Not long ago, Parcells wrapped an arm around the new Cowboy and whispered in his ear.
"I'll die,'' whispered coach to player, "before I let you fail.''
This is high drama, soap-operatic stuff, and it might be a rare glimpse into the way the boss creates "Parcells Guys.'' This is also the sort of motivational comment you would figure the future Hall-of-Fame coach would save for. … whom? Which newcomer would be critical enough to Dallas' success to receive "I will die for you'' devotion from the hard-ass coach?
Jason Ferguson, maybe? Marco Rivera? First-round rookies Demarcus Ware or Marcus Spears? Quarterback Drew Bledsoe?
Nope. Try Rob Petitti.
Rob Petitti. And soon after you know him, you're going to like him.
No, "Rob Petitti'' is not the character Dick Van Dyke played on TV. No, "Rob Petitti'' not a dainty French appetizer. He's a potential Parcells pet, a sixth-round pick out of Pitt whose thirst for knowledge and engaging personality are almost as large as his silo-like frame.
"It didn't take me long here to realize things I had to work on,'' says Petitti. "First came the rookie camp, and there were a lot of guys I was going against that had this attribute or that attribute. Then the veterans came in. Guys like Greg Ellis really schooled me. They didn't just have speed, or just strength – they had both. They had the technique to get an edge on me if I made the smallest mistake. If I leaned, I got beat. It was a great lesson for me.''
Petitti is the rare 6-5, 345-pounder in that he's neither fat nor a body-builder type. He is simply naturally thick from head to toe, a nice attribute when it's combined with a willingness to tinker here and there, a willingness to fix some things that, when he dominated at Pitt (the three-year starter was named second-team All-America last year) certainly didn't need to be fixed.
"In college, I could get away with mistakes just by being stronger and bigger than the next guy,'' Petitti says. "I've got a lot of work to do.''
Weight and conditioning are among those areas of focus now. The Cowboys' website reports that Petitti has lost 30 pounds, which is on the way to exactly what the club instructed him to do in preparation for training camp.
Is that what Dallas Cowboys.com means when it says he brings "baggage'' to the club? When it writes that his "work ethic was criticized because of his undisciplined attitude toward conditioning.''
Big Rob provides a genuinely polite answer to the team website, conceding that he was in some sort of denial about his weight then. But with The Ranch Report, he's willing to ADD some weight – in the form of a chip on his shoulder.
"My whole life you hear things like that, usually from some people who don't know what they're talking about,'' Petitti says, the figurative gloves coming off. "In Pittsburgh, the newspaper was always on us, on the offensive line. And I was usually the one who had to deal with the questions. You try not to listen to it, good or bad, and just stay in the middle. But believe me, you can also use the criticism for motivation. And I do.''
Where does Petitti fit? He's in that massive pile of massive bodies working at right tackle, maybe even at the bottom of that massive pile. (And conventional discussions there usually don't yet include Larry Allen, who could conceivably make the move over from left guard.) So Petitti is likely not polished enough to truly compete for snaps any time soon.
"I think it's important for me to be able to play both tackles,'' Petitti says. "I've always been at left tackle. Left can be harder because you go against more speed, but run blocking is the same for me on both sides. I've played both since I've been down here. … The right side is a matter of balance on pass protection, not as comfortable, weight on the opposite foot. I'm still having to think about which leg has more pressure on it. But it'll come.''
Besides, right now he can't be a peer to the veterans – he's too busy laboring as their servant.
"Nothing too serious,'' Petitti says of his rookie chores. "I've had to carry some helmets; I suppose when we get to camp I'll be carrying helmets and shoulder pads – and I'm responsible for the O-line's Gatorade. I have to stock up the Gatorade and purchase some Gatorade. You have to make sure the fridge is full in the O-line room, and make sure everybody's happy.''
Reviewing the offensive linemen who have historically become "Parcells Guys,'' Petitti fits the mold. Huge. Smart. A willingness to be versatile (he was a left tackle all through college). A team guy. And oh-by-the-way: Guess where Jersey-guy Parcells' pet is from?
Yeah, Rob Petitti is from New Jersey.
"Coming from Jersey, I do take pride in that," Petitti says. "You don't see that many guys coming out of the state. And we probably do have a step in the right direction with each other because Coach Parcells is from Jersey. He has talked to me about the restaurants and bars in Jersey and in Dallas. He told me not to do anything wrong, because he said, ‘Anywhere you are, I'll know people. I know all the bartenders.'"
Adds Petitti: "He apparently believes in me. He thinks I have a lot of talent, and he saw those first few days that I'm willing to do anything it takes to play. … … At first it was a little nerve-wracking, unbelievable, because he's one of the best to ever coach. He told me he wouldn't let me fail, and that is reassuring."
So we like him. And just in case we don't trust our own judgment, we've got resonating through our minds that interesting sight of Bill Parcells hugging a rookie, and that rare sound of Bill Parcells speaking tenderly to him.
Why are you going to like Rob Petitti? Because someday, Bill Parcells won't just whisper about it. Bill Parcells is going to ORDER you to like him, loud and clear, that's why.
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.
New Lineman Could be Parcells' Pet
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