Less Than Zero

Zero: The absence of value. There is a long line of civilizations that pondered on the most significant and unique of numbers. While all other numbers are a derivative of one, thus making them just another in a line, zero is a loner amongst the integers that line up from here to eternity. Somehow the Cowboys figured a way to top this most solitary of all numbers in their latest game.

The baseball experiment in which two not so big leaguers are battling it out to be the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys entered its second season Saturday night in Tempe, Arizona. Quincy Carter, formerly of the Chicago Cubs farm system faced the St. Louis Cardinal's pitching prospect Chad Hutchinson. If this truly had been a baseball game the fans were treated to not one but two no hitters. Because neither in this pair of stellar recruits could muster a single point.

Taking the mound with the first squad was Chad Hutchinson. A veteran of many inauspicious performances last year, faced an Arizona Cardinals starting defense, which tested him. And just like his days with the boys of summer, the Cardinals again offered him more than he could handle.

Playing an eight-man front that both of the two stalwart pretenders will face all year, the Cardinals harassed young Chadwick, causing him to fling the ball to places even receivers dare not go. After two drops during the first series, Chad and Antonio Bryant were at loggerheads as to where the point-of-attack should be. Chad's pass landed in a square acre of soil barren of any professional footballer. And his night didn't get much better.

On a safety blitz, Hutchinson had enough time to execute a three-step drop then retreat to the line of scrimmage one pace before the ball was slapped from his grip. Kenny King recovered on the Dallas 32-yard line that led to the second Arizona field goal of the night. If a new coaching staff and a season under his belt was to solve the fumble-itis of young Chad, it didn't seem to do so this night.

But Quincy Carter was not much better in an evening as talent barren as Puccini's La Boheme performed by the Pigsknuckle, Kentucky tone-deaf Opera Troop. It wasn't until the fourth series of Quincy's two quarters of play before he could lead the team to a first down through the air.

Several errant passes, or throws far short of the first down markers had Quincy walking off the field shaking his head until hitting Ken-yon Rambo on a 13-yard pass in the third quarter.

The hallmark of Quincy's night was a pass play on a nice play-action that gave him plenty of time to survey the field and find a target. But when he pump-faked, the ball fell from his hand and started a fast break toward the Cardinal goal line. Quincy saved the turnover but lost fifteen yards in the process.

This would have been acceptable if the Cowboys had not stolen the ball on a fumble recovery by Roy Williams on the Arizona 30 yard line. In four of the worst plays seen by Dallas Cowboy fans since Steve Pelluer, Quincy marched the Cowboys backwards. Filip Filipovich's 27-yard punt ended the dreadful series that got within ten-yards of the original line of scrimmage, mostly by luck.

Three more pre-season games are the only thing between a terrible Dallas club and the opening day date with the Atlanta Falcons on September 7th. "Right now, I would say the biggest thing is I feel like I'm running around with little time," said Parcells recently. You can almost hear the Jeopardy music in the background, as the Falcon game looms ever closer on the horizon.

Yet picking a starter is not the equivalent of placing his footprints in the goop in front of Groman's Chinese theater. Parcells doesn't state such, but his words suggest whatever he decides is not cast in cement.

"Whatever you do could be wrong here, but I'm at the time where I'm going to have to act here pretty quickly." Surely he is tipping his hand that whatever choice he makes is a choice for the moment and not final. One terrible series or game and we could see the relief pitcher take over exactly like we did last season after the Arizona game. The irony drips like a leaky faucet.

Parcells is fond of saying that the first season you buy the groceries and the second season you prepare them. So this year is about evaluation and setting in place as solid a foundation as he can. Not something the fans wish to hear after three years of rebuilding this house on sand.

But if his simile is extrapolated to its logical end, they can expect the meal to be served the third year and eaten the fourth. If that fourth season the fans are eating from the Superbowl buffet, all of the growing pains under Billy Idol will be forgotten.

Yet one has to wonder if the groceries have truly been delivered after seeing another dismal performance from Chad and Quincy. Parcells surely has a finite date when his patience will wear thin and he will go looking for a snack in the free agent market. This season is all these two have to make their mark before the next course is served.

Eons ago a man ran forefinger and thumb over a stubbled chin and contemplated the absence of value. He affixed the digit zero to represent that mathematical statement.

Little did he know a few centuries later a sports franchise would rewrite the history books and include the numbers 9 and 17 to depict absolutely nothing. If nothing else, the Cowboys did something unique.

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