After an offseason of dealing with trade rumors, Spears suffered a knee injury two weeks into training camp, giving his prospective replacement, Jason Hatcher, a four week audition to take his job.
It's not so much that Spears couldn't beat out Hatcher. It's just that the Cowboys have seemingly been setting the stage to promote Hatcher.
It started in March when Spears was tendered a $1.226 million contract while his backup Hatcher got $1.8 million accompanied by talk from owner Jerry Jones that Hatcher deserved an expanded role.
So the injury occurred at the worst possible time. Spencer was in a battle for his job and now had no way of competing.
"As a player being in my situation, honestly, that is something you think about," Spears said. "But as you see things develop and the owner reassuring you that you are important to what they are trying to do, then that gives you a sense that you are going to be around for one more year."
Spears is still around and back in the starting lineup for the season opener against the Redskins because Hatcher is not ready for the starting job. He is a good pass rusher, but he is not as strong in the run game as Spears and that showed in the preseason. The coaches noticed and so did the players.
"I think it felt good for my defensive line mates telling me that more than anybody else," Spears said. "They recognize we are a better defensive line with all of us being out there and a better football team. As far as anybody else, that's for them to determine. I have grown accustomed to not buying in when they talk good about you and not buying in when they talk bad about you."
It all starts now for the Cowboys and their quest for the ultimate prize -- not just going to the Super Bowl but winning the Super Bowl in their home stadium.
"Our fans deserve that," team owner Jerry Jones said. "But it's a goal, it's an inspiration and it's one that would be a dream."
Jones' dream has undoubtedly put pressure on his team and coach as the Cowboys open the regular season at the Redskins on Sunday.
Everything will be judged on whether they are playing Super Bowl caliber football.
It will be that way from the outset.
So one year after getting the so-called gorilla off his back for winning his first playoff game as a coach, Wade Phillips is now carrying King Kong.
Phillips said it's just part of the job.
But a very large primate still lurks.
"It's a gorilla on your back if you're a head coach in the NFL," Phillips said. "That's the way it is. There's not a comfort level for any coach, I don't think. Maybe the guy who won the Super Bowl last year. ... But people forget. Everybody forgets. It's a year-to-year job."
Phillips is sure the questions will return as soon as the Cowboys lose a game, but he is not going to worry about any of that.
"That will happen again this year," Phillips said. "If we lose one, that will come up."
Phillips can handle the pressure because he says he has improved as a coach over the years and is a much better coach than he was when he took the Cowboys' job in 2007.
Phillips said that showed in the staff changes he made last season and how he managed the team down the stretch and into the playoffs. He said he is ready to take the next step.
"That's what we're trying to do with this football team," Phillips said. "We have a lot of starters back and we had success, but it doesn't guarantee anything.
"It's a new team every year. How they meld together, how they play together, how they execute together and the schedule has a lot to do with it."
And for those concerned about the Cowboys' struggles in the preseason, Phillips said this is a new season and the team has already amped up their emotions.
The flip has been switched and there is no more holding back.
SERIES HISTORY: 99th regular-season meeting. Cowboys lead series, 59-37-2. The Cowboys have won the last three games and four of the last six. Dallas won the last meeting at Washington, 17-0, Dec. 27, 2009.
'Boys ready for championship run
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