Because Dak Has One Special Gift
Reason No. 1Eleven blue-shirted goons conscripted to play defense for the New York Giants displayed a hungry look as the regular season began last September at AT&T Stadium. The Cowboys’ rookie quarterback, selected from the NFL draft’s fourth-round bargain bin, would provide a splendid main course for the visiting pachyderms. The only remaining trace of Dak Prescott, at game’s end, would be a loud belch emanating from some Giants linebacker. That was the scenario prescribed by the pro football pundits, an assembly of so-called expert witnesses who live with their heads stuck up their past. As Prescott, the emergency understudy, entered the fray to direct the Cowboys’ opening drive, he made it evident that he was at least immune from the yammering of the naysayers. He trotted onto the field replicating the serene gait of an odds-on Derby favorite entering the track while the band played “My Old Kentucky Home.” This horse was ready to run. Prescott’s stage presence was a marvel of poise and self-possession. As the season progressed, he displayed that rarest of traits seen in the all-time greatest professional athletes: the gift of anticipation. The Shining. Wayne Gretzky had it. And Magic Johnson. And Joe Montana. And Dak Prescott has it, too. Jerry Jones might require a papal blessing for his team to reach the Super Bowl. Prescott does not need one. —Mike Shropshire
Because Dr. Blaine Nye Has Done the Math
Reason No. 2Only a handful of NFL players have ever earned a Ph.D. Prescott, who has a master’s degree in workforce leadership, plans to get a doctorate in psychology when he retires or perhaps even between seasons. The last Cowboy to earn a doctorate was Blaine Nye, an offensive lineman from 1968 to 1976 who got his Ph.D. in finance after he retired. Nye played in three Super Bowls, including the first one that the team won, Super Bowl VI.
Because Jesus Has Healed Jaylon Smith’s Drop Foot
Reason No. 3When Smith was at Notre Dame, they joked that he played the “God linebacker” position, allowing the Irish to run a 10–1 defense. That’s how good he was. But then Smith tore both the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his knee and also suffered nerve damage that led to a condition called drop foot, which is pretty much what it sounds like—an inability to pick up the forefoot—and not something you generally find in elite athletes. While some wondered if he would be able to play at all in the NFL, the Cowboys gambled that they could pick up a top five talent for second-round value, taking Smith with the 34th pick in last year’s draft. Their vision has been rewarded. In May, David Moore of the Dallas Morning News wrote: “[W]hat has taken place over the last two months has been dramatic. One club official describes it as exponential. The pace of [nerve] regeneration shows no signs of slowing.” After not playing at all his rookie season, Smith is now flying around the field and filled with the Holy Spirit.
Because Rod Marinelli Once Wrestled a Bear
Reason No. 4
It doesn’t matter how many scrubs you throw at defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. His charges always play above their pay grade. In 2013, his first year with the Cowboys, the then defensive line coach used 18 (!) different players on the line. Two years later, the defensive coordinator improved the Cowboys’ pass defense rank from 26th to fifth. Last year, with one All-Pro (Sean Lee), it finished No. 1 in run defense. How does he do it? By transferring his wrought-iron toughness to players. In college, Marinelli played offensive tackle at Utah for a year, then did a yearlong tour of Vietnam (wounded, contracted malaria), then played tackle at Cal Lutheran, where he was named All-American as a senior. But in high school, Marinelli wrestled a bear—and won. Sure, it was declawed and muzzled. But he put a dang bear on its back in 10 seconds. You do not mess with Rod Marinelli. His players know that, and it shows in the results. —Eric Celeste
Because Zeke Is Already the Best Running Back in the NFL
Reason No. 5
It was risky, taking a running back so high in the first round. The league has mostly moved on from that kind of thinking. But the Cowboys’ big bet on Ezekiel Elliott paid off. It wasn’t just that he led the league in rushing yards last year, in his rookie campaign; he dominated the NFL. As the Cowboys marched to the best record in the league, Elliott was the workhorse. He finished the season with 1,631 rushing yards—over 300 yards more than the next best running back—and 16 total touchdowns. When you add his receptions, he had nearly 2,000 yards from scrimmage. And because the team had already locked up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, he didn’t even play in the last game of the season. Against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Elliott had 205 yards and three touchdowns, including a game-winning 32-yard score with only seconds left on the clock. (He was also great in his only playoff game, running for 125 yards—just the second Cowboys rookie ever to rush for more than 100 yards in a playoff matchup.) There are a few great running backs left in the league, including some veterans, but nobody who can slice through defenses and explode into the end zone like he does. Feed Zeke. —Michael J. Mooney
Because Numbers Don’t Lie
Reason No. 6
The Cowboys are poised to rack up a historic run of Super Bowl wins. Just look at what the numbers tell us. Roger Staubach won two Super Bowls. He wore No. 12. Add his jersey number for each win. That’s 24. Troy Aikman, No. 8, hit the same 24 with three wins. See the pattern? Dak Prescott, No. 4, will win this season’s Super Bowl—and then win five more, topping Tom Brady’s current record. 6 x 4 = 24. It is incontrovertible.
Because Dez Bryant Is All Grown Up (Finally)
Reason No. 7
His talent has never been in question. Dez Bryant has always been an incredible physical specimen, capable of running past defenders and finding open space even when he’s surrounded. Most important, he has always been able to out-jump anyone and yank the football from the air like he’s reclaiming something that was always his. In 2014, the last time he played a full season, he caught 16 touchdowns. The problems have always been off the field. In college, he was suspended a year. (For stupid reasons related to talking to Deion Sanders, but still.) In 2012, he was charged with domestic violence after allegedly slapping his own mother. He has also been sued multiple times, once for an incident in college that involved allegedly stolen jewelry (which was reportedly settled for hundreds of thousands of dollars) and once by state Sen. Royce West, for allegedly trashing a rental house so badly that feces were involved. The good news, though, is that Bryant seems to have mellowed and matured. He got rid of Dallas, his pet monkey. He has spoken out against domestic violence, and he has gone years without any off-the-field issues. In interviews, he seems calmer, wiser—a man who has been through a lot in life and wants something better. That something is a Super Bowl win. —Michael J. Mooney
Because the Cowboys Nicknames Are Unbeatable
Reason No. 8
The Cowboys’ first-round draft pick is a 273-pound defensive force named Vidauntae Charlton. But nobody calls him that. Everyone—former teachers, NFL scouts, endorsement-seeking sponsors—calls him Taco. Tamara Charlton was pregnant with Taco in 1994, around the time Taco Bell was airing those “Make a Run for the Border” TV commercials. With Tamara showing signs of premature labor, her mom joked, “He’s running for the border.” They’ve been calling him Taco ever since.
The mythical monikers don’t end there. Rookie defensive back Chidobe Awuzie is Cheeto, and veteran running back Darren McFadden is Run DMC. Then there’s the Cowboys’ three-headed offensive attack. Desmond Bryant, Rayne Dakota Prescott, and Ezekiel Elliott are better known as Dez, Dak, and Zeke. The Giants’ yawn-inducing equivalent: Odell, Eli, and Paul. —Brian Wendell
Because Tony Romo Is the Unluckiest Man Alive
Reason No. 9
Because the Cowboys Have the Best Fans in the Universe
Reason No. 10
Emory University professors Manish Tripathi and Michael Lewis gathered data from NFL teams over a decade and then conducted an in-depth statistical analysis that conclusively determined that Dallas Cowboys fans are the best in the NFL. The non-biased academics (after the results were released, Tripathi admitted to the Atlanta Journal Constitution that “we both hate the Cowboys”) measured Fan Equity (the Cowboys have the highest home attendance by a wide margin), Social Media Equity (the Cowboys have the second-most Twitter followers after the Patriots), and Road Equity (Cowboys fans hit the road more than any other team) to determine that Cowboys fans excel in all metrics, even during losing seasons.
The best example of such dedication may be super-fan Mark Shenefield, better known as Tattoo Mark. The 55-year-old became a Cowboys fan at age 5 and got his first of 22 tribute tattoos at age 28. They include the former Texas Stadium on his stomach, Roger Staubach on his chest, Tony Dorsett and Troy Aikman on his sides, and, on his back, Tom Landry and Emmitt Smith, who signed the tattoo of himself. Shenefield plans to add two more soon—Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, one on each hand. At one time, he even considered turning his mother’s house, where he lived, into a Cowboys shrine. The West Coast resident, a member of the Southern California Dallas Cowboys Fan Club, often wears Cowboys-themed open-back shirts to show off his blue ink at games. “Anyone can put on a costume,” he says, “but when you tattoo your body, that’s for life.” —Christiana Nielson
Because the Cowboys Employ the Best Fixer in Town
Reason No. 11
Nobody has a fixer like David Wells. The Washington Post compared him to the Pulp Fiction character Winston Wolf, a man “who exists on the margins and functions without ceremony.” If there’s a problem—a player in a late-night fight, a dicey prospect the team wants to investigate, a rookie who needs a Texas driver’s license but isn’t in town yet—the team calls Wells. He’ll rush to the scene, often ahead of reporters and police officers, and solve whatever needs solving. The bail bondsman-turned-security specialist does it all, even getting into a player’s finances if that’s what it takes. He is friends with judges and lawyers and cops, and he has become close with the most troublesome characters in the NFL. (A few have even lived with him over the years.) He’s secretive by necessity so we’ll likely never know exactly what Wells does, but he has a knack for making problems disappear and halting public embarrassments before they happen. He has told reporters that for every one scandal they learn about, there are 10 more he makes sure never see the light of day. At some point this season, one of the players will do something stupid, but he won’t miss a game because Wells will make it all go away. —Michael J. Mooney
Because a Super Bowl Win Would Keep Jerry Jones From Wiping out Humanity
Reason No. 12
When Indian artist Anish Kapoor’s Sky Mirror sculpture was installed outside AT&T Stadium in October 2013, everyone was like, “Oh, cool, Gene Jones got some more art. Sunday Night Football can switch up its b-roll footage.” We were the only ones to see the 35-foot-diameter, 23-ton, polished stainless steel concave mirror for what it really was: the final piece of the puzzle.
Fact: the orientation of AT&T Stadium is dreadful for Sunday afternoon football—but perfect if you intend to harness the sun’s energy and, using a cyclotron about the size and shape of a football field and an oversize targeting mirror, create a super-weapon capable of destroying a target as large as the moon. Have you ever stopped to think that maybe Jerry encouraged people to call the stadium the Death Star so they wouldn’t realize that’s exactly what it was? That maybe he brainwashed every NFL broadcaster to mention Gene’s art collection at some point during every game so that when the most visible part of his weapon was put in place, no one would even bat an eye? That he ticks every box on the Bond villain checklist: rich eccentric stereotype fond of overly complicated plans and ham-fisted henchmen like Rich Dalrymple?
OPEN YOUR EYES, SHEEPLE.
Because Captain America Says So
Reason No. 13
When we asked Roger Staubach why the Cowboys will win the Super Bowl this season, he didn’t feel it was necessary to elaborate. The Heisman Trophy winner and two-time Super Bowl champ said the Cowboys will bring home the Lombardi Trophy: “Because I say so.”
Because an Army Marches on Its Stomach
Reason No. 14
Team dietitian Scott Sehnert determines what—and how much—the players shovel in during the season to achieve peak performance. Smaller players, such as wide receivers and defensive backs, require about 3,500 to 4,000 calories per day. For the largest players, offensive and defensive linemen, the target intake is up to 6,000 calories on heavier training days. Sehnert works with chefs at The Training Table restaurant at The Star to keep the team gassed up. Here’s a look at a typical menu.
- Made-to-order omelet station with egg whites and whole eggs
- Turkey and chicken sausage
- White and sweet potatoes
- Whole-grain pancakes, waffles, and toast
- Cold-pressed juices
- Typical meal: half a waffle, three to four eggs, and a cup of mixed fruit
- Breakfast target: a 50-30-20 mix of carbohydrates, protein, and fruit, respectively
About 30 minutes before practice, a fuel cart delivers energy bars for a quick start.
Recovery smoothies include protein and calories based on body weight and are made with nut butters, fruit or vegetable juices, and water.
- Grilled burgers, made from 90/10 beef mixed with mushrooms and onions for bulk, served with sweet potato wedges
- Chicken sandwiches with collard greens and mac and cheese made with a cauliflower béchamel instead of heavy cream
- Salmon with brown rice pilaf and vegetables
- Pizza made with a thin whole-wheat crust
- BYO grain bowl with quinoa, barley, or whole-grain mix topped with choice of chicken or shrimp, vegetables, and sauce
- Pasta station with whole-wheat pasta and popular “caul-fredo” sauce
- Salad bar
- Lunch target: an equal amount of carbs, protein, and vegetables
Grab-and-go options include veggies, hummus, chia pudding, hard-boiled eggs, and house-smoked turkey breast sandwiches.
The players are on their own. Several of them work with a private chef in the area to stay on track.
Because Dan Bailey Is Actually a Robot
Reason No. 15
The guy hardly ever misses. In his six seasons with the Cowboys, when kicking from inside the 40-yard line, Bailey has missed only three times. Going into this season, he is the second-most accurate kicker in NFL history (barely edged out by Baltimore’s Justin Tucker). Can he kick it? Yes, he can.
Because Anthony Brown Has This Tattoo
Reason No. 16
Brown was the 189th overall draft pick last year. In April, he posted this picture of his right shoulder on Instagram and wrote: “Been playing with a chip on my shoulder all my life.” Pure, unmitigated genius. ESPN needs to do a 30 for 30 documentary just on this tattoo.
Because Last Year Wasn’t a Fluke
Reason No. 17
Each week last season resulted in a similar verdict when breaking down the success of the Cowboys’ offensive machine. There are no numbers that can properly describe it, so I turned to words and frequently wrote the exact same ones: repeatable and sustainable. They didn’t require smoke and mirrors or trickeration. They didn’t require Herculean efforts from players who were doing the impossible.
Nope. They just called the same plays over and over. And throughout 2016, even with a rookie at both quarterback and running back, the offense flourished like never before. They were ranked No. 1 in many offensive categories. In most they ranked in the top five and in almost all they ranked in the top 10. They owned the ball, they ran the ball, and they crushed their opponents into a fine powder.
Why did it work so well? The Cowboys invested in an offensive line that could move mountains. Then they doubled down and picked the most talented running back they could find, using their highest draft pick in 25 years to secure Ezekiel Elliott. You could say that after they made that decision to neglect other glaring needs (to fortify a spot that might not have required fortifying) that it had better be the most unstoppable force in the NFL.
Unfortunately, there was one way to stop it. The coaches sabotaged their own efforts in the playoffs against Green Bay by not running the ground and pound when the Packers had not shown the ability to slow them down. Instead, they let Green Bay off the hook by throwing when they could have kept hammering away with Zeke.
I assume Jason Garrett and his crew have learned their lesson. You still want to pass the ball and keep the defense guessing with play-action and to move the chains. But when the season is on the line, the “repeatable and sustainable” machine of running Zeke behind this gold-standard offensive line is something that should remain the wise choice until someone demonstrates they can stop what this league had no answer for in 2016.
Run it until they stop it. —Bob Sturm
Because Just Look at These Guys!
Reason No. 18
Team chemistry isn’t sufficient to achieve greatness, but it is necessary. When your stars happily wrestle like puppy dogs, it’s a sign of good things to come. Call your bookie now. Bet the farm.