Not Flashy Bledsoe Still Has It

OXNARD, Calif. -- In Dallas, he is in charge of shopping for the groceries. Football being football, item No. 1 on most anybody's grocery list? Quarterback. But historically, Item No. 1 on Bill Parcells' list? A quarterback who's not too "flashy,'' not to "celebrity-y,'' not too "superstar-y.''

Too bad. Because in terms of talent accumulation, are the Cowboys defeated before they begin because their coach believes Job One is to find a QB who is not TOO good?

As it applies to last year, this is not a mindless insistance that backup Drew Henson was the 2004 answer. Parcells liked to dismiss those who thought Vinny "Lifetime QB Rating of 74'' Testaverde the wrong guy by arguing that "we don't understand'' how un-ready the other QBs on the roster were. I remember the ESPN Sunday Night crew for a Cowboys-Giants game last year mouthing Parcells' words, saying that "fans in Dallas are in love with the idea of backup quarterbacks.''

Wrong. We didn't love Henson; fans barely know him. (I can prove it; he and I hang out at the same Mexican eatery in Dallas and never -- NEVER -- have I seen Drew so much as bugged for an autograph by his "loving fans.'') No, the emotion we felt wasn't love -- it was hate, hate for Parcells' blue-collar philosophy.

As it applies to this year, we are hopeful.

Hopeful that Bill is bending, because quite obviously, Drew Bledsoe is a marquee name. Maybe or maybe not a marquee QB, but indisputably a marquee name.

Previously, Parcells -- maybe experiencing a flashback to his early-'60's days at Air Force, where he mentored obedient American boys who removed their identical blue daily uniforms only to change into another set of identical blue jock uniforms -- failed to understand that the nature of the position today almost demands celebrity. (And maybe always has, though we defer to Bill here inasmuch as we weren't at Air Force in the early '60's.)

Parcells has long seemed to believe that it's "stars'' vs. "worker bees.'' Here in Oxnard, he's talked of "bus drivers'' and "short leashes.''

But why can't the quarterback be a star who IS ALSO a worker bee?

We always wished InfalliBill would allow himself a bit of wiggle room here, wiggle room that would permit his QB to be both "blue-collar'' and "blue-chip.'' But instead, his stubborn insistence on a faceless hand-offer who is not eye-catching -- his insistence that his QB, playing the single most high-profile position in all of professional sports, exist as nothing more than a cog, like an offensive guard without the belly -- placed the Cowboys decades behind the NFL curve.

Troy Aikman wasn't "superstar-y''? Roger Staubach wasn't "flashy''? Don Meredith wasn't a celebrity?

The goal is the playoffs, right? Even now, at the start of Cowboys training camp, it is the point of even being here. So let's examine whether Dallas is really more likely to make The Tournament with a construction worker, or a plumber, or a trucker, behind center:

Of the 12 QBs in last year's playoffs, three were were second-round picks: Drew Brees, Jake Plummer and Brett Favre. And three more were former sixth-round selections (in the NFL, the definition of blue-collar): Marc Bulger, Matt Hasselbeck and Tom Brady.

However, the other six -- Donovan McNabb, Daunte Culpepper, Michael Vick, Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning and Chad Pennington -- were first-round guys.

Six rounds produced six of 'em. ONE round produced the other six. I like the odds of guys in ONE round, don't you?

But first-round guys, I'd argue, are very similar to the other six in at least one sense: They, all of them, have always been superstars. They have always been glamour boys. They have always been celebrities.

I'm willing to bet that Jake Plummer was his high-school homecoming king. I'm willing to bet that Drew Brees didn't just become the BMOC when recruited to Purdue, but was instead kinda born that way. I'm willing to bet that Tom Brady was a ladykiller when he was 8. Matt Hasselbeck, non-superstar? Sure, except that his Dad was an NFL player, and little Matt got to be the ballboy at Dad's pro camp, a pro camp that happened to be run by a coach named Bill Parcells. Nah, nobody in the neighborhood saw little Matt as anything special, did they?

Big picture: Can you get to the NFL playoffs without a great, stud QB? Of course. But why would you PREFER to? Logically, you vastly increase your playoff odds by employing a great one. Each of the top-five rated passers in the NFL last year were in the playoffs. Nine of the top 11 were in the playoffs. There are more Rich Gannons in the world than there are John Elways, so naturally, a Gannon every once in a while gets to a Super Bowl. But I'll give you a dozen Gannons for one Elway and take my chances, thank you.

Cowboys picture: You cannot take the sex appeal out of the QB position. You just can't -- except under one condition: Having failed to do the impossible and force your QB to fold up and fit in and blend into the crowd so he won't be a celeb, having failed in commanding the public to simply quit making the QB a story, you employ a QB so medicore that he cannot possibly stand out. And, if you are the 2004 Cowboys, you employ one of a grandfatherly age so he's less likely to be sexy.

We have seen Parcells oversee a Bledsoe who was a thrilling and productive deep thrower. This year, we understand that the foundation of the Dallas offense is ball-control, not high-risk -- but that doesn't keep me from hoping Parcells finds a way to harness both.

As fans, we've always wanted the QB to be Joe Namath.

As a coach, Parcells has usually wanted the QB to be Joe Average.

Let's hope we -- and an above-the-marquee QB named Drew Bledsoe, once upon a time the very first player taken in a draft and now the most gifted QB Dallas has employed in half-a-decade -- cause coach Parcells to change his mind, to hand the bus driver the keys, to allow the leash to be scissored.

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