Today is the weekend.
Some players will head for Valley Ranch to work out or to be treated for injuries, but for healthy players nothing is mandatory. If you want to do something for yourself—pay bills, play with your kids, visit with your agent, chop wood—you do it today.
On alternate Tuesdays during the season, middle linebacker Robert Jones gets his hair cut at Mitchell's Barber and Beauty Shop on Belt Line in Irving. Today is a haircut Tuesday. If his wife would allow it, Jones would get clipped no more than once a month. But as he puts it, "She doesn't like it when I'm all woofy."
This season Jones is calling the signals for the NFL's No. 1 defense, and he is leading the Cowboys in tackles. His performance is an in-your-face to former Dallas coach Jimmy Johnson, who benched Jones three games into the 1993 season even though Jones had been named the UPI Defensive Rookie of the Year in '92. "With Jimmy, if you made a mistake, he would never forget it," says Jones. "Switzer lets you play and accepts mistakes as part of the game." Indeed, the change in Jones's demeanor under Switzer is so great that Jones's wife, Maneesha, states with amazement, "Robert actually seems alive."
Quiet and conservative, Robert would rather spend time with Maneesha and 20-month-old son Cayleb than hang with the 'Boys. But Robert is superstitious to the point of nuttiness, and that includes this hair business. "When the season started, I looked in the Bible and saw that Nimrod was the best athlete, but I couldn't figure out why," he says. "So then I read about Samson and decided that was me. Before the first game of the year, against Pittsburgh, I decided not to cut my hair, and I wound up getting a game ball."
Jones goes on to explain that he cut his hair before the next game, against the Houston Oilers, and had only four tackles. He remained untrimmed the following week, when Dallas played the Detroit Lions, and he got 12 tackles. The pattern held for the next two games as well: haircut, average game; no haircut, superb game. As the Oct. 16 game against the Philadelphia Eagles approached, Jones felt he needed even more hair than usual. "That was an extra-big game," he says, "so I let my hair go for an extra week, and I had the best game of my life."
After the Eagles scored midway through the fourth quarter to trail 24-13, Jones stopped Randall Cunningham just as the Eagle quarterback was about to cross the goal line for a two-point conversion. Later Jones hammered running back Charlie Garner for no gain at the Dallas one and, on the next play, for a loss of six. As defensive coordinator Butch Davis puts it, "That was the game where everyone on this team looked at Robert and said, 'He's our guy. This is his defense.' "
Obviously the hair thing is not something to mess with. Nor are the other little things that Jones believes affect his play each Sunday. For instance, during the week he will eat his lunch only with the equipment managers in the equipment cage, away from all teammates. When watching films of the special teams, he has to sit by the window. But in meetings of the defense he must sit next to the projector. On the team bus he needs to be in the aisle seat, left side, fourth row.
But this hair thing is especially weird. He looks O.K., neat and trimmed. Dangerous. But with Philly coming up again this Sunday, maybe this was not a good idea.
At midafternoon the locker room and the surrounding areas are empty of people, except for assistant trainer Jim Maurer and quarterback Troy Aikman, who does not look happy. He was bent backward in the win over the Washington Redskins on Nov. 20, and his left knee was nearly pulled apart. Now he shows Maurer where it hurts. "It's stiff in the back and sore on the left side," he says. Maurer assures him that the joint is responding properly to therapy. Aikman says he's feeling " about 50 percent" and adds, "There's no way I'm going to play Sunday."