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Thursday, January 2, 1997

nclude file="yourlinkhere.inc"-->Disgust with Cowboys becomes chronic ailment in Dallas area

By Rick Bonnell / Knight-Ridder Newspapers (Jan. 2, 1997)

IRVING, Texas (KRT) - Are the Dallas Cowboys America's Team or America's Most Wanted?

Bill Bates, who played for all three of this franchise's coaches, is no longer sure.

"The things that have happened over the past couple of years are very disappointing," said Bates, in his 14th season. "For a guy who wanted to play his whole life for the Dallas Cowboys, at times it really makes you sick to your stomach."

That feeling is a chronic ailment around these parts. In the latest in a chain of embarrassments, two stars, wide receiver Michael Irvin and offensive lineman Erik Williams, are expected to meet with police Thursday to be questioned on the accusations of a 23-year-old woman. She told police Irvin held a gun to her head while Williams and another unidentified man raped her at Williams' home Sunday. Williams has had no comment. Irvin said Wednesday, "I wasn't even at Erik's house."

There appears to be a strong possibility Williams and/or Irvin could be arrested Thursday or Friday before the team flies to Charlotte for Sunday's NFC semifinal with the Carolina Panthers.

It would not be the first time either was in trouble with the law. Irvin is serving four years' probation following a no-contest plea to cocaine possession last summer. Williams just came off probation for a drunken-driving charge and paid an out-of-court settlement to a 17-year-old stripper to avoid her pressing charges of sexual assault.

Four days from what coach Barry Switzer calls "the biggest game of the year," this team has been besieged by national media. They don't ask questions about the game, just about the tarnished image of the most famous football team in the world.

Quarterback Troy Aikman can't blame them.

"I think maybe some of the things people feel, and maybe some of the things people think, are justified," he said. "There's a lot of attention that comes to this organization. ... Some of it is just because of the organization and its rich history. And some of it is self-inflicted."

Indeed. Various Cowboys drew seven of the past 13 drug suspensions levied by the NFL. The league barred Irvin from the season's first five games after the no-contest plea. Last month, defensive lineman Leon Lett, the NFL's premier run-stopper, was suspended for a year for multiple violations of the league's drug policy.

But perhaps the most embarrassing moment came last spring when offensive lineman Nate Newton rationalized some players renting a party house near the team's headquarters by saying it was a place "just to run some whores in."

This franchise has always had problems - ex-Cowboys Lance Rentzel, Thomas Henderson and Rafael Septien had highly publicized incidents involving drugs or sex in the '60s, '70s and '80s. But the constancy of transgressions over the past three years is almost numbing.

A Dallas player arrested or suspended is treated with a shrug and joke. As they sing satirically, "Mama, don't let your babies grow up to date Cowboys. ... "

Switzer and owner Jerry Jones have received harsh and constant criticism the past two years, particularly from Randy Galloway, sports columnist of The Dallas Morning News and host of a popular radio talk show.

Galloway characterizes the franchise under Jones as a model of pragmatism and ego run amok. He says winning three of the past four Super Bowls no longer rationalizes this team's behavior in even the most ardent fans' minds.

"There's no way there's that warmth still there - that Cowboys, right or wrong (loyalty)," Galloway said Monday, before the most recent accusations. "The Irvin (drug arrest) blew the lid off the city dump. I've never seen a reaction like that.

"I don't think winning will cure this. Now, they've got a terrible image problem."

Others question the priorities of Switzer and Jones. The Oklahoma program Switzer coached 1973-88 bore striking similarities to the Cowboys. The Sooners won three national championships but were in constant trouble. The height of the problems included an Uzi being fired at Oklahoma's athletic dormitory.

But Cowboys back-up quarterback Wade Wilson said it's not fair to throw all the blame Switzer's way.

"I think it's up to each individual to take responsibility for his actions," said Wilson. "I mean, if it's a high school or college it might be a different situation. But these are professional athletes and they're grown men and you have to be responsible."

Switzer has said as much, though he adds that he has regularly lectured the team on the dangers of drugs.

Switzer had no NFL experience and was out of coaching when Jones hired him to replace Jimmy Johnson in 1994. Jones had an ugly separation from Johnson, who saw Jones as a meddler and a publicity hound.

"He's there because Jerry Jones had to have a puppet. He wanted a coach who would not rebuff him," said Galloway, who recalled Switzer saying, "I just want to sit on the curb with Jerry as the drum major."

Jones, an offensive lineman at Oklahoma when Switzer served there as an assistant, said his coach is fully qualified for the job. Jones does admit synergy was a key in the hiring: "Barry and I work so good together," Jones said Monday. "We can always get on the same page."

That's no quite so true for Aikman. It's clear he's of two minds about what the Cowboys have come to represent.

"I'm proud of what we've been able to accomplish. I'm disappointed in a number of things," Aikman said. "But yeah, I'm still very proud to wear the helmet with the star on it."

(c) 1997, The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.).

Visit The Charlotte Observer on the World Wide Web at http://www.charlotte.com/

Distributed by Knight-Ridder/Tribune Information Services.


All content copyright 1996, AP, KRT, The Abilene Reporter-News and Reporter OnLine

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