By Mickey Spagnola
May 12, 2005, 6:14 PM (CDT)
IRVING, Texas - Every year for nearly 20 years now, I've been coming in this locker room here at The Ranch - going all the way back to 1985 when the Cowboys moved from the pits over there on Forrest Lane to what then had to be considered the Taj Mahal of locker rooms.
This very moment I could go in there and show you right where Tony Dorsett's stall was, and that's back when the room was divided into four quadrants of lockers and Tex Schramm had this idea of providing computer capability in each cubicle. He was always thinking ahead. Danny White was across the aisle in the adjacent quad. You had to go to the far end to find Too Tall Jones, who wasn't too hard to find at 6-9, although normally asleep during the noon hour.
Jimmy Johnson unified the room. No more neighborhoods. He was big on the team concept, and turned the locker room into one big square of stalls, as it sits today, so everyone could see everyone and interact. Nate Newton resided over there, on the southside. Michael Irvin was eastside, near the entrance guarded by what seems to be the same blue curtain that was there back in 1990. Troy Aikman was directly opposite Irvin, a good 15 yards away. Then there is that northwest corner where the defensive backs have always been, affectionately known as they called it, "the ghetto."
A lot of history in there.
History, though, is the operative word, because I caught myself in there during this most recent mini-camp feeling old, while wondering, where has everyone gone?
Sure, sure, Aikman and Irvin and Emmitt Smith have been gone now for several years. No different with Daryl Johnston and Kevin Smith and Bill Bates. But come on, who are these guys - Canty, Rector, Thompson, Dahl, Tarullo, Spears, Condo, Tickles?
I mean, no Dexter Coakley? Worse, no Darren Woodson?
You telling me, the last of the Mohegans is Larry Allen? He's now the sole keeper of the historical gate, the very last link to the Cowboys' most recent of glory days? That's it?
That's it . . . two generations of Cowboys have now passed before my very eyes, the last vestiges of those great teams from the 70's and then from early 80's whose lasting legacy will be losing three consecutive NFC title games; and the ones from the 90's who put Humpty Dumpty back together again to win three Super Bowls in four years and emerge the team of the decade following five consecutive losing seasons.
Do any of these guys in here even have a clue of what's been, and I'm sure in the minds of those who have passed through this room, what is supposed to be?
Look, these new guys, most of them were born in 1982 or '83. They might have been 10 years old when the Cowboys won Super Bowl XXVII.
"I remember the history," says rookie safety Jason Beriault, all of 23 and having lived his entire life in Indianapolis in the shadows of the Colts. "I've watched Darren Woodson�patterned my game after his. It's hard to live in America and not follow the Dallas Cowboys.
"The first time I pulled on the Dallas Cowboys helmet and pulled on the Dallas Cowboys jersey, it was a dream come true. When you first come in here, you are shell-shocked."
Yeah, well that's encouraging, as is this from rookie free-agent offensive lineman Matt Tarullo, a Syracuse guy who grew up in Albany, N.Y., a Giants fan. Now he's like 22, but he swears he remembers Bill Parcells coaching the Giants (1983-90), which I guess would be like me saying I remember Al Lopez managing the Chicago White Sox.
"Coach Parcells, he's an idol of mine since I was a kid," Tarullo says. "Saw him coach the Giants, and to come here and play for him, and have him yell at me, that was a compliment. Called my dad last night, and said, "Eh, Coach Parcells yelled at me.'"
Those New Yorkers, a strange sense of honor.
But Tarullo insists he understands what it means to be in this room, too.
"It's awesome, you sense the tradition," Tarullo said of just being in the same space as all these Ring of Honor and future Hall of Fame players. "They won Super Bowls in the 70's. Won Super Bowls in the 90's. You still can feel it, the respect they had."
Funny thing about locker rooms. They are like bus stations. A whole bunch of people pass through. Some might even stay for a while. But no one ever stays forever.
That's why, maybe, they should put a roll call of name plates on each cubicle, so guys know who has been there before them.
Darian Barnes should know Emmitt Smith once occupied his space.
Or maybe guys need to do what Woody did. Before clearing out his things following his retirement this winter, Woodson signed the back of the cubicle he occupied for 12 years with a black Magic Marker.
Super Bowl Champs 92, 93, 95 . . . History
Darren Woodson #28
He prefaced his message with a warning: (Don't Wipe).
That probably was more of a message to the equipment managers, the no wiping, than to Roy Williams, who can only hope to create such a legacy now occupying Woody's old real estate.
But you know what Woodson was doing with his message. It was his small way of still contributing to the organization. He might not physically be there anymore to show these young pups the way, but he damn sure wanted to remind them of who has passed through this space and what they have accomplished.
And he had the right to do so, because he certainly left his mark on the place.
Beriault resides only a couple of doors down. But don't you worry, he saw the inscription inside Woody's old cubicle.
"I've seen it," Beriault said. "That was motivation. I don't need to be Roy Williams to be motivated by that."
Certainly, that was Woody's point. Because other than L.A., who else is going to make it? They're nearly all gone . . . Tuinei, Haley, Tolbert, Maryland, Jeffcoat, Randy White, Walls, Rafferty, Downs . . . .
This space has undergone a near complete transformation, and I caught myself wondering, who is going to strut stark naked through the room screaming, "I'm baaaack . . . you miss me?" as Irvin once did after ending a contract holdout? Who will have the nerve to stand in his space and question the head coach's personnel decision as Walls once did of Tom Landry? Who will ever again impersonate a corner back-peddling the way Ike Holt once did to show how easy it was to play behind the Eagles pass rush featuring Jerome Brown and Reggie White and Clyde Simmons and Seth Joyner back in the day? Who will ever cackle as long and as loud as Nate?
The place was bustling with activity that mini-camp weekend. New faces. New hope. A good bit of chatter to counter obvious anxiety.
But somehow, it felt awfully lonely in there, as if no one was really there.
Indeed the Cowboys are starting over. History awaits.