The League

Peter Schaffer
NFL Agent

Peter Schaffer

Agent and professor of sports law

Victims of the hype machine

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When the proverbial guillotine fell on the neck of one of the classiest and most gentleman members of the NFL Monday as the Cowboys unceremoniously dumped Wade Phillips as their coach, the pundits began raising the question as to who is to blame and how far America's team has truly sunk. The reality is that the NFL is the most competitive of leagues and but for some bad breaks and injuries, Wade is still the coach. Of course, Jerry Jones' marketing machine also leaves the teams with a minute margin for error and the team is also a victim of that very machine and its own successes.

The NFL stands for Not For Laughing as much as Not For Long. The league has achieved a high degree and level of success, competitiveness and parity unique and unparalleled in the long history of professional team sports. The reality is that save for two or three of the top elite and bottom dweller teams each year, the middle class of 26 to 28 teams is basically made up of 8-8 or .500 teams. The differences in wins or losses is contingent upon many factors luck (see the Lions and Calvin Johnson's premature celebration in week 1), special team plays (see Seattle's two kick-off returns by Leon Washington), an easy schedule (playing the NFC West as opposed to the AFC North for example), good or poor coaching (see the Lions passing on third down with under two minutes remaining on Sunday), team chemistry and character or lack of debilitating critical injuries. These factors can be the difference between 6-2 and 2-6 at the mid way point of the season. The Boys have had their share of misfortune this year for sure. Their first four losses were by one touchdown or less. Remember opening day? A victory snatched by a holding call. Then in week 2, Hester makes a highlight reel victory catch. Loss No. 3 came in a scoring duel with one of the NFL elite, the Titans, and then came the three-point loss to their current drama partners, the Vikings. Add to this, the loss of their franchise quarterback to a broken clavicle and you have a recipe for a less than exemplary season. The team has also focused in recent years on acquiring fantasy stud players at the expense of meat and potatoes guys who provided, character, chemistry and continuity to the teams.

Dallas (and hence Wade) is also a victim of its own hype and drama. They crown themselves favorites with splash moves every year and everyone takes the bait. A truly brilliant marketing machine. Then when they stumble on the field, or even when they are average, people marvel and are consumed by their underachieving doom. Sounds like the NFL version of the Bronx Bombers Yanks, doesn't it? It seems like every August they are the cover boys -- only recently receiving competition from another team cut in their mold, the Vikes. The difference is that the Vikings have been able to salvage two more wins (one by a smidgen Sunday and another by a field goal over their soap opera brethren) to keep hope, and thus drama, alive.

The one area that the team certainly is at fault for, and it happens to many teams over the years, is that they did not account for the fact that their offensive line became old and old real fast. Once the cornerstone of the dynasty, the line has now become the Achilles' heel of the team. Again this year the team abstained from addressing its aged unit and instead focused upon the acquisition of fantasy football players at the skill positions. The current NFL shows that success comes with the ability to keep one's quarterback vertical and give these talented players time to run complex and sophisticated offensive schemes. The Cowboys' woes can in part be blamed on their O-line's shortcomings this year. The team is not devoid of talent which is obvious from the collection of receivers and an aggressive defensive front seven. They just need to find a few more lunch pail/hard hat players and less fantasy football studs.

So while American's team has fallen, and fallen in the public eye by virtue of their hype and their narrow 1-4 start, the media's all-or-nothing predictions became prophetic as the team seemingly has relented to the scrutiny and cashed it in these last three poundings. A few things of note (a) they're only at mid-season in their free-fall so there remains time for a chute to open to soften the blow, even though the landing will still be hard, (b) a few of their early losses were closer than we perceive them today in the context of 1-7 paired with three recent blowouts, and (c) Dallas lives in the extremes so stating they have reached the lowest of lows plays right to the media's theme that they helped to create. If the NFL has taught us anything, it's that games are not won on the cover of pre-season publications in the off-season and August. The games are won in between the white lines in the fall. Sure the old line is true that the Cowboys are three players away from a championship at this time, "Troy AIkman, WIlliam Roaf and Barry Sanders." However those players are not readily available now and thus the Cowboys are left with trying to gather some luck, some good bounces, some lesser opponents at the right time and avoid the major injury bug. Clearly, Jerry Jones' fantasy and prediction of playing in his house in February will not come to fruition, but given some time, luck and less bad breaks, they might just actually be competitive again and real soon.

By Peter Schaffer  |  November 9, 2010; 11:11 AM ET  | Category:  Coaching , Dallas Cowboys , Jerry Jones , NFC , NFL Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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You can't win in the NFL with a team full of fantasy superstars. Tony Romo is an above average quarterback with a subpar line that fed him to the wolves. Now a below average quarterback John Kitna is in the same situation. The loss of Flozell Adams definitely hurt the Cowboys. He may have been an older player, but he has played well for the upstart Steelers.

Posted by: MomAtWork | November 9, 2010 12:49 PM

The one thing for sure that is spot on is that Wade Phillips is a total class act. Humble, slef depracting and genuine. The whole pakcage. It truly is a shame when professional sports spits out people like Wade. Who says Nice guys finish last? He is a winner in every sence of the word.

Posted by: JimBeam888 | November 9, 2010 1:13 PM

1. A man is only as good as his word. And Jerry Jones has proved that he does not even deserve to be called a man after he publicly stated 2 weeks ago that there would not be a coaching change midseason.

2. Play Stephen McGee. The Cowboys season is in shambles so why not let the 2nd year guy out of Texas A&M get some quality experience under center. We already know that the overpaid backup (Kitna) can't get it done, so what's the harm?

3. And with the 1st pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys select...

Posted by: kwes3 | November 9, 2010 2:20 PM

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