SAN ANTONIO (AP) — A half hour before his first training camp practice in charge of the Dallas Cowboys, Wade Phillips strolled out of a tunnel and onto the turf of the Alamodome. As soon as he came into view Wednesday afternoon, about 8,000 fans stood and cheered.
So Phillips smiled, waved and kept walking.
He also came to a quick conclusion: “That’s the last time I’ll get a standing ovation.”
Not necessarily. If the Cowboys can live up to the “good feeling” their new coach has about them, Phillips may get used to entering rooms greeted by a chorus of applause. After all, this is “America’s Team,” a status confirmed by the huge turnouts for a pre-camp concert Tuesday night and again Wednesday for Day 1 of workouts in helmets, shoulder pads and shorts.
“There’s not any training camps like this that I know of or that I’ve been in,” said Phillips, entering his 31st season in the NFL and with his seventh franchise. “This was probably the most and the most enthusiastic. It helps because your players practice better. When the fans are out there, they’re going to do more, so I think it’s a real plus for us.”
The Cowboys are coming off a 9-7 season that ended with a playoff loss. Dallas hasn’t won a postseason game in 11 years, a dismal streak that Bill Parcells failed to end in his four years in charge.
Now it’s Phillips’ turn.
His first practice of the season got off to a bad start when linebacker Greg Ellis aggravated his rehabilitating Achilles’ tendon early on and had to be replaced by undrafted rookie Alex Obomese. He zoomed to the top of the depth chart because top pick Anthony Spencer isn’t signed.
Neither is third-rounder James Marten, who could be getting valuable experience at tackle because starters Flozell Adams and Marc Colombo went on the physically unable to perform list Wednesday.
But things went well otherwise, with team drills ending on a very fan-friendly note: a 60-yard strike from Tony Romo to Terrell Owens.
Actually, the segment had about 30 more seconds, but Phillips made the executive decision to blow the horn.
“The defensive coaches got mad at me. They said, ‘If you were still a defensive coach, you wouldn’t have ended on that play,’” Phillips said. “That’s the difference in being the head coach and the defensive coach.”
While this was Phillips’ first training camp practice, it was far from his first time on the field with the team. He held enough minicamps that players knew what to expect — and, no, it’s not as simple as him being the anti-Parcells.
However, there were some clear differences between Phillips and his predecessor. Rookies didn’t have to wear star-less helmets, Terry Glenn was allowed to work out in white shorts while everyone else had blue and the coach drew laughs for jokes, not sarcastic comments as he talked to players.
The most notable change might’ve been that Owens was a happy camper. He lined up at two different receiving spots and even helped out on kick returns.
“It’s just refreshing for a lot of us,” Owens said.
Romo described the coaches as “real similar, except for the language.”
“They’re a little different in their styles, but they’re both very successful in my eyes in how they bring things to the table,” Romo said.
Maybe Phillips’ sunny disposition is part of the reason for the optimism that’s already running rampant around the team. He definitely notices an intangible quality that he likes.
“You get a sense of something there with some teams. I get that sense, whatever that is. A little mystic, maybe, but there’s a feeling,” he said. “They’re all pulling in the same direction. They want to do the same things and want to be involved and they have some talent — all of that combined.
“See, I see the little things — an offensive guy patting a defensive guy on the back, things like that, already. It’s not offense-defense. They’ve got something that kind of clicks together already, and I was glad to see that because most of the time it’s ‘We’re the offense’ and ‘We’re the defense’ and ‘This is special teams.’ They have feeling for each other.”
Now all he’s got to do is keep it going until February.