Gil LeBreton

Cowboys will enjoy silence of the Rams more than rowdy Raiders

As I recall, they were vile and mean and heavily tattooed.

They seemed angry, for some reason, and, even though they were guests at the Dallas camp, they called the Cowboys names.

And those were just the fans of the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders themselves were even worse.

It’s an NFL custom as old as the Canton Bulldogs. The dog days of training camp have hit. The defensive players, in particular, are craving raw meat. So the head coach brings in another team in the area for two days of full-contact football.

“Oh, it’s great, it’s great,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Saturday of the impending visit by the St. Louis Rams.

“Competition within a position group, for roster spots, for starting roles. Competition when you go against other people. It raises everyone’s level. It’s human nature.

“I think we saw that the other night in the game, and I think we’ll see that on Monday and Tuesday when we work against the Rams.”

The Cowboys try to do this annually. In past camps, they have scrimmaged the Chargers, Broncos and Texans.

But the most unruly visitors, by far, were the Raiders — and their loyal, local, some-even-costumed supporters — who showed up last year and helped kick the camp intensity level up a notch.

The play that ignited things was Cowboys cornerback Mo Claiborne’s rodeo tackle on Raiders tight end Mychal Rivera. Oakland’s Greg Little pushed Claiborne in retaliation. The altercation then spread like a wildfire.

Suddenly, there were 30, 40, maybe 60 players pushing and swinging and dogpiling into the chain link fence that surrounds the Cowboys’ practice field. A fan leaped over the fence and swung a Raiders helmet at the Cowboys’ B.W. Webb, who turned and swung back.

Order was abruptly restored. Coaches shouted their approval. Practice continued.

But as Garrett reflected Saturday, without mentioning the Raiders by name, “The biggest thing we want to do is make sure it’s about football. Sometimes you get into these situations and a lot of other stuff starts to happen, and it’s a great challenge for your team to stay focused.”

Things get “a little chippy,” Garrett said.

“It was hard to believe that this was a practice,” owner Jerry Jones said after last year’s Oakland skirmish.

The Rams, it should be noted, not the Raiders, will be this year’s training camp guests.

The head coach of the Cowboys had a grand laugh at my expense Saturday, when I tried to coax him into saying something clever about trading the fist-flying Raiders for the just-passing-thru Rams.

My question: Did you guys invite the Rams?

Garrett immediately giggled and quipped, “No, they were going to storm the gates, and we said no.

“Of course, we invited them. They’re here. They’ve got a football team here. What do you think? Let’s practice with them.”

Ha ha. Try the veal. It was a rare moment of press conference frivolity for the head coach.

“That question just came across as being kind of funny,” Garrett explained, still giggling. “Yeah, we’ve had conversations for the last four or five months about this. They were going to be out here to play the Raiders. They were going to be out on the West Coast. And they wanted to come down and practice with us.”

It’s been roundly suggested that the Rams franchise has been fiercely eyeing Los Angeles as a possible new home — and the Oxnard facility would become its training camp.

Many Ventura County fans still pine for the Raiders. But they’ll have to wait for another year, another training camp visit.

Monday’s and Tuesday’s practices this week just won’t seem the same.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @gilebreton

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