Week 17 – Dallas @ Washington: Getting with the program

We hear it said all the time about the “culture” at a professional sporting organization.

Jason Witten is among my favourite players at Dallas. Of all time. And he’s among the toughest guys going around in the NFL as far as I’m concerned.

And – my Dallas bias aside – Witten is a class act.

In a season dominated by the Ray Rice shenanigans, Roger Goodell and the NFL’s spin doctors should have been knocking at Witten’s door and begging for a few photo ops with Jason at one of his  Score Foundation events; the Foundation started by Witten  to combat domestic violence, after he watched his Mom/Mum get beaten to a pulp by his biological father.

Somehow, Witten’s phone never rang. But then, from the limited knowledge I have of Witten’s character, it’s likely he would have politely told them about any number of orifices in which their requests could have been inserted if they weren’t serious about ending domestic violence: he was doing his part to end the cycle before people even began to talk about whether the NFL has a domestic violence problem.

Witten’s grandfather arguably made him the man he is today, and, combined with his early childhood (the relationship he shares with his brothers and mother as survivors of domestic abuse), ensured that his attitude to life and football is a large part of how he’s become one of the best tight ends the Cowboys have ever had. And probably among the most admired and respected competitors in the NFL. Ever.

Jason Witten’s a tough S.O.B, and the kind of tough S.O.B that everyone wishes they could be, but never will.

I’ve admired the way his extended family made him take the road less travelled; were it not for the right environment, he could have easily become a jackass, a screw-up and one of the millions of cautionary tales about natural ability wasted, who then blames it on coming from a broken home and now works minimum wage in some one-horse backwater sh*thole with a police record, a trucker hat and a mullet.

He’s not one of those guys and as people close to him will say, it was partly due to the “programs” he was exposed to.

Such a “program” is the reason Rolando McClain has ended up at Dallas.

And it is a “program” that has bought out the best in McClain.

It was a “program” that saw him excel at high school in Alabama, and despite some serious screw-ups along the way, it was (arguably) Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide “program” that helped steer him away from a life of what “could have been,” had it not been for the people around him, the expectations of those around him and the internal determination, the fire inside that kept him wanting to be more than he was. A fire and a program that saw him go All American in 2009, and rack up numerous SEC honours and an Alamaba State Championship ring.

It was the “program” at Oakland that saw him spiral downwards – not so much out of control, but into a world where the Grid of Iron was a cold, hateful place, that began to crush his spirit and his love for a game that, after his faith, was everything to him.

A “program” where near enough appeared to be good enough. A “program” that seemed to believe the things written and said about them. A “program” that, despite the efforts of a few people who eventually sunk under the weight and pressure of trying to create a bonafide culture of excellence, seemed to inculcate a culture of “meh, we suck, waddya gon’ do?”

A “program” that saw Rolando McClain walk away from professional football at age 23; tired of losing. Tired of not being able to find a kindred spirit that craved success, and was prepared to join him, support him in taking ownership of creating a better team, creating better people and establishing a winning culture and program.

Instead, Rod Marinelli – who fought, yet ultimately failed, to change the culture and “programs” at Oakland ends up at Dallas. Rod Marinelli understands Dallas’ “program” and convinces Jerry Jones, Jason Garrett and others that they should be coaxing Rolando McClain out of Tuscaloosa and back onto the grid.

They did.

And if you don’t think Rolando McClain has had a serious impact on this Dallas defense, then I’ve got some quality swampland to sell you.

Okay, so he wasn’t even playing against Washington last week, but the culture of winning, the culture of hard work and the programs developed and utilised at Valley Ranch have seen McClain flourish.

So much so that Dallas go to FedEx and metaphorically beat-up on one of their fiercest rivals, when others might have expected the ‘Boys to put the queue back in the rack and focus on self-preservation in the lead-up to January.

RG Trois was playing for his footballing life. The Washington “program” doesn’t appear to have brought out the best in one of the most obscenely talented Heisman Trophy winners. Will the program at another team bring out his best? Or is he yet another in the long line of college stars for whom the planets fail to align at professional level?

What we know is that Dallas has made the playoffs with their best regular season record since 2007 and the kind of win-loss record that the original triplets used to deliver.

And while all the focus will be on the new triplets, Romo, Murray and Bryant, I’ll be watching the guys like Witten, McClain, Melton, Church and Beasley. It’s program that extends beyond the coattails of three extraordinary players and while the Cowboys season is just as likely to end on Sunday against Detroit as it is against Seattle or Green Bay, the program at Dallas is cause for hope.

And hope is a powerful thing.

December 28,
FedEx Field, Landover, MD (80,897)

Dallas  17 10 0 17   44
Washington  7 3 0 7   17

Passing: Robert Griffin III (WSH), 36 yds, 1 TD, 2 INT’s
Rushing: DeMarco Murray (DAL), 20 car, 100 yds, 1 TD
Receiving: Dez Bryant (DAL), 4 rec, 99 yds, 2 TD
Pigskin Almanac “Pay the Man What He Wants” Award: Dez Bryant (DAL)

About Steve Baker

Steve Baker cashed in his horses for choppers and went tear-assing around 'Nam, looking for the shit. He's been known to chopper in t-bones and beer and turn the L-Z into a beach party. Steve's the defending 'Most Pessimistic Dallas Fan' champion and is in the midst of a life-long campaign to one day buy the Cowboys off Jerry Jones and end the madness. He's also chief button-pusher for the Footy Almanac Podcast, so you can blame him.


  1. John Harms says:

    Steve, Enjoying these Dallas pieces. This one had me looking further into Witten. Interesting.

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