FRISCO, Texas -- Monday night was a perfect example of what has gone right for the Dallas Cowboys so far this season.
A day after beating the Green Bay Packers, nearly every member of the Cowboys, from the most-tenured veterans to the practice squad receiver, made their way to Nick & Sam’s in uptown Dallas. For the first time any veteran can remember, the rookie dinner was not held on different nights for the offense and defense.
For a few hours, the players enjoyed some of the best steaks in Dallas but also the companionship of teammates off to a 5-1 start in 2016.
“There’s not a lot of teams you can say that, where the camaraderie is as good as ours right now,” defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford said. “But you know we’re playing well and we’re having fun. And I feel like that’s just how we need to continue rolling.”
Chemistry is often an overused term in the success of a team in any sport. Players don’t need to be best friends on and off the field to succeed. It helps, but it is not a prerequisite. Winning is the best ingredient to chemistry.
A lack of chemistry is not why the Cowboys went 4-12 last year. Good chemistry is not why the Cowboys are 5-1 this season.
But it doesn’t hurt.
“You have to work hard to bring the right guys to your team, the kind of guys who want to be a part of a team, guys who are willing to work and sacrifice to be part of a good team,” coach Jason Garrett said. “That starts on Day 1. That’s always an objective. So you try to create an environment for that to happen. You challenge guys to do that. That’s something we’ve tried to do as a coaching staff. But it’s important for those guys to embrace it, and up to this point they certainly have.”
The game that is all the rage at The Star, the Cowboys’ glitzy new practice facility, is laundry-bin basketball. That they use an oversized tennis ball doesn’t matter. That they are shooting baskets into a bin filled with sweaty clothes doesn’t matter, either.
Dez Bryant said he and Jeff Heath are the undefeated champs, having knocked off Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott. On Wednesday, Brice Butler shot against Benson Mayowa. Defensive tackle Terrell McClain might have the best shot. Jason Witten has taken a shot or two. Even Garrett has taken a shot on one of his walks through the locker room.
“I just think it’s a great group of guys that love being around each other,” Witten said. “When you go through a journey like this I think you become hardened from your experiences when you lose the way we lost last year. A lot of great guys are stepping up, great stories like [Morris Claiborne], seeing that, there are a number of those stories on this team. It’s a good group of guys that enjoy being around each other. I think that helps when you’re grinding like we are right now then you have success together.”
As he was about to enter the NFL, Elliott was told it would be different than Ohio State. The collegial atmosphere was more about business and the individual.
“I haven’t felt that at all in this locker room,” the rookie running back said. “I feel like we’re a very close group of guys. It feels just like in college. We have a lot of fun together, and I don’t think anything can get in between us.”
On a wall in the locker room is a players’ creed. It’s filled with a number of statements that essentially say the same things, like respecting and trusting each other and sacrificing for the betterment of the team. Every player signed the poster in a Sharpie, complete with a fingerprint.
The final message is “All in.”
“The creed definitely means something,” Crawford said. “We put that together as players and different groups were in there putting it together. I feel like just standing by that as players and coaches, I feel like we can just take it the distance.”