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Parcells dreams up ways to pull strings

October 23, 2006|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

The Dallas Cowboys have a bunch of yo-yos in the locker room.

And that's just the way Coach Bill Parcells wants it.

Parcells, scowling but not humorless, recently decorated the locker room with dangling yo-yos to remind his players that inconsistent teams don't get far. By no means is his team hanging by a thread; it's in the thick of the NFL's tightest division race.

The Cowboys can only hope things are heading in the right direction tonight when they play host to the New York Giants in a pivotal NFC East showdown. The season's still young, yet this game between 3-2 teams will help clarify the division's pecking order.

People who over-hype games "try to create an Armageddon every week," Parcells said. "But I think it would certainly be helpful to us if we won it."

Gimmicky visual cues are nothing new for Parcells. In his first season with the Cowboys, as they were cruising to a 10-6 finish, he strung pieces of cheese around team headquarters as if to say, "Don't believe the cheese, the hype."

Last season, before the Cowboys played Detroit -- a possible "trap" game because the 4-5 Lions were in danger of being overlooked -- Parcells dangled a giant mousetrap from the locker-room ceiling.

These Cowboys can't seem to decide what kind of team they are. Are they the patsies outscored by Jacksonville, 24-7, in the last three quarters of their opener? Or the brutes who rolled up 72 points in their next two games, with convincing victories over Washington and Tennessee? Are they the impostors who were pummeled in Philadelphia, or the old reliables who hammered Houston?

The Cowboys are thirsty for good news. With the Terrell Owens circus, the shaky play of quarterback Drew Bledsoe and the general uncertainty of how long Parcells will stay, there's a lot of doubt in Big D. On a daily basis, Parcells' jugular vein is bulging for one reason or another.

In a conference call with New York Giants beat writers last week -- some of whom covered him as Giants coach from 1983 through '90 -- Parcells was peppered with questions about Owens. In fact, the first 11 questions concerned the attention-craving receiver.

Some cable channels that cover the team "have made [Owens] their whole show for a month," said Parcells, who frequently refers to him as "the player" rather than using his name.

If things go as planned for the Giants, Owens will be just another player anyway, not the star who in his last six "Monday Night Football" games has averaged 122 yards receiving with nine touchdowns.

"The idea is to frustrate him," New York linebacker Antonio Pierce told reporters. "Frustrate him enough that he'll start acting up on his sideline. He does those antics to get attention for himself, but if you make it so the quarterback doesn't have time to throw it to him, he'll get frustrated."

Parcells has masked his own frustration with varying degrees of success.

He stormed out of a news conference after Owens took too many pain pills, which the receiver said was an accidental overdose although it was earlier reported as a suicide attempt. And the coach has made subtle attempts to distance himself from the decision to sign the receiver so coveted by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

So far, Owens has shown flashes of excellence between long stretches of drama. By no means can he yet be considered a Cowboys success story, nor can he be called a flop as were other big-name offensive players brought in by Jones: Eddie George, Anthony Thomas and Peerless Price.

When asked last week whether Owens was "put upon him," Parcells said he wasn't and that signing him was a "group decision." But then the coach added: "So once the decisions are made, we live with them."

Exactly how long Parcells will remain with the Cowboys is a matter of speculation. Although he has two years left on his contract, he could decide to leave early. Owens is in the first year of a three-year deal, but the Cowboys can afford to make a clean break after this season. And Bledsoe, who played for Parcells in New England, could be nearing the end of his career.

The potential of these Cowboys is tough to gauge. They have a winning record, yet the three teams Dallas has beaten this season came into Week 7 a combined 4-13.

But it's clear the road ahead is uphill. After tonight, the Cowboys have three consecutive road games before returning home to face Indianapolis.

Said Cowboys linebacker Bradie James: "The stink is about to hit the fan."

sam.farmer@latimes.com

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