"Finish What You Start"

Remember the first five games of '04? The Cowboys come out of the tunnel fired up, whooping and hollering, full of Parcells-fueled confidence, and...

This Week's Top Three Jobs That Seem Like A Waste Of Time:

JOB 1: Lindsay Lohan's dietician.

JOB 2: That burly bodyguard reduced to being Michael Jackson's umbrella carrier.

JOB 3: Those of us in charge of gauging the offseason "mood'' and "atmosphere'' of the Cowboys.

OK, wait a minute. We want a mulligan on JOB 3. Offseason mood and atmosphere DOES matter, we think, because it can translate directly to in-season mood and atmosphere. And armed with that mindset, we say:

"Finish what you start.''

It's the sort of platitude that ought to be on one of those Bill Parcells-ordered placards that take up wall space around the Cowboys' Valley Ranch locker room.

"Finish what you start.''

In a not-too-abstract sense, the Dallas Cowboys' 2005 season begins now. Conditioning work and contract work. Lifting the weights and learning the playbook. There are no football games in June, but it remains football season.

And right now, Valley Ranch is Happy Valley.

There are no bitter financial disputes. (Author's note: Keep an eye on how players and agents are learning from the Terrell Owens debacle. Increasingly, the fellas lean toward keeping contract wishes private, thus avoiding being tried in the court of public opinion). There are no players' old jerseys being thrown in the face of the coach from New Jersey. There are, to the best of our knowledge, no starting quarterbacks about to be revealed as drug-related grist for the waiver-wire mill.

Good gosh, the often-malevolent Charles Haley was at Valley Ranch the other day, and even he was in an almost-human mood. (At least he didn't mock anyone's sexuality, threaten to beat up a reporter or urinate on a teammate's property. Man, do I ever miss the good ol' days!)

"Finish what you start.''

I'm not trying to be a buzzkill here, but it's going to be awhile before this feel-good start is allowed to mushroom into feel-good finishes. Still, maybe a solid and relatively peaceful offseason allows Dallas to be the finisher it was not last season. And maybe the mild bugs of last June and July were the genesis of the full-blown epidemic that spread throughout the Cowboys in 2004.

"Finish what you start.''

Did last offseason – a subpar "start,'' we can now agree – lead to a series of subpar finishes?

Remember the first five games of '04? The Cowboys come out of the tunnel fired up, whooping and hollering, full of Parcells-fueled confidence, and. …

Get up 3-0 against Minnesota, scoring on the first possession, but losing in a blowout.

Get up 7-0 against Cleveland, scoring on the first possession, but then almost collapsing before hanging on for a tight win.

Get up 7-0 against Washington, scoring on the second possession, and winning.

Get up 10-3 with two minutes left in the half, but losing in a blowout.

Get up 7-0 against Pittsburgh, scoring on the first possession, and holding a 20-10 lead in the final quarter, before losing.

Notice a pattern here? Can I stop reviewing a major theme of the 2004 Cowboys season now?

Following that Pittsburgh loss, the Dallas Morning News wrote, "there is no time to moan and groan about blowing a fourth-quarter lead for the first time under Parcells.''

Now that's what I call a positive spin: As a Dallas coach, Bill Parcells had never lost a fourth-quarter lead.

On the other hand, he and the Cowboys were, by that early point in 2004, quite gifted in the rare art of consistently losing FIRST-QUARTER LEADS!

I found it so troubling last season when Parcells continually moaned about how he couldn't put his finger on what the problem was. He said it five games into the season – but it was also after seven months of working with that group. Seven months, and we didn't know what the problem was?

That's what I mean when I say that this, RIGHT NOW, is football season. This is part of the seven-month period that will lead up to 2005's Week 5, part of the period when Parcells MUST start putting a finger on what makes this club tick, part of the period when the feel-good atmosphere of early summer at Valley Ranch must be funneled into feel-goodness in September, October, November, December.

Lindsay Lohan's kitchen was open but is now closed. Michael Jackson's bedroom was closed but is now open. But football season? It's infinite.

"Finish what you start.''

Mike Fisher is the editor of www.DallasBasketball.com and hosts a daily sports-talk show, "Fish For Lunch,'' noon-to-3 on 990 Texas Talk Radio (990am in North Texas, and www.990texastalkradio.com on the web.) Contact him at Fish@DallasBasketball.com.

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