Ezekiel Elliott Jersey

The longest rush of the NFL playoffs so far — a 44-yard run by Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott — was also the fastest. Elliott hit 21.27 miles per hour as he outran two defenders, his top speed as a ball carrier this season.

We only know that statistic because of a tiny chip inside Elliott’s shoulder pads — a small piece of the National Football League’s aggressive push into advanced data and analytics. The NFL is using technology to track the game and its players like never before. For the first time, all 32 teams have access to chip data throughout the league, providing a snapshot of every player’s location 12 times per second.

And it’s not just the NFL. Every major sports league is counting on data to revolutionize how athletes train and recover — and how coaches evaluate and prepare for games. But the analytics boom has also produced some thorny questions. Should a player’s privacy factor in? Should the data be used in contract negotiations? And who should share the spoils if broadcasters and sports-gambling companies pay for the information?

To resolve these questions, research firm Sports Innovation Lab formed a 16-person advisory board with executives from the major sports leagues, unions, tech companies and gambling houses. The board will meet four times — starting this week — with the goal of producing standards and best practices by the end of 2019.

‘Over and Over’

“We see these questions over and over again,” said Angela Ruggiero, a four-time Olympic medalist for USA hockey and co-founder of Sports Innovation Lab. “Everyone is trying to solve them in their own unique, siloed way. Our plan is to accelerate that conversation.”

The discussion is advancing on two tracks: One focused on privacy; the other on money. New technology is revolutionizing our understanding of the body and its limits. Wearable devices, genetic testing and bloodwork are providing new insights. They’re also creating tension between athletes and their employers, with concerns over how information gleaned for health purposes may bleed into matters like contract negotiations.

Then there’s the massive revenue opportunity. Some of the same data may be commercially viable for social media, video games, broadcasters and gambling companies.

Betting Opportunity

Companies like casino owner MGM Resorts International are already paying tens of millions to partner with leagues like the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball — deals that sometimes include access to these data streams. Next year, for example, MGM customers may be able to bet on which NHL player skates the fastest during a game, or rips the hardest slap shot.

It’s early times, but also a critical moment. Think of athlete data in 2019 like broadcast rights 50 years ago, said Ahmad Nassar, who runs the licensing and marketing arm of the NFL Players Association.

“Broadcast rights are a very mature market, and now everybody gets it, but 50 years ago I don’t think people understood the opportunity — it was all about gate revenue, selling out games, concessions and parking,” Nassar said. “Data can follow that same path.”
Collective Bargaining

These conversations are happening all over the sports world with players, leagues and their unions. During the NBA’s 2016 collective bargaining, the league and its union wrote explicit new rules for wearable devices. Article XXII, Section 13 outlines which wearables can be used in practices and says players can opt out at any time. It also forbids the data from being used in contract negotiations.

The NFL, which signed its last labor accord back in 2011, operates differently. Teams are allowed to use the chip data in contract negotiations, and players don’t have full access to the information unless granted by individual teams. The league also has a handful of commercial partnerships tied to the data, including agreements with tech company Zebra Technologies Corp., data firm Sportradar AG and Amazon Web Services.

“The technology is just so mature, we’re able to do things that we weren’t able to do just a few years ago,” said Damani Leech, the NFL’s senior vice president of football strategy and business development, who is on the panel. “What we have to decide as a league, and with the players, is what technology is of sufficient quality to be used. And just because it’s available, should we use it? Does it belong in our game?”

The Sports Innovation Lab advisory board includes executives from the NFL, NFLPA, NHL, UFC and baseball’s Chicago Cubs. It also has representatives from athlete-performance companies like Whoop, Orreco, Kinduct, Atavus and Orig3n, plus sports-book operators like MGM and DraftKings Inc.
Augmented Reality

It’s the first of a handful of advisory boards that the Sports Innovation Lab will launch this year. The group is taking a similar approach to smart venues, and immersive media like virtual reality, augmented reality and digital streaming, Ruggiero said.

As a defenseman with USA Hockey, Ruggiero often experimented with new technology. She was an early adopter of heart-rate monitoring during training, and altered her diet after blood analysis said foods like pepper and cherries were hindering her performance. She retired in 2011 having played more games for USA Hockey than anyone, male or female.

“Your body is your business,” said Ruggiero, also a former International Olympic Committee board member. “But now it’s not just about performance, it’s also about fan engagement.”

Ezekiel Elliott will sit for the second time in the last three years as the Cowboys end the regular season.

He wasn’t alone. Three Pro Bowl players for the Cowboys are inactive for the regular season finale against the New York Giants.

Elliott is joined by left tackle Tyron Smith and right guard Zack Martin on the inactive list. The group is completed with quarterback Mike White, linebacker Chris Covington, defensive tackle David Irving and defensive end Tyrone Crawford.

Elliott had expressed a desire to play in this game. But the Cowboys, as they did his rookie season in 2016, determined his value to the team for the postseason is too important to risk him getting beat up or worn down in this game.

The running back’s absence shouldn’t hurt his quest to lead the league in rushing for the second time in three seasons. Elliott’s 1,434 yards on the ground gives him a 183-yard lead over second place Todd Gurley, who won’t play today for the LA Rams.

Giants rookie Saquon Barkley is third, but would need 237 yards against the Dallas defense to pass Elliott for the title.

Tony Romo Jersey

Tony Romo, byname of Antonio Romario Romo, (born April 21, 1980, San Diego, California, U.S.), American professional gridiron football player who emerged as one of the leading quarterbacks in the National Football League (NFL) in the early 21st century.

Romo spent most of his childhood in southern Wisconsin, where he idolized Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre, whose aggressive, risk-taking style of play he eventually sought to emulate. Although Romo was a standout player for Burlington (Wisconsin) High School, he was not recruited by the major college football teams and wound up attending Eastern Illinois University, a Division I-AA school in Charleston, Illinois. At Eastern Illinois he was a three-time (2000–02) Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year, and in his senior season he received the Walter Payton Award as Division I-AA’s top offensive player.

Despite being eligible for the 2003 NFL draft, Romo was again overlooked. Later that year he signed with the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent, but he earned little playing time in his first three seasons. He did not take over as starting quarterback until 2006, when he replaced an aging Drew Bledsoe near midseason. Romo blossomed almost immediately in the starter’s role, helping the Cowboys land a wild-card spot in the play-offs. His ability to improvise plays and his willingness to throw downfield quickly made him a fan favourite. He finished the season having passed for 19 touchdowns and 2,903 yards and became the first Cowboys quarterback to be selected for the Pro Bowl since Troy Aikman in 1996.

Although Romo was blamed for the Cowboys’ 2006 play-off loss to the Seattle Seahawks—he dropped the snap on a potentially game-winning field goal attempt—he returned to lead the team to a 12–1 start in 2007, the best in franchise history. The Cowboys went on to win their first National Football Conference (NFC) East Division title in nine years, and Romo finished the regular season with 36 touchdowns and 4,211 passing yards. However, the Cowboys were upset by the rival New York Giants in their opening play-off game, and Romo’s performance in big games began to be called into question by some observers. The criticism grew louder in 2008 when the Cowboys suffered a 44–6 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in the final game of the season with a play-off berth on the line. In 2009 Romo gained a measure of redemption as he passed for a career-high 4,483 yards (which was also a franchise record) and led the Cowboys to their first postseason victory in 14 years.

A fractured clavicle limited Romo to just six games during the 2010 season. In each of the following three years, the Cowboys finished with 8–8 records, missing the play-offs by losing to a division rival in the final week of the regular season each time. While Romo produced solid statistics over those seasons—including breaking the Cowboys’ single-season passing mark with 4,903 yards in 2012—the team’s mediocrity led to the continuation of the “Romo is not clutch” narrative. Although he threw a fair number of poorly timed interceptions, Romo was in fact among the league leaders in fourth-quarter passer rating during his career and led numerous game-winning drives. He had his best professional season in 2014, leading the NFL with a 113.2 passer rating while throwing 34 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. Dallas won a division title that season, and Romo led a game-winning fourth-quarter drive in the team’s opening play-off contest, but the Cowboys were eliminated in the team’s next postseason game. Romo was once again sidelined by an injury in 2015 as a broken collar bone limited him to just four games, and the Cowboys staggered to a 4–12 record in his absence. In 2016 Romo was once more bitten by the injury bug when a broken bone in his back sidelined him until midseason. However, the stellar play of rookie quarterback Dak Prescott, who ultimately led Dallas to an NFC-best 13–3 record, forced Romo into a back-up role after he returned to the active roster.

In April 2017 he abruptly retired from the NFL and immediately joined CBS as a commentator for NFL television broadcasts. At the time of his retirement, Romo had thrown for 34,183 yards (29th most in NFL history), 248 touchdowns (21st all-time), and had a 97.1 career passer rating (fourth highest ever).

Tony Romo has been accurately predicting plays since he left the field and went to CBS’ booth starting in the 2017 NFL season.

Transitioning to broadcasting almost immediately after retirement, Romo has repeatedly proved over the last two years that he is able to read defenses just as fast as the quarterbacks on the field and can anticipate a specific play seconds before the snap.

Most recently, he stunned viewers watching the AFC championship game almost two weeks ago. In the New England Patriots’ 37-31 overtime win against the Kansas City Chiefs, he correctly predicted the Patriots’ movements multiple times, and NFL fans were amazed. And with CBS broadcasting the 2019 Super Bowl matchup between New England and the Los Angeles Rams, Romo will have one more opportunity this season to prove he’s basically psychic.

And because of that, The Wall Street Journal took an impressively deep dive into Romo’s broadcasts this season. It reviewed all 2,599 plays from every game the former Dallas Cowboys quarterback called this season and counted the number of times he made a specific prediction, as opposed to a general observation.

Romo has made 72 play predictions so far this season and was correct 68 percent of the time, according to the WSJ’s calculations. And that means statistically, he’s better at predicting NFL plays from the booth than completing passes because his career completion percentage is 65.3.

It’s more physics than metaphysics, Romo says. He looks at the field and understands the tendencies of the players and coordinators. He combines his knowledge of those teams with his knowledge as a player who not long ago would be the guy calling the play in the huddle. Maybe the offense is lined up in a particular formation. Or it’s the defense gearing up for something unusual. From all those variables he makes a calculation.

“In some ways, it’s like math,” Romo says.

“People think Tony’s a fortune teller, but this isn’t guesswork and this isn’t psychic ability,” said Jim Nantz, his partner in the booth. “He’s not getting some sort of message from the gods. He’s seeing what Brady saw.”

Looking ahead to the Super Bowl, it seems like Romo is set up to impress viewers once again. According to the WSJ’s analysis, 16 of Romo’s predictions during broadcasts this season were in five Patriots games with Tom Brady on the field, and his accuracy was even higher in those instances at 69 percent.

DeMarcus Ware Jersey

Former NFL linebacker DeMarcus Ware announced a $10,000 donation Friday to cover grave marker expenses for the 23 people who died in Sunday’s tornado in Beauregard, Alabama.

Lee County coroner Bill Harris confirmed the East Alabama Medical Center Foundation will use the money on markers after the EF4 tornado led to widespread destruction and the 23 deaths, including four children, per Kirsten Fiscus and Brad Harper of the Montgomery Advertiser.

Ware, who grew up in the Lee County city of Auburn, released a statement about the donation:

“When I heard the news, I didn’t know where to start, I just knew I had to do something. We are coming up on ‘DeMarcus Ware Day’ (April 19) in the state of Alabama and when that proclamation was declared three years ago, I made a vow to always do my part to protect ‘Sweet Home Alabama.’ All things considered, this donation is small in comparison to the devastating feeling of burying a loved one. I look forward to making an even bigger impact in the weeks to come as relief needs continue to be assessed.”

After attending Auburn High School, he played college football at Troy University in Alabama.

Ware went on to earn nine Pro Bowl selections, including seven straight while with the Dallas Cowboys, during a 12-year NFL career that was also highlighted by winning Super Bowl 50 with the Denver Broncos.

DeMarcus Ware Day was first celebrated under former Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley in 2016.

As Lane Kiffin jogged off the practice field, he was stopped by Ernest Bagner.

Earlier that morning, the Florida Atlantic coach had issued Bagner a challenge: get three sacks today.

“He told me he got four,” Kiffin said. “It was good to see.”

Bagner, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound defensive end, is one of two former junior college players competing for playing time along FAU’s defensive line. The other is Tim Bonner, a tall, lanky pass rusher with a quick first step.

Both are entering their first season at FAU, and both players started fall camp low on the Owls’ depth chart, playing mostly on the third and fourth teams.

But both have moved up. And Kiffin isn’t…

Jason Witten is ditching retirement and ESPN’s Monday Night Football broadcast booth to play again for the Cowboys.

The longtime franchise standout’s unexpected return, which the Cowboys announced Thursday afternoon and SportsDay’s Jon Machota reports will be on a one-year contract for $5 million, prompted widespread shock and several jabs about his rocky broadcasting tenure.

Here’s some of the national reaction on Twitter to the Cowboys’ new — and old — tight end:

Don’t expect to see DeMarcus Ware on Denver’s sideline next season.

The future Hall-of-Fame linebacker figures to pursue different endeavors after serving the Broncos as a part-time pass-rush instructor in 2018. Per Mike Klis of 9News, the team has still had “no discussion” about bringing back Ware as an assistant under new head coach Vic Fangio.

Fangio himself confirmed on Jan. 24 that he’s yet to speak with Ware.

“We haven’t had those discussions yet,” he said.

Following various media gigs and television appearances since his 2017 retirement, Ware returned to the Broncos as a defensive consultant for then-HC Vance Joseph. He tutored the team’s edge defenders and linemen during parts of spring workouts, training camp and the regular season.

Ware’s star pupil was first-round draft pick Bradley Chubb, whose historic rookie campaign included setting the Broncos’ rookie sack record and finishing as a Defensive Rookie of the Year finalist. With Ware’s expert tutelage, Chubb’s steadily progressed from week to week, to the point where he totaled 7.5 sacks over a five-game stretch, forming a terrorizing bookend to perennial Pro Bowler Von Miller.

“I could see how he’s been progressing throughout the whole season, from the first game, second game, third game. Oh, man, [in the] third game he got a sack!” Ware recalled to the Broncos’ official website. “And I could see he’s progressing along as he should, but he’s still learning and he can get even better. And knowing that now he’s past my single-season rookie record already, I feel like the sky is the limit for him. I told him, ‘You have all the tools needed to be an awesome pass rusher, and as you keep progressing, you take it, but don’t be afraid to make mistakes.”

In January, Chubb spoke glowingly of Ware and the lessons he imparted.

“I feel like this whole year I built a great relationship with him,” he said. “Even if he’s not here coaching with us, I still feel like I can text him, still hit him up, still learn from him. I feel like this whole year has been a great experience and I’m excited to keep working him in the future because I feel like if I continue to do that, the sky’s the limit.”

The Broncos filled Ware’s staff position last month by poaching Brandon Staley from Chicago to coach the OLBs. Fangio also will work with the positional group in addition to handling his head-coaching and defensive play-calling duties.

“Obviously, starting off, we have two good players on the outside,” he said during his introductory press conference. “Von Miller can be one of the rare players in this league, much like Khalil is. I’m looking forward to working with both of them. [OLB] Bradley [Chubb] is a guy that we had high grades on also in Chicago last year. I’m aware that he had a good season this year. That’s my position of expertise when I’m coaching a position, and those guys are going to get coached by their position coach, but they’re going to get a little extra from me too. We’re going to try to take them both to bigger and better levels. I think Von Miller can play even better than he’s played in his career.”

Charles Haley Jersey

Former Cowboys defensive lineman/linebacker and Pro Football Hall of Famer Charles Haley recently discussed America’s Team with the Dennis and Cowlishaw show on 103.3 ESPN Dallas. Here are some highlights from the interview.

After going 13-3 in 2016, why did the Cowboys regress to 9-7 in 2017?

“First all the controversy with Zeke [Ezekiel Elliott], injuries, and then they didn’t play the top-tier guys [in 2016] like they did this year.

“I don’t think they understand what it takes to win a game. If you want to look back, if that was Coach [Jimmy] Johnson, we would’ve worked harder than we did last year just to repeat that part of it. I don’t see that maturity where guys are doing their own thing out there. When the coach says run 10, you run 15, or you grab your teammates and go run. They took 13-3 for granted and they thought, ‘OK, we’ll win the Super Bowl the next year.’

“I blame everybody. It’s one team and everybody’s together. And that’s the key. I go over there and I tell guys, ‘Man, Jerry built this house for a bunch of damn losers.’ And they get mad. They have to do something about it. I can’t do anything about it, I can’t play. All I can do is give you some knowledge.

“And then the egos are so big and they’re so busy getting on Twitter and Facebook and everything else – maybe they should get in that playbook. Maybe they should learn how to rush, catch and block.

“I tell those guys nobody’s scared of them. Ain’t nobody in the league scared of y’all. What y’all been doing is listening to people saying you’ve got the best offensive line in the business. I said who’s scared of y’all? Huh? Those little things like that, those intangibles, the attitude you take to the field [matters]. … I go over there and I watch guys work. I watch them go through drills. They go through three or four drills and they’re gassed.”

If you were Jerry Jones, would you sign DeMarcus Lawrence to a big-money extension?

“I think that he’s shown the Cowboys what he can do, but it always come down to the team. I want Lawrence to get all the money he can, but I also want them to finish and get a Super Bowl. So they’ve got to get some offensive players, too, to help them become great. They don’t have to go defense. Lawrence will be there regardless, even if he’s just franchise tagged, he’s going to be there. Jerry’s got to be crazy not to do it when you’ve got somebody special like that.

“Taco [Charlton] came on at the end of the year. He’s finally getting confidence in himself. You’ve got Tyrone Crawford, he played a hell of a year.”

Have you seen enough from David Irving to keep him around? Irving missed the first four games due to a suspension and the last four due to a concussion.

“It ain’t how you start, it’s how you finish. I guess he finished hurt. My thing is I’m not a fan. I think that when the game is on the line, you need the dog to show up. You don’t need the dog making excuses. I’m not an excuse guy, so I’m not a fan.”

Charles Haley won five Super Bowls with the 49ers and Cowboys during his 13 NFL seasons. He recorded 100.5 sacks during his career and is now a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. So he knows a something about what it takes to be a winner. And in his mind, the Cowboys, who he helped hoist three Lombardi Trophies from 1992-96, are losers.

“I don’t think they understand what it takes to win a game,” Haley said during an appearance on 103.3 ESPN in Dallas (by way of the Dallas Morning News). “If you want to look back, if that was Coach [Jimmy] Johnson, we would’ve worked harder than we did last year just to repeat that part of it. I don’t see that maturity where guys are doing their own thing out there. When the coach says run 10, you run 15, or you grab your teammates and go run. They took 13-3 for granted and they thought, ‘OK, we’ll win the Super Bowl the next year.'”

There are a number of reasons for why the Cowboys weren’t as successful in 2017 as they were the season before. But it’s not like they’re the Browns, either. After surprising everyone and going 13-3 in 2016 — without Tony Romo and with a rookie fourth-rounder under center — Dallas regressed to the mean last season; the offensive line struggled with consistency, which affected second-year quarterback Dak Prescott, and running back Ezekiel Elliott was suspended for six games. Still, the team finished 9-7, just one game out of the final final wild-card spot.

But when a team with high expectations falls short, fingers will be pointed. Which brings us back to Haley.

“I blame everybody. It’s one team and everybody’s together. And that’s the key. I go over there and I tell guys, ‘Man, Jerry [Jones] built this house for a bunch of damn losers.’ And they get mad. They have to do something about it. I can’t do anything about it, I can’t play. All I can do is give you some knowledge. And then the egos are so big and they’re so busy getting on Twitter and Facebook and everything else — maybe they should get in that playbook. Maybe they should learn how to rush, catch and block.

“I tell those guys nobody’s scared of them. Ain’t nobody in the league scared of y’all. What y’all been doing is listening to people saying you’ve got the best offensive line in the business. I said who’s scared of y’all? Huh? Those little things like that, those intangibles, the attitude you take to the field [matters] . … I go over there and I watch guys work. I watch them go through drills. They go through three or four drills and they’re gassed.”

Haley isn’t entirely wrong; there were times last season where the effort wasn’t there. But it’s also worth noting that the Cowboys had back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 2008-2009.

Of course, it’s all about perspective. When Haley was in Dallas, the Cowboys were 59-21, made the playoffs all five seasons and won three Super Bowls.

Michael Irvin Jersey

Former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver, Pro Football Hall of Famer, and current NFL Network analyst Michael Irvin recently joined Mike Greenberg on ESPN’s Get Up! to discuss the on-field return of Jason Witten to the organization. Here are some highlights:

What was your reaction when you heard the news Witten was heading back to the field?

Irvin: “I was elated. I was elated for the Cowboys, and the Cowboys fan base. I thought, wow, this is a great, great occurrence here because what the Cowboys are missing is exactly a Jason Witten kind of player. Somebody that’s steady.

“What’s happening, Greeny, is everybody’s gotten caught up into the long ball. Chicks love the long ball. The NFL loves the long ball. Everybody loves the long ball. What wins Super Bowls and championships is ‘Steady Eddie.’ That’s what Tom Brady has been – ‘Steady Eddie’ – and that’s exactly what Jason Witten brings to this football team, some ‘Steady Eddie’ football on third down being able to just help get that first down. You can win championships that way.”

On Witten’s ability to get ready to hit the field again after a year off…

Irvin: “We’re not talking about a guy that ran a 4.3 – so, now we’re going to be saying, ‘Oh, he runs a 4.5. He’s lost a step or two.’ That step Jason Witten lost? He lost at birth. He’s okay. He’s alright now, he’s played his whole career without that step. He’s played basketball on a football field.

“Imagine the confidence now that Dak Prescott gets. Dak Prescott, last year when he didn’t have Dez Bryant, didn’t have Jason Witten, he looked lost early in the season until he got Amari Cooper. And now he gets that ‘Steady Eddie’ player to keep the center of the football field open.

“Everybody stacked the box on the Dallas Cowboys last year to stop Ezekiel Elliott on those third and two situations. Jason Witten’s a great blocker, so it’s not like you’re giving anything away when he comes in the game – you still have to play that run, and he can sneak out and run option routes and help get that first down.”

What are the expectations for the Cowboys in 2019?

Irvin: “When you’re the Dallas Cowboys, the expectations – they’re always going to a Super Bowl. But sometimes it’s unrealistic because of the players you have on the football field. Now, it’s not unrealistic. You are the Dallas Cowboys, and it is realistic because of the players you have on the football field, and because of the leadership you will get from the older players and now with Jason Witten.”

Michael Irvin announced on Instagram on Tuesday that he underwent tests to see if he has throat cancer.

The NFL Hall of Famer and Cowboys great, who spent Sunday and Monday at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, said he is asking for everyone’s prayers. Irvin also said in the post that his father died at age 51 from throat cancer and that this disease has always scared him.

“This daemon (sp) has chased and vexed me deep in my spirit all my life. So saying I am afraid this time is a big big understatement,” Irvin wrote. “I AM TERRIFIED!! My Faith tells me whenever you face great fear you go to your greatness power. Mine is God.

“I am asking all who will. Could you please send up a prayer to help my family and I deal with whatever the results may be? Thanks for your thoughts and prayers in advance. I will continue to pray for your fams protection and prosperity as well. May God Bless us all.”

Irvin, 53, said he lost his voice after being so elated when the Cowboys beat the Saints 13-10 on Nov. 29, and that the problem persisted for two more months. Irvin said he went to some of the best throat doctors who thought it would be wise to schedule a throat biopsy.

Irvin — who won three Super Bowls in a four-year span with Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith in the mid 90s — had 750 receptions for 11,904 yards and 65 touchdowns during his illustrious 12-year career that spanned from 1988-1999. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007.

Jay Novacek Jersey

The only real Dallas Cowboy owns a brick cabin in this town, seven miles from the nearest paved road, three hours from the nearest big city.

There is a stuffed wild pig standing on the floor, a lasso hanging next to the fireplace and the Oregon Trail beyond the back porch.

Bodies are supposedly buried every mile underneath that trail, which speaks to the real Dallas Cowboy of familiar tears of perseverance. When he rides one of his horses along the rutted path that accompanies the Platte River westward, he is filled with awe.

“That would have been something, to be a pioneer, to be riding into new territory,” said Jay Novacek, All-Pro tight end. “I would go back and live during that time in a heartbeat.”

The real Dallas Cowboy fits well here on his 3,500 acres in the central Nebraska plains, a combination of pasture and rolling hills unaltered by its rich Western history. From where his 150 head

of cattle roam, there is an original Pony Express station a few miles east, and Buffalo Bill Cody lived about 20 miles west.

After Sunday’s Super Bowl, Novacek will probably be thinking not about Disneyland, but about those cattle.

His first phone call will not involve a President, but David and Glenda Walker of Eustis, Neb. (population: 480). The Walkers are the parents of Novacek’s wife, Yvette. They hoped to be in Pasadena this weekend with the rest of the family, they even had tickets.

But they must stay near their red ranch house and tend to something that is as special to the only real Dallas Cowboy as any football game.

While Novacek will be attempting to catch passes, some of his cows will be attempting to give birth.

“Back here, this is our Super Bowl,” Glenda Walker said.

“We just hope they hold off until halftime,” David Walker said.

Much of the wisdom in Gothenburg (population: 3,200), is contained in a tiny, unmarked room in City Hall, one door from the mayor’s office and down the hall from the police station.

It is a combination pinochle room and pool hall. It contains a concrete floor, one small window and usually enough memories to fill up the town’s three blocks.

The elders often spend their days sitting at one of the two card tables, throwing out nickels and calling each other liars.

These men grew up with sod houses and cattle drives. They talk about the old cowboys with the reverence that today’s young men talk about Michael Jordan.

On this winter afternoon, they sit underneath their feed store caps, burrowed deep inside a couple of sweaters each, slowly dealing pinochle and waiting for Jay Novacek to come home.

“We know Jay is playing in that Super Bowl, and that’s fine, but the best thing about that boy is what he’s done with his money,” said Jim Aden, 85. “We know that when he is done being a Dallas Cowboy, he is going to come back and be a Nebraska cowboy.”

What a journey it has been for their neighbor, from the fields of Gothenburg to the field at the Rose Bowl before a worldwide television audience of more than 200 million.

Lightly recruited out of his tiny high school, taken in the sixth round of the draft out of the University of Wyoming, left unprotected by the St. Louis Cardinals after five seasons, offered a contract by only the Cowboys, he has emerged as one of the favorites to become a hero in the biggest sporting event in the country.

And to think he really hasn’t gone anywhere.

The 6-foot-4 Novacek, who could play a big role against the Buffalo Bills because he is bigger and quicker than some of the men who will guard him, has become the symbol of the Cowboys’ turnaround by refusing to change.

He was undoubtedly the only player on either team this week to hear the acronym NBC and not automatically think of the network that will be televising the game.

He may instead be reminded of the National Brand Committee, which has approved the upside-down J and Y that he burns into his herd of cattle.

He is also the only player in this game whose physical attributes can be evaluated by a ranch hand.

“Quick feet, good balance, moves well for a big man,” Frank Pride said.

He was talking not about pass catching, but cow catching.

While many players spend their spring days on a golf course, Novacek will be busy roping, branding, tagging and castrating. He didn’t win the national NFL cutting horse championship last year by driving a cart.

“Jay is just as common as us,” said Matt Williams, president of Gothenburg State Bank, one of two banks in town. “He is more comfortable chasing a coyote than doing an interview.”

He carries this approach to the field, where he set a club record for tight ends with an NFL-best 68 receptions this season.

He still lives by an ethic that was reinforced when, as a wide receiver at Wyoming, he was forced to call home once with the bad news that he had broken his collarbone while diving for a ball.

“When I called my husband and the other three children to tell them the news, unbelievably, their first question was the same,” recalled Novacek’s mother, June. “They all said, ‘Did he catch the ball?’ Not, ‘How is he feeling?’ but, ‘Did he catch the ball?’ “

Did you catch the ball? The answer back then was no. But that question has prodded him to become perhaps the Cowboys’ best third-down player.

“He is our go-to guy,” Dallas guard John Gesek said. “When we need him, he always finds a way to get open, a way to make the play.

“He catches balls nobody else can catch, and gets first downs that nobody else would get.”

And he does it without spiking the ball, without pointing his finger like a schoolyard bully, often without even talking.

True to the motto of a popular shoe company that would probably find him far too dull to hire, he does it by simply doing it.

“What is pressure? You can’t touch pressure or feel pressure,” Novacek said. “It doesn’t exist. “The way I figure it, either you do it or you don’t. You catch it or you don’t.”

And if you break your finger, as Novacek did earlier this season, you don’t tell anyone in your family. You let them watch you drop a couple of passes during a game before they figure out that something is wrong.

“It was three weeks after his injury before we knew he was hurt . . . three weeks!” June Novacek said.

Novacek shrugged and said: “Injuries are like pressure. They are both just excuses.”

Often this season, he would break open games by making difficult plays across the middle or near the end zone. But who would guess that he finished with six touchdowns, only one fewer than his more publicized teammate, Michael Irvin?

Many players think that with all the attention on Emmitt Smith and Irvin, Novacek could take over Sunday’s game as he did the one in Denver on Dec. 6.

With the Cowboys trailing in the fourth quarter, 27-24, Novacek caught 50 yards worth of passes during the Cowboys’ 78-yard, game-winning drive in the final minutes.

“I could very easily see Jay being the same kind of hero of this game,” Gesek said.

Just as easily, many can see him retiring from the game tomorrow and disappearing into the middle of Nebraska. He fits in there as easily as a character from “Lonesome Dove.”

Ed Kratzenstein, 99, sitting against a wall away from the pinochle table, watching his friends with wandering eyes, was asked about Novacek.

He answered by speaking of his days in the nearby Wild Horse Valley, when he would drive a wagon into town and meet those cowboys at the end of a drive that began in Texas.

At one point, his memories so overwhelmed him, he sobbed.

“People don’t understand, the cowboys were good people, quiet, did their work, never caused no trouble unless somebody caused it first,” Kratzenstein said. “But they were tough, understand see? Because they had to be.”

A promise is serious business in Gothenburg, which has a five-man police force but no jail because, well, it doesn’t really need one.

Since the Pony Express riders first came through here in 1860, pledging to abstain from liquor and bad language while nonetheless vowing to ride like hell, these people figure your word is your reputation.

If you say you will deliver, then you will deliver.

So, many figured that June Novacek had lost her mind in 1985 after her son Jay was drafted by the then-St. Louis Cardinals.

She stood inside their 115-year-old, small, brown frame house, with a deer curing in the garage and two yelping dogs out back, and announced that she would one day accompany her son to the Super Bowl.

To pay for that trip, she announced, she would collect aluminum cans and sell them to a recycling center.

“Why not?” she said. “It was the only way we could afford it. We’re still waiting for Ed McMahon to call us. That’s the only way we’ll get rich.”

Eight years later, she has saved $333 from those cans.

That was about enough to cover one $274 plane ticket and a couple of nights at a Los Angeles-area Motel 6, which is where the family will stay this weekend.

While working a paper route for her youngest son, she would even stop in the early-morning hours and pick up cans off the street.

“My mother taught me about a sense of purpose,” Jay Novacek said.

Hopefully, this year’s trip will be smoother than the only other time the family was in Los Angeles, to watch Jay compete in the decathlon at the 1984 Olympic trials.

They drove out in their motor home, parking it on the USC campus under the only tree they could find. They used electricity and toilet facilities at a nearby construction site while encountering their first bag ladies.

“We knew what they were, because we had seen them on television,” June Novacek said.

This survival ethic became the stabilizing force in Jay Novacek’s childhood as his family moved around the Midwest while his father, Pat, coached high school football in towns such as Martin, S.D., and Wyoming, Iowa.

Novacek saw his first game when he was 2, from the front seat of a Chrysler parked along the field at Bennett County High in Martin. His dad was coaching, and his mom, with two other children in the back seat, could not afford a baby-sitter.

During these early years, Novacek received his first exposure to hunting. But it was presented to him as more than just a sport.

“Back then, it seemed like the kids refused to eat anything that their daddy didn’t shoot. . . . That was how we got most of our meat,” June Novacek said. “Of course, a lot of times I would have to tell them that Daddy shot that tuna casserole.”

By the time the Novaceks settled in Gothenburg, Jay was in the seventh grade and learning more from his father than only hunting. He was already running and throwing a football as few in these parts had ever seen.

He was also so quiet, nobody was surprised by what happened a few years later when he won a game by deflecting an attempted two-point conversion pass.

While his teammates jumped on each other and ran around the field, Novacek sat in the end zone and talked with a friend on the other team.

Amid the thick haze of cigarette smoke that clouded Joe’s Western Restaurant the other day, retiree Bob Bullock explained that attitude.

“This town isn’t much for disturbing the peace,” he said. “That’s the way Jay is.”

Four years before his mother would make her now infamous promise, Jay did cause a ruckus once when he made an equally unique promise to attend the University of Wyoming on a football scholarship.

It was unique because when the mighty University of Nebraska called the next day and offered a full scholarship–the dream of almost every boy in the state–Novacek kept that promise.

“During the same phone call in which they offered the thing, Jay told them no, turned them down flat,” said Pat Novacek, pride evident in his firm voice. “He had given Wyoming his word.”

And after all, Wyoming’s nickname is the Cowboys. Novacek was comfortable there and has become as happy as a Cowboy in Dallas. Take Thanksgiving weekend.

After the Cowboy game against the New York Giants, he left his small ranch home in Sanger, Tex., to inspect a horse.

The next morning, he went hunting with his father. That afternoon, he worked out the horse that he had inspected. Saturday morning, he went hunting again.

Is it any wonder that, in his Gothenburg area cabin, he tolerates a television set that receives only one channel?

“I didn’t even know it got one ,” Novacek said. “Since when?”

On a recent afternoon on the desk of Gothenburg’s highest elected official, next to a coffee cup advertising the Hastings Casket Company, a proclamation sat before Mayor Rick Blase.

For the first time, Gothenburg is going to have a Jay Novacek Day. In fact, the city might be attempting to make up for lost time by having two days.

One is Sunday, and the second will be on Feb. 7, when Novacek will be the starting tight end for the NFC in the Pro Bowl at Honolulu.

“We have never had a day for anybody before, so don’t expect people to take off work or interrupt their lives or anything,” Blase said. “We are proud of Jay, but we aren’t in awe of him. He is just one of us.”

Perhaps this low-key approach would explain why, when reading the proclamation to a few businessmen in the city council chambers, Blase mistakenly concongratulated Novacek on appearing in Super Bowl “XXVI.”

“We’ve never had this happen before,” Wayne Bell, superintendent of schools, had said earlier. “We don’t know how to react.”

But true to their recognition as one of 10 cities to be named an “All-American City” by the National Civic League in 1991, Gothenburg is trying.

When members of Novacek’s family checks into their Motel 6 room today, they will be carrying with them a good-luck poster drawn by the town’s third-graders.

They will also have a large good-luck banner purchased by the Rotary Club and autographed by several dozen residents. An announcement on the intercom at school last week encouraged everyone to sign.

But still, there will be no Super Bowl-watching parties in Novacek’s honor Sunday, no formal town gatherings.

Williams, the bank president, will cut a hole in the ice at a nearby pond and briefly jump into the water with some friends, but let’s be honest here.

“We do that every year,” Williams said.

The problem is that because Jay Novacek is such a regular guy, they find it difficult to imagine that he is actually that person wearing No. 84.

They find it hard to look at the only real Dallas Cowboy as anything other than a cowboy.

“For many here, watching him on television is like watching Barbara Streisand or something,” said Tot Holmes, longtime youth baseball coach. “He is an entertainer from a different world.”

Roger Neujahr, the high school athletic director, said: “For me and a lot of others in this town, pro football . . . is not real. You just can’t get there from Gothenburg.”

If you do get there, the real trick is whether you will come home.

Novacek will do that again this spring, traveling the same route as the old cattle drivers, from Texas up through Oklahoma and Kansas to Nebraska.

He will be driving a truck, pulling a horse trailer, wondering about the days when the horse would be pulling him.

When he arrives in Gothenburg, he will be surrounded by friends and relatives who will ask him the same question about Super Sunday:

“So, how many calves did you have?”

Terrell Owens Jersey

They are called “diva receivers” for a reason. We tend to find out why when NFL pass catchers open their mouths.

Cases in point most recently would be two of football’s biggest stars, Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham Jr. What they’ve spouted, no matter how it gets spun and by whom, can’t be anything but detrimental to the team.

The history of wideouts with wide mouths — or free rein on social media nowadays — includes, naturally, the likes of Terrell Owens, Plaxico Burress, Keyshawn Johnson and Chad Johnson/Ochocinco. To call their utterings constructive criticism would be like calling Lambeau Field balmy in December.

And they hardly are the only guys who have damaged the locker room vibes with their, well, bad vibes. Do you think cornerback Jalen Ramsey deriding opposing players made for comfortable feelings in Jacksonville? Guard Richie Incognito bullying a teammate in Miami? Jay Cutler calling out his own guys just about everywhere, including on the sideline?

Hey, cornerback Josh Norman and Beckham pretty much came to blows in a 2015 game after their trash-talking shenanigans.

Sure, lots if not most NFL players like to run their tongues during games. Philip Rivers might not be the greatest Chargers quarterback ever — remember Hall of Famer Dan Fouts? — but he’s unquestionably the franchise’s great trash-spewing QB. Steve Smith, one of the most combative receivers the NFL has seen, definitely didn’t believe in the bromide “if you have nothing good to say, say nothing.”

And Ray Lewis not only was an all-world tackler and leader for the Ravens, his stream of words directed at opponents was steady — and often comical, if unprintable.

But in the particular cases of Brown and Beckham, there can be considerable negative fallout for their clubs. So much so that the tension and mistrust they create can be as damaging as a fourth-quarter pick-6 by an opponent.

Brown might be the NFL’s most talented offensive player. He might also be the most thin-skinned.

Among other items this year, he tweeted that Pittsburgh should “trade me let’s find out” when it was suggested his success is due more to Ben Roethlisberger than to Brown’s skills. Brown also didn’t show up at team headquarters for a day last month, and famously once livestreamed a locker room celebration following a playoff victory over Kansas City.

He also used Twitter in September to threaten a reporter who covers the team, forcing the Steelers to issue an apology. Explaining away Brown’s behavior, words and social media posts has become nearly a regular chore in Pittsburgh.

All of this doesn’t mean Brown needs to be sat down by the Steelers, which isn’t likely to happen considering they are in the business of winning games and he is their best player. It does mean he should be sat down and told that his proclamations and actions are a distraction for a team that isn’t exactly tearing up the NFL, sitting tied with Cleveland and behind Cincinnati and Baltimore in the AFC North.

The Beckham blowups have been more inflammatory and, without question, potentially more harmful. When you question your teammates’ heart while carefully removing yourself from such a claim, irreparable damage often results.

“A lot of it has to do with the energy we have that we don’t bring every single day,” he said last week. “You know me, I’m a passionate, energetic person. I always have to have that. If I don’t, it’s going to be a problem for me. Playing with some heart, we need to play with some heart.”

Beckham also blasted the play-calling of first-year coach Pat Shurmur, mainly because, in Beckham’s view, he wasn’t getting the ball enough, particularly deep. Never mind that the offensive line has been such a sieve that asking Eli Manning to throw balls anywhere downfield has often been problematic.

Recognizing how counter-productive his comments were — or being instructed by a livid coach or, perhaps, someone higher up in the Giants’ command chain — Beckham went into crisis control last Sunday. He asked to speak to the team in the locker room, and then he ran something of a fly pattern away from his earlier statements.

This season is hardly the first time Brown or Beckham have acted up or acted out. It probably won’t be the last. But maybe the concept of “team first” will sink in before what they do or say sinks their teams.

To watch The Big Interview: Terrell Owens in its entirety, plus the rest of the The Big Interview series and more original SI programming, go to SI TV for a free seven-day trial.

This story appears in the Dec. 3, 2018, issue of Sports Illustrated. For more great storytelling and in-depth analysis, subscribe to the magazine—and get up to 94% off the cover price. Click here for more.

Terrell Owens wants to get away. He dreams about that sometimes, how freeing it might be to just . . . escape. Pack up, move to Australia, find a remote island, grow a long beard. “Like, to hell with everybody,” he says, laughing. “Start fresh.”

What’s stopping him? In a sense, the same things that have kept him daydreaming about disappearing. His “unfairly” sullied reputation. His beefs with writers and TV analysts and the organizers at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, even if he passed on his ceremony in Canton, Ohio, in August, preferring to fete himself at his alma mater, Tennessee at Chattanooga. Owens, at 44, must stay and fight and continue to address these things. He can’t leave, he insists, or “they” win. He can’t move on, or “they” win. In the case of T.O. vs. the Perception of T.O., he’s the last prosecutor left.

It all matters to him, the jokes and memes and character assassinations that others, he says, are spared: “Look at our President. He can go and say and do whatever he wants, and the majority of people like what he’s doing. They think that’s O.K. Those same people, they can like him and hate me? How?!”

Owens spits the question out as he steers a pickup truck through the Hollywood Hills on a jam-packed Monday in August. This afternoon he will run sand dunes, chug protein shakes, shop for workout gear, get treated by a chiropractor and squeeze in some pickup basketball in front of a royal audience. He’ll also try once more to explain how he ended up here, retired, ostensibly happy, at last a Hall of Famer—and yet, more than ever, intent on arguing for his reputation.

“Christmas with the Chipmunks” plays on the stereo as Owens navigates traffic as fluidly as he did secondaries. His skills, his numbers—second all-time in receiving yards (15,934), third in touchdowns (153)—require no defense. Yet T.O. feels the need to do battle. “What makes me angry?” he asks. “Why would you think I’m angry?” Well. . . . T.O. cuts off a reply. “As it pertains to me, that perception is not my reality,” he says. But. . . . “The perception is that I’m selfish, self-centered, egotistical, cocky, arrogant. That I’m the worst teammate in history.”

2019 NFL Team Needs, Part II: Cowboys, Patriots, Steelers and More

Owens has a few ideas about what might have created these perceptions, and he rattles them off from a notes file in his brain: 1) his division of locker rooms from San Francisco to Philadelphia during a five-team, 15-season odyssey of an NFL career; 2) his outspoken nature outside of those locker rooms; 3) his “harmless” touchdown celebrations; 4) even his playing on a broken right leg and torn ankle ligament in Super Bowl XXXIX, where he caught, incredibly, nine passes for 122 yards in the Eagles’ loss to the Patriots. Huh? Owens says his heroics in that game were framed as selfish, though a fact check suggests he contrived that framing himself. He looks at a performance for which he earned universal praise and still, somehow, perceives that he was slighted.

What matters, Owens says repeatedly, is how his story is presented. And he cites a fresh example to make his point. He wore his gold Hall of Fame blazer to church one day this summer. It was a favor to his pastor. But seemingly anyone who didn’t know that detail looked at this wardrobe choice and saw T.O.’s usual self-aggrandizement.

“I don’t get it,” he says. Owens has never been arrested, never jailed, never charged with a DUI. And he’s the one who voters kept out of their precious Hall for two years? Owens is faulted, he says, for his competitive nature, his individuality, his passion, his honesty. Those same Hall voters, Owens says, “let guys in with basically blood on their hands.” (He doesn’t go there, but consider: Ray Lewis, for one, was a fellow 2018 inductee, in his first year of eligibility.)

Owens’s reputation, he says, has slowed his postfootball progress, costing him jobs, sponsorships, another shot at the NFL . . . even dates. “Like a smear campaign,” he says. He points to a T-shirt deal he says he once had in place with Costco—a deal that was killed after those execs found out that this Terrell Owens was actually the Terrell Owens. “We don’t want anything to do with him,” he says his reps were told. (Costco declined to comment.) Same thing happened when Owens met a woman at a nail salon recently. They exchanged numbers and made plans for a date that Friday night. Later she texted Owens, bailing. She’d Googled him. “My friends,” she explained, “say you’re a bad person.”

All of which raises the question: Was anything Owens ever did really that bad? Well, no. Perhaps, though, he’s also missing the point, fighting this caricature with the same unfiltered angst that turned Terrell Owens into T.O. He admits he’s made mistakes, he’s human, he’s not perfect before adding “they” always say he’s crying victim.

Then he says, “I am a victim—to a certain extent.”

Terrell Owens sits on the concrete patio of a Los Angeles TV studio, having just scarfed a Chipotle chicken burrito. He’s trying to find the balance that has eluded him over the years in situations like this—the balance to stand up for himself without adding another controversy to his greatest-hits list, to attack his least-favorite perceptions without sounding bitter or delusional. It’s a reasonable goal, if not an attainable one.

He flashes back to the beginning. How his late grandmother Alice Black told him never to let things other people say “deter you from being who you are.” How he grew up in Alexander City, Ala., without any male guidance, learning at age 11 that his biological father actually lived across the street. How no one in his family ever said, “I love you.” And how all of those events hardened his exterior to mask the insecurities he buried deep and carried with him. Where did all those outbursts come from? Start there. He was, at heart, an outsider searching for acceptance. Still is.

He bloomed late, starring at UTC before the 49ers took him in the third round of the 1996 draft. His first few years were remarkably quiet; he sobbed after making a game-winning playoff catch against the Packers, but that was easy to get behind. Perceptions changed irrevocably, he says, in 2000. He can trace the shift to a single game, at Dallas, in September.

The 49ers were conducting their walk-through at Texas Stadium that Saturday when Owens found himself standing on the Cowboys’ famous midfield star. An idea occurred to him. And so when he scored the next afternoon he ran to the same spot, spread his arms and celebrated. He scored again and did the same thing, this time making it 41–17—a blowout, more offensive. Three Cowboys sprinted out to tackle him.

What happened next typifies Owens’s central issue—it’s the difference between how he viewed his own actions and how others saw them. He deemed the preening harmless. Anyone could have seen the controversy coming, but he was surprised. Even now, he can’t resist taking a shot at his coach back then, Steve Mariucci, who suspended him for a week. “He’s a phony,” Owens says, continuing a pattern of lashing out whenever he has felt betrayed. “The heartache he caused—I don’t have anything good to say about him.”

For Owens it’s pretty easy to explain away this incident, and all of those that followed. Oftentimes, it’s easy to see his side, too—to see the innocence in each misstep. He just doesn’t perceive the patterns, how each episode feeds off the previous. He knows that, no matter what he says, it will reverberate across social media. And yet, even though he wants to focus on how he has been wronged, and how much he has changed, he can’t help himself. He’s still the guy who lauds Jerry Rice on the TV studio patio and then wonders aloud how many touchdowns he might have scored himself if he’d been playing all those years with Joe Montana and Steve Young.

He answers questions for hours, seemingly without fear of consequence. If he were still playing, he would have knelt beside Colin Kaepernick, for starters. “I’m with Kap,” he says. “The President does a real good job of deflecting what the real issues are. You have owners stepping in, basically siding with the President. Some [players] feel betrayed.”

T.O. moves on to end zone celebrations and freedom of expression. The NFL of his days had yet to embrace his brand of individuality: grabbing pom-poms from a cheerleader or snagging a tub of popcorn from a fan. But he could never defend himself without the filter of those who covered him, the way that, say, Le’Veon Bell can in 2018, through social media. “I wish I played now,” he says. “I’d probably have a million followers. I’d be a trend-setter. One of those guys that fans really adored.”

Presentation. He hits that point again. For instance: On the call box at Owens’s condo in Beverly Hills he lists himself under HANDSOME. Is that really such a big deal? Was it really that big a deal when he conducted an interview while doing sit-ups in his driveway, in 2005? It is if you’re looking to demonstrate self-promotion. But Owens won’t meet his critics in the middle. He can’t ever cede that, in some instances, “they” might have a point.

Does he regret any of this? His feud with Eagles QB Donovan McNabb? The way he forced himself off a contending Philadelphia team? The sideline tantrums? The $150,000 in fines for excessive celebrations? How he insinuated (and later took back) that another former Niners teammate, quarterback Jeff Garcia, was gay? Owens doesn’t flinch. “I don’t regret anything,” he says. “As it relates to football: nothing. I don’t need to. I know who I am. I know who T.O. is.”

Does he regret anything in life? “Maybe my last girlfriend,” he says, smiling. “That didn’t work out.”

Bob Lilly Jersey

Bob Lilly holds two Super Bowl records, albeit unofficial, that are likely to stand the test of time. The one Lilly most enjoys remembering came in Super Bowl VI, when he tackled Dolphins quarterback Bob Griese for a 29-yard loss to end the first quarter of the Cowboys’ eventual 24-3 victory. This was in 1972, a decade before sacks were declared an official NFL statistic, but there’s not been another sack, official or otherwise, to compare.

The one he can’t forget came a year earlier against the Colts in Super Bowl V, after Jim O’Brien kicked a field goal with five seconds left to give Baltimore a 16-13 win over Dallas. Lilly, frustrated beyond belief, took his helmet in hand and let it fly.

“I have been told it went either 42 or 44 yards,” he said recently. “Really, it happened without me knowing it. I just flung it.

“Some rookie from the Colts gave it back to me and said, ‘Mr. Lilly, here’s your helmet.’ I said, ‘That was a very poor example, and I’m sorry.’ He said, ‘I don’t blame you.’

“I’ll never forget that,” Lilly said, laughing softly.

Both moments were fitting symbols of the Cowboys’ travails and triumphs of their “Next Year’s Champions” era of the mid-1960s through the early ’70s as experienced by the franchise’s first truly great player, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and, except for one year away from home, a Texan through and through during his playing days.

Save for one year – his senior year in high school, spent in Pendleton, Ore. – Lilly played every significant moment of his football career in his home state, at Throckmorton High School, at TCU, and for 14 seasons with the Cowboys. Among the true greats of Texas football, only Earl Campbell was so similarly blessed; in contrast to Lilly, his only season outside the state was his final year in the NFL with the Saints.

“I think about that from time to time,” Lilly said. “I think about it a lot as I get older and look back on things.”

Lilly grew up attending TCU games in Fort Worth with his father, John. Basketball was his favorite sport, but his interest in football was piqued by a letter he received from Sammy Baugh, who was coaching at Hardin-Simmons.

“He said they had been scouting another player and noticed me play and said they thought I could make it in college,” Lilly said. “That gave me the inspiration to prepare myself and work on my studies a little more.”

The family farmed and provided custom services for other farmers, running Caterpillars and tractors and bulldozing mesquite trees. But the crippling West Texas drought of the 1950s stunted planting, and the family moved to Oregon to be near family members.

“We had to eat,” Lilly said, laughing.

He was a three-sport star in Pendleton and was recruited by the Oregon and Washington schools. But as a West Texan, he was unimpressed by the climate.

“It was raining when I visited,” he said. “I like to be able to see a long ways.”

One of his high school teammates, Mac Hibbits, signed with TCU and told Horned Frogs coach Abe Martin that Lilly had moved to Oregon. Martin sent Lilly a penny postcard offering him a scholarship and $10 a month for laundry expenses, and Lilly accepted and returned to Texas.

After an all-conference and All-America career at TCU, he was drafted in 1961 in the first round by the Cowboys and in the second round by the AFL’s Dallas Texans.

“A lot of the Southwest Conference players were going to the AFL, and I asked Abe Martin what I should do,” Lilly said. “The money was about the same, and he said, ‘I’ve seen teams come and go, and I think the NFL might be a little better for you. They’ll always be in business.’ ”

So Lilly stayed in Texas rather than leaving with the Dallas Texans, who departed after the 1962 season for Kansas City, and has stayed in Texas ever since, save a few years when he and his wife, Ann, lived in New Mexico.

Except for an infection after oral surgery a few years ago, Lilly remains in good health at age 77. He and his wife live in the Georgetown area but travel frequently so Lilly can practice his love of photography, a hobby he picked up when he received a Kodak camera after being named to the All-America team in 1960.

“I didn’t plan any of this,” he said. “I thought I would go into the Marines, and I wound up going to the Super Bowl.”

ob Lilly holds two Super Bowl records, albeit unofficial, that are likely to stand the test of time.

The one Lilly most enjoys remembering came in Super Bowl VI, when he tackled Dolphins quarterback Bob Griese for a 29-yard loss to end the first quarter of the Cowboys’ eventual 24-3 victory. This was in 1972, a decade before sacks were declared an official NFL statistic, but there’s not been another sack, official or otherwise, to compare.

The one he can’t forget came a year earlier against the Colts in Super Bowl V, after Jim O’Brien kicked a field goal with five seconds left to give Baltimore a 16-13 win over Dallas. Lilly, frustrated beyond belief, took his helmet in hand and let it fly.

“I have been told it went either 42 or 44 yards,” he said recently. “Really, it happened without me knowing it. I just flung it.

“Some rookie from the Colts gave it back to me and said, ‘Mr. Lilly, here’s your helmet.’ I said, ‘That was a very poor example, and I’m sorry.’ He said, ‘I don’t blame you.’

“I’ll never forget that,” Lilly said, laughing softly.

Both moments were fitting symbols of the Cowboys’ travails and triumphs of their “Next Year’s Champions” era of the mid-1960s through the early ’70s as experienced by the franchise’s first truly great player, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and, except for one year away from home, a Texan through and through during his playing days.

Save for one year – his senior year in high school, spent in Pendleton, Ore. – Lilly played every significant moment of his football career in his home state, at Throckmorton High School, at TCU, and for 14 seasons with the Cowboys. Among the true greats of Texas football, only Earl Campbell was so similarly blessed; in contrast to Lilly, his only season outside the state was his final year in the NFL with the Saints.

“I think about that from time to time,” Lilly said. “I think about it a lot as I get older and look back on things.”

Lilly grew up attending TCU games in Fort Worth with his father, John. Basketball was his favorite sport, but his interest in football was piqued by a letter he received from Sammy Baugh, who was coaching at Hardin-Simmons.

“He said they had been scouting another player and noticed me play and said they thought I could make it in college,” Lilly said. “That gave me the inspiration to prepare myself and work on my studies a little more.”

The family farmed and provided custom services for other farmers, running Caterpillars and tractors and bulldozing mesquite trees. But the crippling West Texas drought of the 1950s stunted planting, and the family moved to Oregon to be near family members.

“We had to eat,” Lilly said, laughing.

He was a three-sport star in Pendleton and was recruited by the Oregon and Washington schools. But as a West Texan, he was unimpressed by the climate.

“It was raining when I visited,” he said. “I like to be able to see a long ways.”

One of his high school teammates, Mac Hibbits, signed with TCU and told Horned Frogs coach Abe Martin that Lilly had moved to Oregon. Martin sent Lilly a penny postcard offering him a scholarship and $10 a month for laundry expenses, and Lilly accepted and returned to Texas.

After an all-conference and All-America career at TCU, he was drafted in 1961 in the first round by the Cowboys and in the second round by the AFL’s Dallas Texans.

“A lot of the Southwest Conference players were going to the AFL, and I asked Abe Martin what I should do,” Lilly said. “The money was about the same, and he said, ‘I’ve seen teams come and go, and I think the NFL might be a little better for you. They’ll always be in business.’ ”

So Lilly stayed in Texas rather than leaving with the Dallas Texans, who departed after the 1962 season for Kansas City, and has stayed in Texas ever since, save a few years when he and his wife, Ann, lived in New Mexico.

Except for an infection after oral surgery a few years ago, Lilly remains in good health at age 77. He and his wife live in the Georgetown area but travel frequently so Lilly can practice his love of photography, a hobby he picked up when he received a Kodak camera after being named to the All-America team in 1960.

“I didn’t plan any of this,” he said. “I thought I would go into the Marines, and I wound up going to the Super Bowl.”

Larry Allen Jersey

Professional Football Hall of Famer Larry Allen, Sr., has never won a game of Madden. For years he has been competing against his son, Larry Allen Jr., to no avail. Oddly enough, skills on the actual playing field don’t necessarily translate over to the world of virtual reality.

Allen, Sr., has a Super Bowl ring, though, and not one generated by a computer screen. He also has a gold jacket and a bust in Canton. The former Cowboy and 49er is one of the strongest men to have ever put on an NFL uniform, as well. He was recorded at benching 705 pounds and squatting 905 pounds.

That being said, Allen, Jr., holds his own on the football field. The 6’4”, 285-pound sophomore out of Danville, Calif., has started every game this season for the Harvard football team. Allen, Jr., plays offensive guard for the Crimson, the same position his father played in the NFL for 14 years.

Yet this connection isn’t what defines the father and son. Rather, playing video games, watching horror movies, and listening to Metallica and Jimi Hendrix are what bring the Allen men together. The younger of the two loves to read, World War Z and The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series being his personal favorites.

He plays guitar as well, with four in his collection. Bookended by a younger and older sister, Allen, Jr., developed a special bond with his father. The two men love to spend time playing Madden and 2K, and the Saw series is a personal favorite.

Even so, football is a major part of the two men’s lives. Growing up in Dallas with a dad who plays for the Cowboys is a double-edged sword. Like every kid in the heart of Texas, Allen Jr., has been spoon-fed football since a young age. Born right when his dad started playing professional football, Allen, Jr., was raised in an NFL family.

“As a kid, he was fortunate enough…to see my whole career,” Allen, Sr., says. “He was two years old when we started, so he was around the locker room and all the guys.”

And there are perks to that. Hanging out in the locker room, Allen, Jr., was able to meet some of the greatest players of all time like Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, and Troy Aikman. However, meeting the greatest defensive player of all time, Lawrence Taylor, made even Allen, Jr., speechless.

“I saw him from across the room,” Allen, Jr., says. “He was talking to Jerry [Jones] then he talked to my dad. It was the first time I was awestruck in front of someone. Just a truly legendary player.”

In addition to going to all the Cowboys’ home games and meeting the players, Allen, Jr., was given an opportunity not many other young football players are afforded: his coach was a professional football player.

“I wanted him to play, and loved watching,” the elder Allen says. “He was around a lot of Cowboy players growing up, so he loved football…. I coached almost every year with him.”

But there’s another aspect we don’t really think about. There are so many perks to having a football-playing father, we forget about the weeks away from home the 11-time Pro Bowler would spend. We forget that for the last month of every summer, Allen’s father would leave the family to go to training camp. We forget that eight of the 16 games are played hundreds of miles away across the country.

However, the importance Allen, Sr., and his wife place on family and education seem to have resonated with the younger Allen. The family is very close-knit, going on vacations around the country, among other things. The values instilled in the Allen children don’t go without notice, either.

“[The Allens are] just a great family,” says Crimson football coach Tim Murphy. “They value education, they value family, they value character. [Allen’s] identity isn’t tied up in football, it’s tied up in being a good person…. They came to Harvard to get the best education possible. The bottom line is he’s a kid that, in a very unassuming way, really loves football. He’s a really tough, physical player, but his nature is very laid-back.”

Allen, Jr., was fortunate enough to have someone living in his house who knows how to achieve the goals every young kid who puts on pads has. Since he was young, he was instilled with a mentality not many others have. However, it wasn’t solely focused on football. As evidenced by his admittance into Harvard, Allen, Jr., has translated this mentality to the classroom. He was a National Achievement Scholar, Scholar Athlete of the Year, four-year honor student, and a member of the chess club in high school.

“One thing that my parents…really wanted me to focus on growing up was academics,” the younger Allen said. “When they realized I had some potential, it was something they really wanted me to do well. My dad grew up in a hard situation; football was one thing that helped him get out of that. He always tells me, ‘You have to have something else.’ And it’s not like this a secondary something else, this is the best school in the world. It’s a priority to do well here.”

As with almost any football player, Allen, Jr., would love to play in the NFL. However, his career path will in all likelihood vary from his father’s. The younger Allen is considering concentrating in biomedical engineering in order to give new life to people suffering from various disabilities, including building a robotic hand similar to the one made for Luke Skywalker in Star Wars.

“I actually didn’t really know I wanted to be an engineer until junior or senior year of high school,” Allen, Jr., says. “One of the…things that sealed it for me was someone, a family friend of ours, who was an engineer…sent me a bunch of stuff to try to help me decide what I want to do…. He sent me videos of people hearing for the first time, seeing for the first time. It just blew me away.”

Randy White Jersey

About 25 years ago, when Thomas Henderson met a girlfriend for dinner at a Dallas restaurant, she pulled out a jewelry box and said she had a surprise.

Henderson opened it. Much to his delight, there was the ring the former linebacker nicknamed “Hollywood” received years earlier for the Cowboys’ 27-10 victory over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XII on Jan. 15, 1978 in New Orleans. Henderson hadn’t been in possession of the ring for nearly a decade and figured he never would see it again.

“It was in 1992 or 1993,” Henderson said. “This girlfriend had paid $11,000 to buy the ring back, and tells me when she gave it to me, ‘You deserve this.’ I just lost it. I bawled like a baby.”

Four decades after the only Super Bowl he won, Henderson, 64, wears his prized ring most days while splitting time between his native Austin, Texas, and South Florida. It’s a reminder of the greatest moment of his NFL career — and also of his downfall and eventual recovery.

Henderson was projected to be an NFL star and did make one Pro Bowl in 1978, but drug addiction and outrageous behavior played a role in his career ending prematurely. He hit rock bottom when he was arrested in 1983 for smoking cocaine with two teenage girls and for allegedly sexually assaulting one of them. He claimed the sex was consensual and eventually pleaded no contest.

That’s when he lost his ring.

“I had to put it up for bail,” said Henderson, who played for the Cowboys from 1975-79 and had stints with San Francisco, Houston and Miami before his NFL career was over in 1981 at age 28. “I had to give them something so they didn’t think I was going to run off to Canada. And then the IRS seized it and put it up for auction.”

The Internal Revenue Service had determined Henderson owed $156,881 in back taxes, a claim he disagreed with and said eventually was worked out. Nevertheless, the ring was sold for $11,000 in 1984 to Robert Briscoe, an avid Cowboys fan living in the small west Texas town of Levelland.

The ring is 10-carat white gold with two 40-point diamonds set in blue stars and surrounded by 25 smaller diamonds. Briscoe, now deceased, agreed nearly a decade later to sell it back to Henderson’s girlfriend at the time without a profit.

By then, Henderson had long completed a 28-month prison term for his conviction. He has been sober since Nov. 8, 1983, the day he said “Hollywood” died.

“When I was 30, if I didn’t change, I wouldn’t have made it to 35,” he said.

Henderson now says he’s “blessed.” He has won the lottery twice. He won $28 million in Lotto Texas in 2000, and took an immediate payout after taxes that netted him $9 million. A decade later, he won a $50,000 prize.

As for his Super Bowl ring, that’s in a special category

“I’ve got three NFC championship rings, which are pretty, but when you win a Super Bowl, it is a special endeavor,” Henderson said. “It’s one of my prized possessions.”

With New England and Philadelphia playing in Super Bowl LII on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium, Henderson looked back at the three Super Bowls he played in and some of the wild stories surrounding them.

When he was in rookie, Dallas lost 21-17 to Pittsburgh in Super Bowl X on Jan. 18, 1976 in Miami. After the Cowboys defeated the Broncos two years later, they were going for a repeat but lost 35-31 to the Steelers in Super XIII on Jan. 21, 1979 in Miami.

That’s when even casual fans became aware of “Hollywood.” In the days leading up to the game in Miami, Henderson told the media that Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw “couldn’t spell cat if you spotted him the ‘c’ and the ‘a’.” Henderson ended up on the cover of Newsweek alongside Bradshaw with the headline “A Really Super Bowl.”

Three years earlier, though, Henderson was showing signs as a rookie of the unique place he would hold in Super Bowl lore. On the opening kickoff of Super Bowl X, the athletic Henderson took a handoff from Preston Pearson and rumbled 48 yards down the left sideline before being pushed out of bounds by kicker Roy Gerela.

“If (safety) Randy Hughes would’ve went to block Gerela, I would’ve scored,” Henderson said.

Henderson preferred Adidas footwear throughout his career but wore shoes with a Puma logo during Super Bowl X. Naturally, there’s a story behind that.

“Before the game, Puma gave me a bag of money to wear their shoes,” Henderson recalled. “There was $3,000 in there. But I tested out the Puma shoes on the turf before the game and they were like ballet shoes. They didn’t protect my toes.

“So to get the money, I actually painted the Puma emblem on my Adidas shoes. I put like a sock over my shoe and painted over it. I never heard anything from Puma after that, but what were they going to do? I already had the money.”

Former Cowboys defensive back Charlie Waters doesn’t doubt that story.

“He did it,” Waters said. “It was clever. That was typical Thomas. We made a lot more money on what shoes we wore in Super Bowls because you got so much exposure in the game. And Thomas would love to have the cash so he could buy a little more entertainment, if you will, after the game, or even during the game.”

By Super Bowl XII, Henderson said he was already deep into his cocaine addiction. Asked recently if he was doing drugs in New Orleans during the week leading up to the game, Henderson said, “I was with Richard Pryor and Marvin Gaye, so what do you think I was doing?”

Pryor, the legendary comedian who died in 2005, and Gaye, the Motown superstar who was shot to death by his father in 1984, had histories of drug abuse. Henderson hung out with them during his playing days.

“They both loved football,” Henderson said. “This was before crack and smoking crack. It was just more of a hit or two. But I was well into my recreational use of cocaine that I snorted.”

Henderson said he didn’t do cocaine the weekend of the game and was well rested for it. He said he relaxed the night before by “smoking cigarettes and I might have had a joint.”

Henderson had a strong performance as the Cowboys’ defense overwhelmed the Broncos. He made Dallas’ first two tackles of the game, stuffing Jon Keyworth for a five-yard loss on the first one. But it was a play on special teams Henderson remembers most.

After the Cowboys were stopped on their opening drive, Danny White punted to Denver’s Rick Upchurch, a former University of Minnesota star who was then one of the NFL’s top punt returners. Before Upchurch could field the ball at Broncos 32, Henderson went flying into his left shoulder, and was assessed a 15-yard penalty.

“Mike Ditka (then a Dallas assistant) had come up to me and said, ‘I don’t care where the ball is, I want you to hit Upchurch,’ ” Henderson said. “We wanted to put something in his head. I was aiming for his throat, but I missed him and just kind of hit him on the shoulder. After we got the penalty, (then Cowboys coach) Tom Landry was irate. I just said to him, ‘Go talk to Ditka. He told me to do it.’ Then I walked away.”

At Super Bowl XIII the next year, Henderson was coming off the best season of his career. He had been named to the Pro Bowl in 1978, and was regarded as one of the NFL’s best linebackers.

He also was becoming known as one of the most flamboyant. In 1977, Henderson picked up his “Hollywood” nickname from teammate Robert Newhouse when he showed up for practice one day in a limousine and wearing a fur coat.

Henderson said he decided to take his antics to a new level in the days leading up to a game midway through the 1978 season.

“We’re playing a game in New York, and I’m in an elevator and I hear a (Cowboys public relations official) talking to four or five New York reporters,” Henderson said. “He’s saying, ‘We want you to talk to (Dallas players) Charlie Waters, Randy White and Roger Staubach.’ In other words, they were telling the press who they wanted them to talk to. That was the first day the self-promotion and marketing of Thomas Henderson was born.

“So I started saying outrageous things, and the reporters started running to find me. I said that the Rams didn’t have any class, and I said Bradshaw couldn’t spell.”

Henderson said the idea for the quote about Bradshaw came from a conversation with then-Cowboys vice president of player personnel Gil Brandt.

“Gil sits down at my locker and says, ‘Did you know that Terry Bradshaw really wanted to go to LSU?’ ” Henderson said. “He said that his grades weren’t that good and he didn’t pass the SAT and ACT, so he had to go to Louisiana Tech. So that put it in my head, ACT, SAT. That’s when I said he couldn’t spell C-A-T.”

Brandt, who said he tried to swing a trade to get Bradshaw before the Steelers took him with the No. 1 pick in the 1970 NFL draft, recalls having a conversation with Henderson but said that’s not how it went.

“What I told Hollywood before our game with them was that we loved Bradshaw coming out of Louisiana Tech but that the thing about him was that you could confuse him,” Brandt said. “Because he’s so strong and with his ability, he thinks he’s so good, that he’ll take a chance. I never said the guy was not smart. … I had the utmost respect for Bradshaw.”

After Henderson made the comment, Landry, the legendary coach who died in 2000, was not happy.

“It sure didn’t help us any,” Brandt said.

Waters agreed.

“I just rolled my eyes and thought to myself, ‘Surely you understand the world of competition, and do you really have to get everybody (on the Steelers) madder?’ ” Waters said.

Henderson did have one big play against Bradshaw, sacking him in the second quarter while linebacker Mike Hegman yanked the ball out and ran 37 yards for a touchdown. Bradshaw, though, had the last laugh, throwing for 318 yards and four touchdowns; he was named Super Bowl MVP.

On the sidelines at the Orange Bowl that day, Henderson said he utilized a small spray bottle that contained a mixture of water and cocaine.

“I had a deviated septum that was a bloody mess, and I had this big scab,” he said. “When you’re snorting (cocaine) pebbles up your nose, it’s going to hurt the lining of your nose. But I was only using the (the spray bottle) for medical purposes to ease the pain, not to get high.”

There already had been plenty of that going on during Super Bowl week.

“I’m in Miami, the headquarters of cocaine, and I was trying some new stuff,” Henderson said. “Some Colombian drug dealers were just giving me stuff. I had about four ounces on me when I got on the team plane to go back to Dallas after the game.”

By the next season, Henderson’s antics and cocaine problems had worsened. Brandt said he confronted Henderson after he received an anonymous call about his drug use but that the linebacker denied it.

During a 34-20 loss at Washington on Nov. 18, 1979, Henderson was seen late in the game on the sideline mugging for the camera and displaying handkerchiefs with a Cowboys logo. Landry became so incensed he cut him after that game.

After stints with the 49ers and Oilers, Henderson broke his neck in a 1981 preseason game with the Dolphins, landing him on injured reserve. Although he was able to recover, he never played again.

“If he didn’t have his problems, he’d be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame right now,” Brandt said. “He had the speed, the size and the smarts. But I think he’s done a marvelous job of turning his life around.”

Henderson said he has spent the past 34 years sober, trying to make amends for his once-destructive behavior. He gives lectures around the country to those with drug-abuse issues. He has made a number of instructional videos that are used in prisons.

And in 1999, he apologized to Bradshaw for his remark prior to Super Bowl XIII.

“He came out to Austin when I was building a track for kids in my community,” Henderson said. “He came to interview me (for Fox Sports), and off camera I pulled him to the side and I said, ‘I want to apologize. I shouldn’t have said it. I want to make amends for that.’ ”

Henderson said Bradshaw, who is in the hall of fame and won four Super Bowl rings, accepted his apology.

Henderson has one ring, and he treasures it. He doesn’t deny, though, that he wonders what might have been.

“Tom Landry came to my 10-year sober anniversary (in 1993) and he got up on stage and he said to the audience, ‘If Thomas would have been playing, we might have won three or four more Super Bowls,’ ” Henderson said.