The Dallas Cowboys are the best team in football. They scout well, pick wisely, have one of the most intellectual coaches and field the finest 40 physical specimens you'll ever lay eyes on.
Nonetheless, they may not win the most games. Sure, they'll take the Capitol Division, but so would four other teams in the NFL. They can shrug off the loss of a top quarterback ( Don Meredith) and a fine fullback (Don Perkins). They will score freely and, on some Sundays, appear devastating. But they won't go all the way.
"They are a gentlemanly team," says one Eastern coach. "They don't beat you up when you play them, and they have the people who could do it. They aren't killers. If they ever develop a killer instinct, they'll spread-eagle the league and destroy any AFL team unlucky enough to play them in the Super Bowl."
The Cowboys' good manners may stem from those of Tom Landry, their head coach. Landry is a quiet, handsome man, unfailingly polite and considerate and thoughtful. He is big, balding and impressive, and he could easily be the minister for a well-heeled Methodist church, adept at getting large contributions from wealthy parishioners without wheedling, renowned for his reasoned, low-key sermons, which painlessly uplift. But he hasn't forged the intense, Lombardian desire which animates pro football dynasties. This year the Cowboys finally decided they hadn't been mean enough and told Landry to run a tough camp; but it's better if the tone is set by the tamer rather than the lions.
Unfortunately, the Capitol is essentially a one-team division. Washington and Philadelphia are starting anew under new coaches ( Vince Lombardi and Jerry Williams), and New Orleans is an expansion team. Unfortunately, because by breezing to the division title the Cowboys may again become complacent, a vice which led to their interdivisional loss to Cleveland a year ago.
Despite Perkins' retirement, the Dallas running game looks even better. Dan Reeves, who sat out most of 1968 with a knee injury, is back; Walt Garrison and Les Shy should fill in ably for Perkins; and Yale's massive (6'3�", 227) Calvin Hill, the No. 1 draft choice, whose long strides belie his speed, was a stickout in the exhibition season. In Lance Rentzel and Bob Hayes (who will miss at least two games due to a shoulder separation), the Cowboys have two of the fastest wide receivers in the NFL, and Mike Ditka, obtained from Philadelphia, will reinforce the team at tight end. The offensive line, led by Tackle Ralph Neely, is agile and adept, equally capable of opening holes for the runners and protecting Quarterback Craig Morton.
If he can overcome a tendency to be erratic, Morton may actually be an improvement on Meredith. He is big, has a powerful arm capable of reaching Hayes and Rentzel on deep patterns, and he is more decisive than Dandy.
A Believable Arm
"He'll throw into the cracks of a zone," one Dallas assistant says. "He'll throw the tough passes—the sidelines. He'll take chances because he believes in his arm more than Don believed in his. He'll help us."
But Morton is an untried quarterback, still forming his personality. The quarterback and the coach make the personality of a team. If Morton can become the alter ego of Landry in the same manner that Starr was the embodiment of Lombardi on the field, the Cowboys could be phenomenal.