Dallas Cowboys

Dak Prescott has blocked out the noise from ‘the sunken place’ to the brink of history

It seems fitting that Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott’s opportunity to make history is taking him back to Southern California.

It’s where he got his first NFL start back on Aug. 13, 2016 against these Los Angeles Rams, which just so happened to be the same day the NFL returned to LA after a 21-year hiatus.

Prescott went on to fashion the finest rookie season of any quarterback in NFL history.

But life is never that easy and fairy tales, even in California, come with their share of struggles and plot twists.

He quickly went from a rookie sensation head first into a sophomore slump in 2017, prompting questions about him being exposed, to being put in the so-called “sunken place” during a training camp in Oxnard - 60 miles north of Los Angeles - before the 2018 season because of his stance regarding the social justice protests during the national anthem.

Now Prescott has the Cowboys facing the Rams in the NFC Divisional playoffs back at the LA Coliseum, one win away from their first trip to the NFC title game in 23 years and two away from their first trip to the Super Bowl since their last Super Bowl title in 1995.

His ability to block out the noise and play his best when it matters most late in games has carried the Cowboys back to the brink of history.

It can be traced back to his steel resolve and never wavering stance in training camp when his game, culture and manhood could have been shaken. Viral images of a disrespectful mural erected in Dallas by an Arlington-area artist who essentially accused Prescott of selling out because he said he preferred to stand for the anthem rather than kneel in protest against racism and police brutality.

If you think facing down Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald is tough then consider the plight of a biracial kid who grew up in tiny Haughton, Louisiana being placed in the sunken place from Jordan Peele’s Academy Award-winning film “Get Out.”

Trey Wilder created a mural in which Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott portrays an iconic image from Jordan Peele’s award-winning film ‘Get Out.’ Courtesy Trey Wilder

The iconic image of a black man, staring ahead in silent terror, with tears streaming down his face gives off the impression of Prescott having his feelings on the social just protests and the anthem being controlled by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who demanded all his players stand for the anthem.

Prescott clarified his thoughts to the Star-Telegram in August. He said some were taken out of context and that he supports the protests but preferred to do things a different way. He never backed down in his belief about standing for the anthem and never let the criticism get to him.

“People think the way they think, it’s not my job to make them think a certain way,” Prescott said outside the locker room Thursday. “I was talking to a friend about it the other day. He said, ‘when people say stuff whether it true or false how do you react? Does it bother you?’ And I was like ‘no’ because there is enough stuff said about me whether it was true or false, it doesn’t matter. The moment it matters is the moment I give it any kind of answer or response. I don’t care to.

“My job in life is not to please people. I am not in the people-pleasing business. It is not to care what people say or to react to what people say or to give them what they want.”

It’s an attitude the serves Prescott well on and off the field. You have to have thick skin to play quarterback for the Cowboys.

Since coming into the league in 2016, Prescott has won more games than any quarterback in the NFL except for Tom Brady. He has led the Cowboys to two division titles and has one less playoff win than Romo during his 10 years with the Cowboys.

Yet, Prescott has yet to be fully embraced by Cowboys fans who still yearn for Romo every time he misses a throw.

While he has instructed friends and family not to bother him with stuff they hear - he even turned off a radio show while in the car with a friend recently because the talk turned negative - it was Prescott who initially shared the images of the “Get Out” mural with his older brothers, Tad and Jace.

They all shared a laugh about it because they knew it came from a place of ignorance regarding who Prescott was and where he came from.

“I don’t think it bothered him at all,” Tad said. “We are from a multi-racial family. We were raised right by our family. Dak has a high respect for the flag and the military. Our grandfather served in the military. He took it with a grain of salt. He sent the image to me, my brother Jace and a few friends and said this is kind of funny and took it as it is. Dak respects the thoughts of others. But he believes in what he believes in.

“It may have bothered some people closer to my dad. My aunt, my mom’s sister, wasn’t too happy about it. Those people don’t know Dak. They don’t know how we were brought up, how were raised. It was just people hating. Dak has had haters. He can’t allow it to bother him. The moment has never been too big for him.”

That Prescott didn’t let it bother and thus has thrived on and off the field is a testament to how he was raised, per Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, who also joined the Cowboys in 2016 and has been tied at the hip with his quarterback ever since.

Elliott said Prescott has been poised since his rookie season and he has never seen him let things bother him or get him down.

“Never. One, it’s part of the way he was raised,” Elliott said. “Two, it’s part of where he played college ball (at Mississippi State). Every week having a big game, playing against big opponents. Three, just the type of man he is. I am glad to have him on my team.”

Prescott is the man he is because of how he was raised by his later mother, Peggy, who died of cancer during his sophomore year in college.

“It’s 100 percent what my mom taught me. Control what you can control,” Prescott said. “The rest is opinions. I have no bone in my body that cares what people think.”

She certainly didn’t care what people thought.

“It comes from our mom,” Tad said. “Our mom is a white woman who fell in love and had children with a black man in a small town in Louisiana. She grew up hearing everything and being called everything in the book that was derogatory and negative on the fact of who she was. Then again she was the single mother to three black young men. We grew up knowing what to expect, what she dealt with and the looks that she got.”

“We are talking about a white lady growing up in the 70s with a black man,” Prescott said. “Her parents told her not to. And she did because that is what she wanted to do.

“So if I listened to what people said or what they thought they would have wrote me off from the moment they saw I was the youngest of three boys living in a single wide trailer with three bedrooms. He didn’t have the money to go to camp and (expletive) like that. But I never listened to what people said and always kept on my path. That’s the only thing that matters. That is why I am here.”

Tad recalls his bother being told he would never play quarterback in high school before winning the job as a sophomore and then being told by then-LSU head coach Les Miles that he would never be a quarterback in the SEC before going to Mississippi State and leading them to a No. 1 ranking.

He’s overcome doubters his entire life.

Still, the criticism of this year from the “Sunken Place” to the Romo talk brought him to tears earlier in the season.

“I hear it. I watch and listen to every show. I hear all the criticism and comparison,” Tad said. “I probably want it more than he does. I called him one day, just talking to him about the game and I started crying it was just on the voice mail and I told him I’m sorry I have no idea why I am crying. And he hit me back and said ‘its cool sometimes you just got to let it out.”

“It was me telling him, ‘you are leader of men and you are playing this game. This game needs to be fun.’ “I was like, ‘I hear what these people are saying about you bro and I know you say you tune it but by some chance you are listening to it, don’t. This is a game. All of us grew up saying we are going to be professional football players one day. We are going to have this and we are going to have that. Jace and I missed our shot. You are living the dream. Don’t take that for granted. Take it for it what it is. It’s a bigger platform to do more for more people. Enjoy it.’”

“That is where I say I want it more than him. I was one of his little league coaches. And just knowing him Jace and I taught this to our little brother this is one of the things that we passed down. And to watch him thrive and do what he does on the field. It brings me joy than anything in this world. I know more than anything he wants to win this game and win in this situation.”

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Clarence E. Hill Jr. has covered the Dallas Cowboys as a beat writer/columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram since 1997. That includes just two playoff wins, six coaches and countless controversies from the demise of the dynasty teams of the 1990s through the rollercoaster years of the Tony Romo era until Jason Garrett’s process Cowboys.