Hard Knocks: Covering America's Team

"I've never felt that I was the owner of the Dallas Cowboys," Jerry Jones told his coaching staff at a kick-off barbeque in Dave Campo's back yard. "You can't own Notre Dame. You can't own the Dallas Cowboys." Jerry Jones stated what fans, players, and coaches have always known to be true: that the Dallas Cowboys are bigger than one man.

They are an organization shared by thousands of people across the nation. A franchise justifiably known as America's Team.

HBO opened the doors to an all access look at the Dallas Cowboys starting on Wednesday night with its first installment of "Hard Knocks." Football returned in a big way for the hungry fans of the Cowboys. Opening in the war room on draft day of 2002 and winding its way through the last day's practice in pads, America will be treated to the joys and sorrows of football as a paying job. And witness this professional team begin the long journey to the season opener against the Houston Texans.

Jerry Jones sat center stage surrounded by phones and faxes as the Cowboys were coming up on their first selection in the draft. Jones spoke with the GM of the Kansas City Chiefs as the clock ticked.

"Carl, I think we're locked into this thing." Jones said. The sixth pick was just around the corner and he worked the phones deciding if he would risk trading out of the pick or not. "Are you going to take Roy Williams?" Jerry asked. After a reply from KC, he immediately came back with, "Then let's do this thing."

Seldom is the operation of a professional football team revealed in living rooms across the nation. Yet there could be no question who was in charge and making the decisions that would improve the 2002 Dallas Cowboys. Jones spearheaded the drive to improve the team in the off-season.

The war room echoed from the voices of the coaching staff cheering as Roy Williams name was called on ESPN. Mike Zimmer told Williams on the phone, "you know your butt is mine now." It was evident this was the player the team coveted.

"I look at Mr. Jones as a father figure," Roy told HBO. "He's the man that pays our bills." Williams was obviously elated to be coming to Dallas. Jones had the plane on the ground before the call was made to the newest member of the defensive backfield and partner of Darren Woodson.

Five different locations have been home to the Dallas Cowboys training camps in the tenure of Jerry Jones. This camp will be a different experience for the players as the team has taken over a high-rise hotel on the River Walk in San Antonio. And moved the practices indoors for the most part.

Gone are the dormitories of Thousand Oaks. Gone are the 100 degree-days that bake players and test their wills to make it another day much less the team. The Alamo Dome has been converted into a training facility and the franchise will practice in a cool 72-degree air-conditioned environment. As Jerry will admit, this is a far reach from the training days of Paul "Bear" Bryant.

Twenty thousand fans packed the Alamo Dome as the team was introduced opening night. Fans cheered each player, drowning out the music being piped in. But no one introduced received a welcome like Emmitt Smith. As his introductions were being made he turned to players around him and said, "Texas loves them some Cowboys."

The series followed several players through the first days of camp. Chad Hutchinson and Richmond Flowers share both a room and a love for music. Hutchinson plays at the guitar. Flowers shows why football is a better bet than singing if he wishes to eat in the future. Neither need clean a space for a Grammy anytime soon.

Flashes of practice gave a glimpse at the rigors of making the football team. Dave Campo addressed the team and outlined the fine system. A hard reminder that could dock a player up to 4700 dollars for missing curfew. The less glamorous aspects to football where men are penalized for the slightest infraction.

But this installment didn't show only players vying for the few open slots on the team. Lisa Lyons was selected as one of the 2002 Cowboys Cheerleaders. A beautiful woman that works as a nurse, she made the cut on a squad that is just as demanding as the game on the field.

In one vignette she was told by the choreographer that she needed to lose weight. But on introduction night she took the stage with the starting line-up of America's Sweethearts and high kicked to the cheers of the San Antonio crowd.

There is no doubt from this bird's eye view that football is not a game but a profession. Mike McCoy, the equipment manager is also known as "The Turk." A nickname common among all pro teams, The Turk is the man that informs players to bring their playbook to a meeting with the GM.

Sam Clemons received the knock by McCoy and soon ushered the free agent quarterback into the office of Jerry Jones. At no time is this open book shy about showing the underbelly of professional sports as America witnessed Clemons being cut.

The team currently is carrying ninety-one players during this camp. Thirty-nine other men will get a call by The Turk before the season begins.

The circus atmosphere of this training camp is directed by the foremost carnie in the NFL. Jones has put together a masterfully ingenious backdrop for HBO to film, as the team trains. And the carnival, meant to entertain the audience as the practice is held, was at times a distraction to the coaching staff. Jones made sure he got the most bang for his buck on both ends as he lowered the volume to facilitate the coaches.

This series promises to entertain and educate those that watch this sport from afar. The harsh reality of the business side of football will be drummed home as dreams of stardom are shattered. But in the end a team will emerge that will be the best 52 players on this roster.

Then the true hard knocks begin September 8th when the game is for keeps.

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