7-24-07 -- Even in his wildest imagination, Wade Phillips probably never thought coaching the Dallas Cowboys would be like this.
The Cowboys kicked off the Phillips Era and their return to San Antonio on Tuesday by turning the normally mundane ceremonial start of training camp into an afternoon and evening crammed with all the glitz of a Hollywood premiere.
The day started with a "state of the team" news conference that was more infomercial than informational.
Held in a large, air-conditioned tent featuring booths for sponsors ranging from cleaning chemicals to Army recruiters to something called the American Tailgaters Association, the guests of honor showed up a half-hour late. When they took their places, a representative from a truck maker was sitting right next to team owner Jerry Jones. The corporate guy gave the first long speech, too.
An early technical glitch resulted in two microphones in front of Jones and none in front of Phillips. The new coach wasn't supposed to be speaking yet anyway, so he hardly noticed. Still, the symbolism was priceless.
After Jones bragged about season ticket sales and mentioned single-game tickets going on sale Wednesday, he began pitching all the reasons to expect big things from the team this season, such as 20 of 22 starters being back from a team that went 10-6 and made the playoffs. He didn't bring up the fact Dallas hasn't won a playoff game the last 10 seasons or that his new coach never has won a playoff game in five seasons running Denver and Buffalo.
"I think we have every right to think that we will be a better team than we were last year," Jones said.
He praised Tony Romo and an offense that was among the NFL's most productive last season. He vowed that the defense will be improved with Phillips' touch. And he said he didn't remember ever going into a season with so much confidence in his kicking game.
The owner was so optimistic that when Phillips finally got a turn, his first comment was, "Hearing all those good things, it sounds like we should win them all!"
Smiling and laughing, Phillips handled the intro and everything else with more levity and joy than predecessor Bill Parcells likely would have.
Parcells tolerated marketing but was never a big fan. He didn't like training at the Alamodome either; the Cowboys left San Antonio after his first training camp here, spending the last three years in Oxnard, Calif. The club is back now, and will be for the next four years, too.
The return to South Texas yielded the kind of attention Jones loves: 24 news cameras and 120 reporters, although so many fans were in the tent it was hard to tell who was working and who was gawking -- at least, until the news conference ended and some folks started clapping.
Autograph seekers and picture takers surrounded Jones and Phillips as if they were rock stars when they left the tent and headed back to the stadium. Meanwhile, a real rock band played from a stage and a music radio station was broadcasting live.
Hundreds of fans already had arrived three hours before a free nighttime show featuring a concert by Los Lonely Boys and the gyrations of the Cowboys cheerleaders, along with appearances by Jones, Phillips, the assistant coaches and players. A crowd of 17,297 ended up in the seats.
Setup for the show took all afternoon, with the stage and all sort of heavy equipment mashing into the practice field. It was the kind of thing Parcells would've hated.
Phillips didn't seem to mind. He didn't even mind all the references to Parcells throughout the news conference.
"I think the world of Bill Parcells as a football coach, but that's gone," he said. "He retired from this job and now it's mine."
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