Years ago, when the founding fathers of the Dallas Cowboys franchise still ran the team, general manager Tex Schramm would use the final game of the NFL exhibition to informally poll the local media.
Name the season-opening roster, Tex would playfully ask. And sometime during that final preseason night at Texas Stadium, we all would write down the 45 names that we thought would be listed on the active roster.
I doubt we influenced Tex. But in those days, players with recognizable names actually left the bench during the fourth exhibition game. Real jobs were said to be on the line, not just places on the practice squad.
Somewhere between here and, say, 1989, coaches decided that Week 4 of the NFL preseason was toxic. Third-teamers and practice squad wannabes began getting all the game snaps. The starters were outfitted in hazmat suits.
As a result, Thursday night’s summer finale between the Cowboys and Houston Texans, won by the visitors 28-17, generated all the excitement of a neighborhood yard sale.
Jason Garrett has some decisions to make. Whatever patching and polishing he hoped to do to the Cowboys’ defense during this training camp saw little resolution.
Where’s the pass rush? What happens now that DeMarcus Lawrence goes on hiatus? Are Lawrence Okoye, Maliek Collins and Ryan Russell ready to make the final cut?
The most visible job interview Thursday, as it turned out, did not go well. Jameill Showers was given the entire game to validate his worth as a possible No. 2 quarterback, but his performance was spotty at best and unimpressive on the whole.
Showers finished with 10 completions in 25 attempts for 91 yards and threw an interception that was returned by Antonio Allen for Houston’s final touchdown.
The regular season’s starter at quarterback, Dak Prescott, did not play. Nor did the No. 1 offensive line and receivers, as well as tight end Jason Witten.
Throughout the league on this final preseason weekend, in fact, few first-teamers will see the field. In New Orleans, coach Sean Payton elected to try to kick-start the Saints offense and let starter Drew Brees play for a few series. New England’s Bill Belichick used Tom Brady at quarterback for an extended period Thursday night, but that’s what Belichick customarily does, and he doesn’t care what you think about it.
Once upon a time, with a nod to the watered-down nature of the preseason, Schramm used to try to spice up the exhibition schedule with an attractive finale.
The old Super Bowl nemeses, the Pittsburgh Steelers, came to Irving two summers in a row. And much was made of the annual state rivalry game between the Cowboys and Bum Phillips-coached Houston Oilers.
This year’s summer finale, however, failed to generate a similar buzz. The AT&T Stadium crowd was announced as 81,016, but the figure clearly was distorted by that Sky Mirror. Maybe 30,000 were actually in their seats?
So what have we learned in this Cowboys preseason?
Most ominously, that Tony Romo, at age 36, remains prone to serious injury. The news that he could be lost as many as 10 weeks dampens the team’s playoff expectations.
And while the coaching staff likely discovered that the offense still should be productive, rookie Prescott permitting, the defense heads to the season opener still in flux.
I know I couldn’t list this team’s best 45 active players.
Maybe just count the hazmat suits?