The last practice for the Dallas Cowboys at their Valley Ranch headquarters turned into a nostalgia-filled, old home week before evolving into last-day school hi-jinks and jocularity.
The final day of this week’s three-day mini-camp marked the last time the Cowboys practiced at their home of 31 years in north Irving.
They are scheduled to move into a new state-of-the-art facility, The Ford Center at the Star in Frisco, when they return from training camp in August.
But for one final day, Valley Ranch remained the star of the show.
And seemingly no one wanted to leave.
Owner Jerry Jones, who coined the term “from socks to jocks” in one of his first news conferences after buying the Cowboys in 1989, was absent because of prior commitments.
But several members of the three-time Super Bowl championship teams of the 1990s, who all trained at Valley Ranch, came back, including Michael Irvin, Russell Maryland, Tony Casillas, Charles Haley, Nate Newton, Dixon Edwards, Daryl Johnston and Chad Hennings.
Also there was former long-time scouting director Gil Brandt, who was at the facility when it opened in 1985. He couldn’t miss the last practice.
“Oh, there’s always mixed emotions,” Brandt said. “I was here for the first practice and I was here for the last practice, and I don’t think anybody probably but (equipment manager) Bucky Buchanan can say that happened. It’s a lot different than it was then. It’s a lot different from what the surroundings are.”
When the Cowboys moved into Valley Ranch in 1985, there was nothing around here. A master planned community and development basically grew up around the facility, which was state of the art back then.
It is obsolete now and the new facility, which is part of a $1.5 billion development, is the right step for the forward-thinking franchise.
The Cowboys might be leaving the building behind, but they will never part ways with the memories and the relationships formed at Valley Ranch.
That was most evident when Haley walked into the building long after practice with his two dogs and started wrestling Irvin before slapping him in the back of the head to laughter from Maryland and Johnston.
Irvin took it all in good fun though he admitted having a sore neck and back from Haley’s heavy hands.
He then grew nostalgic when thinking about what the facility meant to him.
“It’s a lot of great memories here,” Irvin said. “I walked in this building my first year. Everything that I have, that we all dreamed of and wanted to become _ we all did it in this building. We thought about it. We did it. We planned it in this building. It’s amazing. It’s bittersweet.”
Irvin refused to talk about his favorite memories from Valley Ranch because they were mostly too wild. But he did recall the time former receiver Alvin Harper ran sprints with no shorts.
“We were out here one day practicing, tired and sweating,” Irvin said. “Alvin Harper runs inside. We were running 110s. Alvin runs inside. He is running late. He runs back out in only his jock and started running the 110s and we fell out. He was only in his jock.”
Newton kept a lid on his memories as well.
“Our favorite memories cannot be discussed,” Newton said. “The things we said and did in this place are unreal. I can tell you how guys worked hard, how we joked and practiced. But talking about the memories…The trees have grown up. You can’t even see the memories.”
The trees have grown up around the facility to hide the clear view of the notorious “white house” in the adjacent neighborhood where the Cowboys infamously tried to do the wrong thing the right way.
Amidst all the memories, coach Jason Garrett had the charge of getting his players through the final practice. He had his own flashbacks as a member of the 1993 and 1995 title teams.
“What I told our team this morning in our team meeting was this is a really special place,” Garrett said. “For the last 31 years some of the greatest coaches, the greatest players and the greatest teams ever assembled in the National Football League worked here. The standard they set is high. It will be the last mini-camp practice of the 2016 season. It’s also going to be the last practice here at Valley Ranch. We’re going to try to do everything we can as players and coaches to live up to the standards that have been set before us by all of the great ones that have come through these doors.”
Garrett showed the team video from a 1992 football practice at Valley Ranch to commemorate the occasion and give them a sense of history.
Some of the players, such as long-time quarterback Tony Romo have their own memories
“It was a little bit of a nostalgic day. We started off actually looking at a little Cowboys practice tape from 20 or 25 years ago. There weren’t too many houses out back and a lot of fields. You just remember how many great players and practices, how many they’ve had through the years here, the great coaches and people who walk these halls. We’re going to miss it, Romo said. “It’s been a special place to me, obviously throughout my career. Away from the cameras where everyone sees you on Sunday, we build the team out here. This is a special place. The people are coming with us to the next place, that will make it an easier transition.”