturday – I'm kidding, they'll drive; though they'd walk without complaint if Clark told them to – to battle for the Scrum Axe at 1 p.m. My advice to Cardinal fans in vicinity of the scoreboard: Look away. My advice to everyone who cares about the University of California: Save Cal Rugby.
Congratulations to coach Dave Durden and the Cal men's swim team, which is now ranked No. 1 in the nation following a dual-meet triumph over then-No. 2 Arizona, and to the Golden Bears' men's and women's basketball teams, each of whom defeated Oregon State on Thursday night, with the men roughing up the Beavers (and bumming out the President's brother-in-law) at Haas Pavilion by an 85-57 score.
YAHOO! SEARCH WORDS OF THE WEEK
LYRIC-ALTERED SONG DEDICATION OF THE WEEK
Five days after Jay Cutler's(notes) exit from the NFC championship game fueled a Twitter-tinged onslaught from fans and other NFL players alike, the Bears quarterback's knee is still the subject of unseemly scrutiny. Given that he was reportedly near tears when told his toughness had been questioned so publicly, it's not hard to imagine him sounding as torn up and forlorn as Michael Stipe – to the tune of R.E.M.'s "Everybody Hurts."
When the rush is on and the knee, the knee ain't feelin' right
When I'm sure I've had enough of this game, well goodnight
I sat myself down – was everyone surprised?
Cause everybody hurts sometimes
Sometimes everything is wrong
And my peers all piled on
Easy for Maurice Jones-Drew(notes) (hold on, hold on)
Even though he sat out, too (hold on)
To say I'm like Urban Meyer, that I quit – well hang on
'Cause everybody hurts
Ask Urlacher, my friends
Can't throw that pass … oh, no
When I can't plant
Though I really do not plant
When I throw off my back foot
If you take the stairs that same night, they think you put 'em on
Then you're walkin' cross the mall with your girl – same old song
Well, everybody hurts sometimes
And everybody hurts sometimes
So lay off, lay off, lay off, lay off
Lay off, lay off, lay off, (expletive) off
I am all alone
- the Cowboys