The Cowboys' Locker Room Puzzle

Two good pieces of journalism are detailing the Wade Phillips Locker-Room Shuffle. We'll supplement those with a quick Cowboys history lesson and, at the risk of sounding preachy, a quick sociological lesson. … thus creating four pieces of a complex puzzle.

Puzzle Piece 1: Nice work by Jen Engel in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, getting standout cornerback Terence Newman to suggest that the Cowboys remain too "divided.''

"Guys aren't taking the initiative to go out and get to know everybody on the team,'' Newman said. "That is what I mean by ‘divided.' Some of the guys on the team don't know anything about some of the other guys on the team. They didn't even communicate with each other, just because they are on different sides of the ball or what have you.''

Puzzle Piece 2: In part inspired by Newman's views – and in keeping with his history as the "Family Guy,'' new coach Phillips has restructured the Cowboys' Valley Ranch locker room. All the DBs in one corner, all the D-linemen in another, all the O-linemen along the south strip, all the QBs huddled together? Not any more.

Nice work here by Mickey Spagnola of, who was in the weirdly quandrangled Dallas locker room back in the Tom Landry days, witnessed Jimmy Johnson's opening-up of the room in the way I'm most familiar with, and now offers a who's-neighbors-with-whom Mapsco of Wade's World.

Logically, Phillips' get-to-know-your-co-workers re-design – largely implemented randomly by the Cowboys equipment staff (though almost certainly with a nod to providing extra elbow room to popular interviewees such as Romo and Owens) – will have a positive effect. Instead of the running backs being responsible and respectful only to one another, a running back will be alongside a linebacker and a kicker will be alongside a safety. Responsibility and respect will grow.

Unless, I suppose, the linebacker or the kicker is a complete jackass.

Puzzle Piece 3: Gather ‘round, youngsters, and allow me to spin a tale about the olden times, when dinosaurs like Troy Aikman roamed the blue-starred carpet at Valley Ranch.

It is true that Dallas' championship teams of the ‘90's were a relatively tight bunch. Guys at the top of the food chain, like Michael Irvin, made it so. Heck, guys at the bottom of the food chain – backup fullback Tommie Agee, for instance – made it so, too.

But the chemistry Newman and Phillips seek simply isn't always practical.

As a sort of fun game one day in, I think, 1993, I asked Aikman how many of the guys on his own defense he could identify when they were out of uniform. Now remember, this was the quarterback seen by most observers as Aikman The Team Leader, and Aikman The Politically Correct Spokesman. And these guys had already won a Super Bowl together!

It was a riot. He knew Matt Vanderbeek. The translucent skin and the long red hair gave it away. He knew Charles Haley, of course. (Mickey suggests Haley was an Irvin-like equal-opportunity locker-room leader in those days. Boy, do I remember it differently, but whatever.) Aikman knew the three starting linebackers. He knew Bates and Woodson and Kevin Smith.

And that was about it. He literally (I checked) didn't know Elvis Patterson from Joe Fishback. (Of course, neither did I).

Was Aikman a self-centered jerk? Of course not. He has responsibilities. He had prioritized them. And while it might've been helpful when negotiating the company picnic, it was way down the list for him to be chummy with, say, Clayton Holmes.

The point is, Newman's goal is laudable. But maybe not completely necessary.

Puzzle Piece 4: I've written about this phenomenon many times, because it fascinates me so. Every day – as best evidenced in a team lunchroom at training camp -- there is a sociological experiment that occurs. Almost invariably, guys gravitation to other guys who are like them.

It is often black and white. But it's much more than that. Linebackers eat together. Fat guys gravitate toward one another. The kicker and punter are inseparable. The coaches almost never mingle with the players. Florida guys stick together. Fellas who love golf sit near each other.

It's not just a football team; it's a mini-society. And it's as old as mankind itself. I applaud Terence Newman and Wade Phillips for trying to address it. And for trying to change it. … if even just a little bit.

CowboysHQ Top Stories