To hear some tell it, the Cowboys have a new No. 1 Enemy on their 2010 schedule. Traditionally, there are six games every year that are of utmost importance to the Cowboys: two each against the New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins.
Yet because of one alleged incident this weekend in Indianapolis, Dallas owner now is less ramped up for next year's divisional showdowns as he is for his team's matchup with the New Orleans Saints.
No, it has nothing to do with the fact that the Saints won the Super Bowl this year, although many would assume that that alone would provide ample motivation. Instead, the Cowboys' supposed new hatred for the Saints stems from an incident at an Indianapolis restaurant over the weekend, where representatives from every NFL team convened to evaluate players for the NFL Draft in April.
As the story goes, New Orleans head coach Sean Payton took a group to the restaurant for a dinner in a private room. When he requested a particular bottle of wine, he was informed that the restaurant had that particular bottle … but only one, and Dallas owner Jerry Jones had called to reserve it for the following night. Payton allegedly lobbied his case, received the vintage and left a note saying something to the effect of, "Who Dat? World Champion New Orleans Saints! Sean Payton."
Oh, those wacky jokesters in the national media. According one version of the event, Jones was left seething, and made some sort of bold proclamation that New Orleans was now at the top of his 2010 list of teams he reallly wants the Cowboys to beat.
Jones might very well have been hacked off about Payton getting the prized bottle, but to suggest that the former Dallas assistant coach's maneuvering at a posh Indianapolis eatery somehow changed Jones' outlook on the season is ridiculous. Be honest: remove the blue-and-silver glasses, and it's pretty funny. A little childish? Yeah, maybe … but so is 90 percent of what goes on in most locker rooms.
Jones is, if nothing else, fiercely competitive. He knows that no matter how much he might dislike another team or city or coach or player or fan base, the six most important games every year are against the Giants, Eagles and Redskins. Win those, and his team has a leg up on the competition for the division championship, and would hold any potential tiebreakers should Dallas finish the season with the same record as another NFC East team.
When Payton left Dallas to become the Saints' head coach, he and Jones parted on good terms, and Jones supported Payton for the job. In fact, it's that friendship and mutual respect for each other that probably gave Payton the guts to pull this little stunt with the wine and the note.
If there was real resentment between the two, Payton wouldn't have left the note. He left the note knowing full well that his team would be playing in Arlington in 2010. It's not like the move will suddenly inspire to tell his team that instead of just sort of wanting to see his team beat the Saints, Payton's clever little move now has Jones really wanting to see his team beat the Saints.
Jones and the Cowboys don't need extra motivation. The Saints are the reigning world champions, and every Dallas player and coach knows New Orleans will be coming to Arlington next fall hoping to exact a measure of revenge against the Cowboys, who ended the Saints' pursuit of a perfect season after New Orleans had won its first 13 games of the 2009 campaign.
Yes, the media will bring it up again as the game approaches next fall, and Jones and Payton will be asked to comment on the non-confrontation. Each will put forth his best jokes about how "it was all in good fun, a prank between friends," and once again, it will make for an amusing story on SportsCenter.
But that's all it is — a story. It's a story that is amusing now, and it will be amusing then. But in the grand scheme of things, it means absolutely nothing.
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