The Dallas Cowboys remain, likely now and forever, one of the most storied franchises in all of professional sports. The team's vast history of personalities, talents and successes guarantees its place of reverence.
The problem executive vice president Stephen Jones has is not with ancient history, however, but the club's recent past. The Cowboys have not reached an NFC Championship Game this century, having instead watched three collective Super Bowls go to fellow NFC East competition in that span. Jones realizes that reality must change -- both for fans and the team alike.
"We've got to take that next step," Jones told Adam Schein on Friday on Mad Dog Sports Radio. "And I think everybody on this team -- from Mike [McCarthy] and his coaching staff to Dak [Prescott] and the players -- all know that we've gotta have success in the postseason. That's the endgame. Our fans deserve that. Certainly, we're not gonna be at peace until we get over that hump."
Jones made sure to reaffirm his belief that the Cowboys are on the right track to do just that. Dallas' offense ranked first overall in both points and yards last season, and its once-maligned defense took massive strides under new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn behind Micah Parsons’ Rookie of the Year campaign and Trevon Diggs’ league-leading 11 interceptions. Despite Mike McCarthy's occasional lukewarm seat, the team flipped a 6-10 record the year prior into their best regular-season record (12-5) since 2016.
"Well, we've got nothing but the utmost respect for Mike. And as you said, we had a lot of good things happen. ... In Jerry and I's mind, there's no better guy to do that who's had as much success in this league as anybody than Mike McCarthy," Jones said. "His track record speaks for itself in Green Bay. I think he took the Packers to either three or four championship games. Obviously won a Super Bowl, you know, really had success in the postseason in Green Bay, and, you know, set us up with an opportunity to do that. We had the ball there twice with less than three or four minutes on the clock to go win the game with one of the best offenses in the league and we didn't get the job done."
The game Jones is referring to, a 23-17 wild-card loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the house that Jerry built, is still etched in the mind of Dallas faithful as yet another painful setback in the Dak Prescott era. With 14 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys ran a quarterback draw play that moved them into field-goal range but also left zeroes on the clock. The gaffe sent the Cowboys home, while the 49ers scored another upset in Green Bay the following week before falling short in the NFC Championship Game.
Despite the heartache, teams with the proper foundation can and will grow from setbacks.
"Oh, I think everybody in the Cowboys organization is. From top to bottom. I think everybody replays both the drives," Jones said when asked if he was motivated by the Cowboys' early postseason exit. "I mean, we had the ball before that as well and didn't have the stress of the clock as much, although we were getting down to the two-minute mark. We had a great opportunity there. We had a healthy team, a healthy Dak, we had a healthy group of players. And unfortunately, hats off to San Francisco. They did the job defensively, and we didn't get it done."
With 26 seasons in the rearview since Dallas' last Super Bowl title, the figurative "hump" feels more like a mountain at this juncture, but the Cowboys may finally have the right mix of motivation, coaching and talent to reach the summit.