It’s three days before Sunday’s showdown against the Philadelphia Eagles for first place in the NFC East and Dallas Cowboys rookie quarterback Dak Prescott is walking through the locker room popping his teammates with a towel.
One by one.
No one says anything.
No one retaliates.
They just smile.
Prescott is just whistling along the way as if he is having a Sunday stroll in the park.
“It feels like college again,” said veteran cornerback Brandon Carr, as he looks up with a smile on his face. “Spirits are flowing and we are having a good time. You can feel it.”
Winning helps. And the Cowboys (5-1) are riding the euphoria of a five-game winning streak that has them with the second-best record in the NFL and sitting atop the NFC East heading into Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles (4-2) at AT&T Stadium.
Prescott’s outstanding play in place of the injured Tony Romo as well as the dominant play of rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott, who leads the league in rushing with 703 yards, also has the high-flying Cowboys feeling no pain.
Prescott and Elliott are dueling rookie-of-the-year candidates and have also put themselves in the most valuable player conversation in how they have put energy back into a brand that had gone stale.
“The energy they bring on the field is what brings the juice, not just them being younger,” receiver Cole Beasley said. “They play with so much passion, Zeke and Dak both. When you see other guys playing well and bringing that much energy after plays and being excited, it brings juice to everybody.”
The Cowboys have rebounded from last season’s 4-12 campaign to stake themselves as legitimate Super Bowl contenders in part because of the chemistry and camaraderie on and off the field that has them bonding as never before.
They work hard together. They play hard together. They have fun together. They truly like each other.
It’s also why the Cowboys want to hear nothing of the supposed impending quarterback decision between their new pied piper Prescott and their former leader Romo once he gets fully cleared to return from a fractured bone in his back, possibly as soon as next week.
They believe it’s something they can withstand. Prescott has brought the new juice, but the confidence in what Romo was and is has not wavered on a team that believes it’s in a win-win situation.
Most important, everyone is rooting for each other.
“The team chemistry is the best I’ve ever been around,” receiver Dez Bryant said. “Since the time I set foot here, this is something you look forward to, you dream for. It’s the most beautiful thing in the world. We got guys that actually give a damn about one another and wants to see somebody perform. When you’ve got guys like that in the locker room, it’s hard to beat.
“No matter about the talent. Talent don’t mean anything when you’ve got chemistry and guys sticking together. The sky’s the limit.”
The chemistry and camaraderie are manifested during games when the Cowboys are scoring touchdowns, making interceptions and winning. But it’s evidenced daily in the locker room when the players compete shooting hoops into a laundry basket, using a giant tennis ball that began life as a toy for Prescott’s dog.
The competitions are fierce and playful and they run the gamut: rookies vs. vets, offense vs. defense, receivers vs. defensive backs, Prescott vs. defensive tackle Terrell McClain, Bryant vs. defensive end Benson Mayowa.
“It’s everybody,” linebacker Sean Lee said. “Not only do we like being around each other, we like competing against each other whether it’s on the field, whether it’s here in the locker room.”
Tight end Geoff Swaim said the neat thing about it is there are no positional cliques, no offensive defensive cliques. Everybody likes each other. You go to the lunch room and you sit down with anybody.
The camaraderie hit a high point during last week’s bye when the entire team went to dinner at a Dallas steakhouse and then followed up by hanging out in Uptown.
“It was the first time since I have been here that we had offense and defense just all there,” Beasley said. “We have never had anything like that before since I have been here.
“It was one of the coolest things I have ever been part of. It’s just a different feel that I have ever felt before.”
Again, winning helps. There are good feelings and seemingly good chemistry when teams are winning.
But this didn’t happen in 2014 when the Cowboys went 12-4 and had their last five-game winning streak.
Linebacker Justin Durant was on the team in 2014. He played with Atlanta Falcons last year before signing back with Dallas before the start of camp.
“This is a little more, this is different,” Durant said. “It’s the young guys bringing fresh energy and the old guys sitting back and enjoying it. But pretty much it’s always offense or defense hanging around each other. I have never seen this before, especially the dinner we had last week”
The dinner was followed Wednesday by Romo hosting a party for the team at his house. Romo has had players over to his house before, but never that many. Some were awed by their first-time experience. Linebacker Anthony Hitchens made national news detailing his visit via the social media app SnapChat.
“It’s contagious,” Carr said. “People have been thinking about it and wanting to do it. But it finally happened. It happened organically. Guys have taken it and run with it. Each unit is doing things differently. More team bonding. It’s a good feeling right now. We are winning. Everybody is vibing, having fun and enjoying the NFL the way you should enjoy it.”
Youth is part of it. Only five players on the roster are over the age of 30.
The average age of the Cowboys is 26, ranking 12th in the league. Consider also that 39 of the 63 players on the roster, including practice squad, joined the team in 2015 or 2016. That number jumps to 44 when you add 2014.
“We are a lot younger too,” running back Lance Dunbar said. “We are closer to each other. We do the same things. We hang out at the same places. That’s a lot to it.”
But there is also a respect for the older guys. Bryant made it clear that nothing happens in the locker room without the blessing of 14-year veteran tight end Jason Witten.
Witten, 34, is not only the longest tenured player along with Romo, but he can surpass Ed “Too Tall” Jones with the most starts in team history against the Eagles and tie Lee Roy Jordan for the most consecutive starts in team history.
“We are all young at heart when we play,” Witten said. “It makes it a lot of fun, regardless of where you are in your career. That is what this group has embodied, whether it’s a rookie, fourth-year player or 14th year player.”
Witten credits coach Jason Garrett and the front office for building the team with the right kind of guys. It’s a credo that the Garrett has constantly preached, but finally achieved this season. There are no locker room lawyers. There are no bad influences. There are no bad guys.
Cowboys vs. Eagles
7:30 p.m. Sunday, KXAS/5
Radio: KRLD/105.3 FM; KMVK/107.5 FM (Spanish)
Line: Dallas by 4