Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Dallas Cowboys embrace their mystique, but negative perceptions are unfair say four players from Oregon

By Aaron Fentress
The Oregonian

When Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman Pat McQuistan returns home from a day of practice, he often watches television to catch up on the day's sports news.

He said frequently there will be a negative piece on the Cowboys that doesn't always ring true.
"Sometimes you hear something and you were not aware of it all day long," the four-year veteran out of Lebanon High School said.

And often, according to four Cowboys players with ties to Oregon, the stories are false or exaggerated. But each said that comes with the territory of playing for Dallas (4-2), which plays host to the Seattle Seahawks (2-4) on Sunday.

McQuistan and the others from Oregon said that from the media scrutiny and a rabid fan base to the team's new $1.3 billion stadium, playing for the Cowboys is unlike anything they've ever experienced.

Winner of five Super Bowls, the Cowboys were dubbed "America's Team" during a 1978 highlight video produced by NFL Films, and the moniker stuck. The team has received attention comparable to that given to the New York Yankees.

That intense media scrutiny helped shape the image of the franchise for former Oregon defensive end Igor Olshansky during his five years with San Diego, which made him a second-round pick in 2004.

Examples are plenty: The frequent and sometimes controversial sound bites from owner/general manager Jerry Jones. Quarterback Tony Romo's affair with singer Jessica Simpson. The trials and tribulations of since-departed wide receiver Terrell Owens.

Before that, there were the legal issues of former wide receiver Michael Irvin in the 1990s, involving drugs, women and a place called "The White House" where players reportedly engaged in all sorts of illicit activities.

In other words, the Cowboys resembled a three-ringed circus filled with egomaniacs.

Olshansky said he discovered otherwise.

"When you come down here, you realize the news reports are far from the truth," he said. "This is a good team, a young team, and a team that works hard everyday. It's been a pleasant surprise."

Defensive tackle Junior Siavii, who spent two seasons with Kansas City after he was selected one pick ahead of former Oregon teammate Olshansky, said the Cowboys create a family atmosphere. But he said the outside scrutiny can be harsh, especially with expectations always high for a team that has won one playoff game since 1996.

"Whether we win or lose it's still a problem," he said. "If we win, it's still not good enough because people say we got lucky."

One indisputable aspect of the Cowboys is the team's nationwide popularity.

Rookie linebacker Victor Butler, a fourth-round pick out of Oregon State, said he was taken aback by seeing thousands of fans at training camp practices held in San Antonio.

And road games are no different.

"It's crazy," Butler said. "You go to the hotel and there's 300 Dallas Cowboys fans -- in Tampa Bay!"

Siavii said it seemed as if there were more Dallas fans than Kansas City fans during their game Oct. 11.

Said McQuistan, whose twin brother, Paul McQuistan, plays offensive line for Oakland: "There's always a lot of people there cheering and wanting autographs. It's really a great feeling. When other veterans come in there, they say it's not like that with every club."

Still, Olshansky said, the attention can get overwhelming.

"In training camp it's pretty hard," he said, "when every day at practice there's 10,000 fans and all screaming your name and wanting to get your attention to get autographs, and you're tired."

No team has as many fans currently cheering for them in person on game day than Dallas, which opened an 111,000-capacity domed stadium that is the largest of its kind in the world.

"It's awesome," McQuistan said. "The first time I saw it was during a concert, and it's amazing. I was thinking, 'You got to be kidding me. We get to play football here.'"

Cowboys Stadium includes amenities out of the norm. The centerpiece is the largest high definition video screen in the world, which hangs above the field and measures 11,520 square feet (160 feet across and 72 feet high).

"Sometimes the reason we all look up there is because you can see the game better than watching from the sideline," Butler said.

While members of the world famous Dallas Cowboys' cheerleaders can be seen on the field, some also can be found dancing on stages near the concourse level. Players enter the stadium through a walkway that runs through a club suite area where fans can take photos and high-five players and pat them on their backs.

"It's definitely an experience like no other stadium," Olshansky said.

Each player said the circuslike atmosphere is not a distraction.

"For me, it's still football," Olshansky said. "I don't let anything get to me. But it's fun."

In many ways, the stadium could be viewed as a fitting jewel in the Cowboys' kingdom of excess.

"It's kind of like you dress good, you play good," Siavii said. "It's kind of like the stadium is so amazing you want to pay amazing in it. That's how I feel like when I'm out there. I want to put on a show."

On the field and off, the Cowboys have accomplished just that.