Someday, Jerry Jones’ decision to hire Chan Gailey as the new head coach of the Dallas Cowboys will be remembered as the most inspired decision of his tenure at Valley Ranch. When Jones made the announcement in February, media and fans smirked, then they yawned and wondered out loud, “Who in the hell is this Chan character? A fortune cookie salesman?”
By the end of the coming NFL campaign, they will know who Chan (that’s short for Chandler) Gailey is. The football world in general will know, too, because Gailey will transform the Cowboys. In 1998, he will take a team that won six games last year and lead them to Super Bowl XXXIII. The season will be eternally remembered as the Miracle of ’98.
Interestingly, in one of his first public appearances as the new Cowboys coach, Gailey addressed the congregation at Dallas’ First Baptist Church on Easter Sunday. Given the personal proclivities of the previous two Cowboys coaches.
that appearance alone ranks as a miracle. So-with a true believer as the head coach and a recent convert to paths of righteousness in the form of defensive star and team hood ornament, Deion Sanders-the Cowboys are back on speaking terms with the Almighty.
Miracles do not pass the way of those who are not. That much had become apparent over the last two seasons, under the guidance of a coach more familiar with a Bloody Mary than a Hail Mary.
Cowboys fans should be comforted to learn that many between-the-sidelines considerations can be offered to substantiate the Miracle of ’98 proclamation.
Larry Lace well is the Cowboys’ director of college and pro scouting. No one owns a more comprehensive understanding of the team’s inventory of personnel. When told this story puts the Cowboys back in the Super Bowl, Lacewell says, “Now that’s a bold prediction.” Then he begins to warm to the suggestion.
“You can take last season and paint any picture you want,” he says. “Gun-totin’ Switzer, Emmitt Smith, and Troy Aik-man supposedly having an off-year and allegedly past their prime. The fact is that the problems we faced last year started and ended with the offensive line…. What happened was that every single thing that could go wrong did go wrong.”
The off-season has seen the Cowboys implement damage-control measures up front. Lacewell is convinced that many of the line problems are corrected. Larry Allen, an all-pro who signed a long-term contract in January, moves from guard to Tuinei’s old left tackle spot. Everett Mclver, a free agent signée who started every game for Jimmy Johnson’s Dolphins last season, will be plugged into Allen’s guard position.
Coaches think that with a full year’s experience. Clay Shiver should be vastly improved at center. Prize draftee Flozell Adams from Michigan State- if he doesn’t earn a starting position- will provide depth missing last season. So will veteran backups Tony Hudson and Steve Scifres. These line changes in themselves should represent a tremendous improvement for the Cowboys, but there are other factors that will make this the Miracle of’98.
BY THE END OF LAST SEASON, NATE
Newton was providing an effective impersonation of the planet Jupiter. Structural engineers can present formulas showing that weight-bearing joints cannot hold up beneath the bulk he was carrying. Nate’s knees crumpled. This year, Newton arrives having shed 70 pounds. “Nobody recognized him,” Lacewell says. “He had to introduce himself.” If the streamlined Newton can regain his old form, the Dallas offense will provide startlingly improved results.
Chan the Man
When Gailey agreed to coach the Cowboys, he made it plain that he would take over the jobs of not only Switzer but also Ernie Zampese, the now-departed offensive coordinator.
In the NFL, a team’s strength quotient is measured by what happens in the so-called Red Zone, the area inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. This was the region where, over the past two seasons, the Cowboys attack offered all of the zip and pizazz of a prostate infection.
Key stat: Over the past three regular seasons, Emmitt Smith’s touchdown numbers receded from 25 to 12 to four. Meanwhile, Gailey’s Steelers Red Zone offense ranked as the second best in the NFL last season-producing 33 touchdowns on 53 trips inside the 20.
In Gailey’s 10 seasons as an offensive coordinator at Denver and Pittsburgh, his teams appeared in four Super Bowls and six AFC championship games, won seven division championships, and won 10 or more games eight times.
Guys You’ve Never Heard of, But Will
Remember this name: Jimmy Oliver. He is a product of Adamson High School and TCU who can run the 40-yard dash in 4.18 seconds. Meaning that at bedtime, Oliver, a wide receiver, can switch off the lights and be under the covers before the room gets dark.
Drafted by the Cardinals, Oliver proved undersized, got hurt, and was released. He stayed out of football in ’97, got well, and bulked up to 190 pounds. Gailey plans to use Oliver as a deep threat in passing situations and also to return kickoffs.
Two names from the 1998 draft, defensive end Greg Ellis and aforementioned Flozell Adams, should make ample contribution by midseason or sooner, particularly in the case of Ellis.
The Emmitt Relief Fund
Emmitt Smith begins his ninth season as a Cowboy, and for the first time, he and the team can rely on more-than-adequate backup support. Chris Warren, a former 1,000-yard rusher from Seattle, arrived as a free agent.
A tandem rotation at running back translates into a healthier and far more productive Smith late in the season, when the Super Bowl push begins.
The Benefits of 6-And-10
LARRY LACEWELL SAYS THAT DALLAS’ shocking demise in ’97 served as “a wake-up call” for everyone in the organization. The bad record helped instigate some drastic but much-needed changes, particularly in the coaching staff.
NFL policy also mandates that good things come the way of crappy teams. Like better draft positioning that produced Ellis, Adams, and another promising defensive lineman, Michael Myers. And far more important, a softer schedule. Thanks to that 6-and-10 run in ’97, the Packers, 49ers, and Steelers have been replaced by the Saints, the Panthers, and the Seahawks, and that’s a blueprint that will lead to the playoffs and beyond.
How will the Miracle of ’98 play out? Like this:
September 6: Arizona Cardinals. Now, with quarterback Jake ’Lthe Snake” Plummer and rookie defensive sensation Andre Wadsworth generating big plays, the Cardinals are no longer a sappy, deadend franchise. Galley’s new offense sputters in his regular season debut, but the Cowboys prevail in overtime on a Richie Cunningham Held goal.
Final: Cowboys 19, Cardinals 16
September 13: at Denver. The defending Super Bowl champions might be too high, too cocky, and vulnerable to an upsel. But it won’t happen. After building an early lead, the Cowboys wilt in the thin air of Mile High Stadium.
Final: Broncos 24, Cowboys 20
September 21: at New York. According to legend. Jimmy Hoffa’s gravesite can be located beneath the Giants Stadium playing surface. The Cowboys’ 1997 season was buried here as well in a lackluster 20-17 loss that established the tone for a dismal campaign. This year Dallas takes command of the NFC East early when Sanders makes a late, game-saving interception of a Danny Kanell pass, and the Cowboys win a Monday night thriller.
Final: Cowboys 21. Giants 20
September 27: Oakland. Once upon a time, the Raiders prevailed as the Hell’s Angels of the NFL. Those days are long gone. Al Davis’ once-feared Black Shirts have evaporated into a pack of wusses.
Final: Cowboys 37, Raiders 10
October 4: at Washington. If coach Norv Turner is such an offensive genius, why haven’t the Skins made the playoffs since he’s been the man in charge? Because Washington quarterback Gus Frerotte is no Troy Aikman, that’s why. But these two teams always generate classic battles, and this game will be among the most memorable,
Final: Cowboys 31, Redskins 27
October 11: Carolina. In two previous games, the Panthers caught the Cowboys at their worst. So these Panthers, who have overachieved dramatically under the guidance of coach Dom Capers, remain the only NFL franchise that Dallas has never beaten. Until today.
Final: Cowboys 16, Panthers 10
October 18: at Chicago. In a Monday opener at Soldier Field in 1996, Smith landed on his head and was momentarily paralyzed; many “insiders1’ have suggested that he hasn’t been the same player since. Here Emmitt exacts his revenge.
Final: Cowboys 22, Bears 17
November 2: at Philadelphia. After an off-week, the Cowboys travel to Philadelphia. Eagles coach Ray Rhodes will once again throw his team into a frenzy, the Philly fans will again take on the personality of a lynch mob, and some blitzing linebacker will relieve Aikman of his senses.
Final: Eagles 14, Cowboys 10
Novembers: New York. When backup quarterback Jason Garrett was playing at Princeton, his prime receiver was Dean Cain, who also happened to be dating Brooke Shields at the time. Cain later became Superman on “Lois and Clark.” Filling in for Aikman, Garrett locates Irvin, sans cape but still bulletproof, for three second-half TDs.
Final: Cowboys 30, Giants 17
November 15: at Arizona. Nine games into the season, Vince Tobin’s Cardinals stand 7-2 and outrank even the Cowboys as the NFL’s surprise team of ’98. A late TD puts the upstart Cards on top. But Dallas won Super Bowl XXX in this stadium, and maybe positive vibes linger.
Final: Cowboys 23, Cardinals 20
November 22: Seattle. The Seahawks rarely appear on the Cowboys’ schedule, and that’s a shame, because Seattle thrives on mediocrity. Rookie defensive end Greg Ellis, starting to excel in the NFL, records three sacks.
Final: Cowboys 25, Seahawks 13
November 26: Minnesota. When the Cowboys last faced the Vikings, the occasion was the opening round of the ’96 playoffs. Dallas won the game 40-15, and it wasn’t as close as the score indicates. Payback time on Thanksgiving. NFL rookie of the year Randy Moss bums the Dallas secondary with a couple of second half TDs.
Final: Vikings 27, Cowboys 21
December 6: at New Orleans. At a point in the season when the fatigue factor becomes all too real and injuries mount, the Cowboys draw the Saints, which amounts to a furlough-a little R&R. In 17 meetings against New Orleans, Dallas has won 14.
Final: Cowboys 26, Saints 6
December 13: at Kansas City. A win here and Dallas locks up the Eastern title, and after a year’s absence, a playoff slot. That does not happen-not this week, anyway. KC quarterback Elvis Grbac takes advantage of several breakdowns in the secondary. Aikman throws two interceptions. Cunningham misses a last-ditch field goal.
Final: Chiefs 21, Cowboys 19
December 20; Philadelphia, In their recent visits to Texas Stadium, the Eagles have experienced some bizarre finishes. In 1996, just as Dallas was poised to notch the winning score, Philadelphia returned an Aikman interception for a 90 yard TD. In ’97, the Eagles needed a chip-shot field goal on the game’s final play to win. But the holder botched the snap. This time, with less than two minutes to play, the Cowboys block a punt, and Aikman throws a TD to David LeFleur as the clock reads 0:00.
Final: Cowboys 18, Eagles 17
December 27; Washington. Onl y once in the last 13 years have the Cowboys beaten the Skins twice in the same season. But 1998 will be the season of miracles. DC has not played at Texas Stadium in a regular season finale since 1979-and that game is generally regarded as the most exciting contest ever staged in Irving. This one lacks the dramatics.
Final: Cowboys 44, Redskins 19
Playoffs. Aikman throws for 285 yards and as the Cowboys avenge their Thanksgiving loss to the Vikings, 27-20. In the NFC championship game against a surprise Finalist-Atlanta, an upset winner at Green Bay-Dallas wins.
Final: Cowboys 30, Falcons 24
January 31,1999. Super Bowl XXXIII, Joe Robbie Stadium, Miami. A familiar face prowls the opposing sideline-Jimmy Johnson. After unprecedented pre-game hype (even for the Super Bowl), the lead changes hands four times. Dallas appears to win with a last-minute Emmitt Smith touchdown. But Richie Cunningham misses the extra point, and for the first time ever, the Super Bowl goes into overtime. Miami threatens, but Sanders intercepts a Marino pass. Six plays later, Cunningham attempts a field goal, and this time, he doesn’t miss.
Final: Cowboys 25, Dolphins 20