Before the NFL season kicks off, the networks annually hold conference calls with the TV writers to hype their broadcasts teams. Fox’s version this week included former Dallas Cowboys coaches Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer, who will team up for a “Grumpy Old Coaches” segment on the pregame show, and former Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman, the network’s lead analyst. The three former Cowboys spoke highly of this year’s team under new coach Wade Phillips.
Aikman: I like this team a lot. With the changes within the (coaching) staff, I really had felt this transition may not be as smooth as a lot of people would like to believe. But having watched them in the preseason, I came away pretty impressed with how this team has played, defensively and the way Jason (Garrett, offensive coordinator) had done a few things calling plays offensively to where I have kind of changed my thoughts on this team. I actually think they are going to have a heck of a season. I think the early part of the year is extremely important for the team. It’s very critical for Tony Romo, for a guy who is without a long-term contract. The organization is waiting to see what he’s going to do. I think this team will have an excellent year, and in my opinion, go fairly deep into the playoffs.
Johnson: I agree. I think the Cowboys should have an outstanding year. They have as much depth as any team in that division. When you look at the division with (Donovan) McNabb coming back off injury with
Philadelphia, they should be the favorite in the division. But on the same token, he has struggled with injuries in past years. I see the Giants pulling back. I don’t think they will be as good as they have been, and they have struggled, especially at the end of the year. I don’t see the Redskins making a whole lot of improvements. The Cowboys should be able to get a lot more wins in their division. Bill Parcells felt very good with how he left the Cowboys and he left them with a lot of talent. They know how to work and it’s a talented football team. If their quarterback plays up to what he is a capable of playing, then I think they should have an outstanding year.
Switzer, who said he visited practice in San Antonio for the first time in 10 years: “I was impressed with the one thing that gives them the best chance is obviously is Romo. I watched him throw the ball in three practices, outside drill, and I said this guy is the best, in my opinion, since Troy Aikman played there. This guy does have an opportunity to make them so much better because that play at that position, as we all know, is so critical. This guy has the ability to make those types of play, throw the ball well enough. It just comes down to how smart this guy’s going to play that will determine their success this season. I think they will be pretty good on the other side of the football.”
Aikman’s conference favorites: “I like San Diego out of the AFC. I just think that that team is so talented in so many key areas. In the NFC, Philadelphia is hard to bet against. I think Dallas will be pretty good. Those teams will battle it out for the division. In the NFC overall, it’s pretty easy to go with Chicago. Looking at their division, I just feel that they are head and shoulders above the other teams.”
The NBC conference call included its top-notch broadcast team of John Madden and Al Michaels. After an off-season filled with negative headlines about the league, they said they were looking forward to calling some games.
Madden: “I think its time to not only celebrate the start of the opening of the season, but to celebrate, I hope, good news. This off-season has just been filled with crap. Everything has been negative and it’s time to for some positive stuff. Ninety-nine percent of what happens in the NFL is good, and then that one percent isn’t so good, but we hear more about that one percent than we do about the 99 percent. And now, I think the celebration is: we’re starting the 99 percent and hearing about that, and getting away from that other stuff. I’ll tell you, I’m excited as hell to get this thing started.”
Michaels on first two NBC games, New Orleans at Indianapolis on Thursday and the New York Giants at Dallas on Sunday: “When you look at the matchups that we got from the NFL it really can’t get much better than the way we start out, New Orleans at Indianapolis. This is the first time the Colts have opened at home in a number of years and, as the Super Bowl champions, against a team that was probably the best story in the league last year. The Giants are the team of mystery this year. Who knows what they will be? We’re going to see them right off the bat at Dallas. Just Giants-Dallas alone at any time is a great attraction.”