By most accounts, the Dallas Cowboys’ season ended in January at the 1-yard line.
It ended cruelly and, arguably, unjustly. The Cowboys were one overturned Dez Bryant reception, one flicker of legal football possession, one agonizing yard from upsetting the Green Bay Packers and reaching the NFC title game.
But therein hovers the cloud that seems to cast an anxious shadow over this 2015 training camp.
The mood is upbeat. But there are nagging injuries and still-unanswered questions.
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As the head coach has reminded the Cowboys, you don’t get to pick up the next season right where you left off. There are miles to go and games to win before the Cowboys can get back to that 1-yard line.
Which, in part, is where the “HA” T-shirts come in.
The “HA” on the team’s blue T-shirts — as someone explained — is a reminder to, more or less, provide a moment that leaps off the game tape.
A bone-rattling hit — HA!
A one-handed catch — HA!
In the sports vernacular, Jordan Spieth just didn’t have enough HA moments Sunday. But he certainly is capable of them.
Wimbledon is awash in HA backhands and service returns. Michael Jordan built his legend on HA moments.
“We’ll know it when we see it,” head coach Jason Garrett said Sunday, head-faking a question about what exactly the T-shirts mean.
But Garrett did admit that he wanted the Cowboys to show the coaches a lot of HAs this camp and this coming season.
Not just ooh! But HA!
“That’s our objective,” someone said. “The great ones, in all sports, have it.”
One more HA moment, it stands to reason, and the Cowboys might have scored near the end of last January’s playoff game in Green Bay.
Don’t just make a play, the T-shirts remind, but make an eyebrow-raising play.
The Cowboys are going to need the latter. Some teams end their season at the 1-yard line — the Super Bowl XXXIV Tennessee Titans, for example — and never return.
There sits Garrett’s greatest test this preseason, to get his team to focus on the HAs, not the long road ahead.
Jimmy Johnson, for one, refused to let complacency cloud his team’s 1993 post-Super Bowl season. En route to the Lombardi Trophy, the 1992 Cowboys had won 16 games and lost only three. Yet Johnson ran that 1993 training camp like a boot camp, as Garrett, who was the backup to Troy Aikman that year, well remembers.
“This year is different than last year’s team,” Garrett said, “and we all have to understand that. That started way back in April when we got together in our off-season program the first day.
“Those were probably the first words out of my mouth in our first team meeting. We have to go back to work. We have to lay the foundation for this football team, this 2015 Dallas Cowboys football team. That’s what the focus is. We have to earn it all over again.”
This is uncharted ground for Garrett, whose previous seasons had all ended in 8-8. Head coaches before him have failed as well. The mighty Cowboys franchise hasn’t produced back-to-back seasons with at least 10 victories since 1996.
“You don’t pick up where you left off,” Garrett said at the start of camp.
The Cowboys had to win 13 games to get there last season.
The T-shirts remind them — HA! — what it takes to get that one more yard.
Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697