On The Clock? No, On The Mound

IRVING, Tex. - And the Cowboys take the mound. Don't tell anybody this. Because it'd be sort of awkward on Friday afternoon when Hall-of-Famer-to-be Michael Irvin throws out the ceremonial first pitch...

ITEM: Don't tell anybody this. Because it'd be sort of awkward on Friday afternoon when Hall-of-Famer-to-be Michael Irvin throws out the ceremonial first pitch at the Texas Rangers home opener.

But Irvin hates baseball.

"No, no, that's too strong a word, "hate,''' Irvin told me Thursday. "Baseball's never been quite my style. I'm a football player! But it's an honor to be asked to be a part of this. I just hope I don't screw it up.''

From presidents to movie stars, the number of people who have taken the mound for first pitches and thrown the damn thing sideways is legendary. Irvin is too proud and too athletic to toss a wild pitch, right?

"They'll have a big sell-out crowd, and I'm sure not going to embarrass myself in front of all those people,'' Irvin said. "But let the record show that I have a bad shoulder right now. It really hurts. So I'm popping Advil like crazy.''

He'll need that Advil not only to pitch -- but also to tolerate the ensuing nine innings watching a game that is. ... "not quite his style.''

ITEM: The subject of Cowboys locker-room leadership is part of an interesting discussion that's been kicked around on the Dallas Morning News' Cowboys blog. With all due respect to the beat-writer types who are in that locker room every single day. ...

My educated guess is that this team has a major void when it comes to "traditional'' forms of leadership.

I threw this concept at one member of that locker room this week, and he echoed my views in one sharp sentence: "Up until now, our locker room had one leader: Parcells.''

That's not necessarily a bad thing; the idea would be that coach Bill Parcells' lieutenants on the roster would follow his lead. That's the case with linebacker Bradie James, a "Parcells Guy'' who is ready to assume the mantle of leadership. It's the case with Jason Witten, who plays big brother to young teammates. Oddly, though, another leader of the squad -- in the traditional sense because of his personality and tenure -- is Greg Ellis. And he ain't a "Parcells Guy.''

The easiest answer is for Tony Romo to emerge as The Guy. The position of quarterback almost demands it, and Romo's gift of playing Pied Piper with teammates is established even before he's even played a full season as a starter. The more difficult answer, but one that would prove rewarding, would come if the most gifted veterans on each side of the ball became leaders.

That would be Terrell Owens on offense.

That would be Roy Williams on defense.

I'll again offer a theory on T.O.: If somebody would tell him he's in charge -- rather than mock him by referring to him as "Your Highness'' -- he might respond positively. I'm not saying Owens DESERVES that sort of respect; I am saying it's worth a try, and that psychologically speaking, one way to deal with a nonconformist is to let him make some of the rules.

Meanwhile, on Roy: I'm troubled by his quote in a nice piece written by my friend Newy Scruggs, in which Williams says, ""I know a lot of people say I don't cover... I don't do this, I don't do that. They don't understand the scheme of our defense. When it looks like I'm getting 'burned,' that's not my job to take that player."

Hmmm. While Roy is undoubtedly correct regarding the layman's view of an NFL defense, he is unwise to pull the "it's-not-my-job'' argument.

In the last month of the season last year, Dallas gave up 31 points per game. Roy was at least partly responsible for that, no?

If Roy Williams is to become a leader in the traditional sense, he'll have to understand that it IS his job. That it IS his responsibility.

ITEM: There's a certain twisted irony to the way the Joe Theismann-sacked-by-ESPN story came about. So Parcells is at the Detroit Tigers spring training, and he's visiting with a Tigers pitcher, and with that Tigers pitcher InfalliBill blabs about how Theismann is going to be dumped as the network's lead NFL analyst and how they really want Parcells to do it? And then innocently enough, the story comes out because the Detroit paper happened to ask the pitcher what he small-talked about with the Great Parcells?

It's ironic because that's exactly the sort of info Parcells would've never handed to his Cowboys audience, but while he's jock-sniffing in a dugout he hands it to a baseball player?

It's twisted because Parcells -- who preaches loyalty but obviously doesn't practice it -- wasn't at ESPN for more than a couple of weeks before he backstabbed a co-worker.

What a prize, this guy.

FISHELLANEOUS ITEMS: In the olden days, the Cowboys used to bring to Valley Ranch draft prospects whom they DID NOT like, the purpose being to throw other teams of the scent. I'm told that is not the case with this year's invitees. ... Irvin was at Valley Ranch this morning to hang with Jerry Jones. "Some business stuff,'' Irvin said, and seriously, do these guys never rest? ... I don't get the rumored interest of the Cowboys in Chargers running back Michael Turner. With a nod to Turner's speed, what exactly can he do that an unleashed Julius Jones cannot? ... I'm amused a the tales being told of the Cowboys' interest in "good-character guys.'' That really is nothing new. Nor, however, is the attraction to shady characters who run 4.4 40's. ... Welcome home, Babe Laufenberg!

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