Brad Rempel / USA Today Sports
FRISCO, Texas — Once, there were three great Cowboys.
The quarterback was blonde of hair, blue of eyes and square of jaw. It was as if he were cast by a Hollywood filmmaker to be the captain of America's Team. The running back had the gall to think he could be the most productive runner in league history before he ever had his first NFL carry. He told teammates that. And damn if he didn't live up to his word. The wide receiver had a self-appointed nickname: The Playmaker. He worked harder than anyone, and partied harder than anyone, too. He wore fur coats, diamonds and sunglasses.
"The Triplets," they called them.
Today, there are three potentially great Cowboys.
The rookie quarterback is a prodigy and an accidental superstar. He has stunned the world simply by doing everything the right way. The first-round running back with the crop top and thick beard leads the NFL in rushing yards and jersey sales as a rookie. He shows off his abs and leaves cleat marks on defenders. The wide receiver is gifted almost beyond understanding. With a background you wouldn't wish on anyone, he plays every game as if the moon were full.
"The Triplets," they're calling them.
It's an interesting term for these groups of three.
The originals did not look alike, act alike, play the same position or come from the same school. Nor do the present-day versions.
But, as the term implies, they are of the same blood.
Emmitt Smith talks about having a "kinsman's respect" for Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin. Aikman considers Irvin a brother and speaks of how proud he is of the man and father Smith is.
Paul Buck / Getty Images
Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott spend more time together than most married couples. They practice together, attend meetings together, then go have dinner together. Prescott says his relationship with Dez Bryant is "amazing," and that he "loves Dez like a brother." Of Prescott, Bryant says, "I'm being honest. I don't want to say anything bad about anybody, but he's a lovable guy. Everybody loves him. Not taking away from the guy who was there before him; it's just who he is."
Every so often when Prescott, Elliott and Bryant are playing at AT&T Stadium, they look up and see three names side by side in the Cowboys Ring of Honor:
88 MICHAEL IRVIN 1988-1999
8 TROY AIKMAN 1989-2000
22 EMMITT SMITH 1990-2002
They can be forgiven for momentary daydreams.
In the early 1970s, many of America's oil barons were looking to get out. Oil production had peaked in the U.S. and then dipped, and shortages prompted price increases. Layoffs swept the industry.
That's when Jerry Jones asked to be dealt in. A wildcatter is what he would be. With the wink of an eye and a slick smile, he leveraged himself and started drilling in Oklahoma. He hit a gusher, and before long he was buying America's Team.
In that black gold was a valuable lesson.
"If you can go in a different direction than the others, that's an advantage," he says.
More than 40 years later, Jones applied the lesson to his Cowboys. Jones wanted to recreate the Triplets, but he also wanted to take his team in a new direction. Specifically, he wanted to buck the trend of spread offenses that was sweeping the NFL. He wanted an offense that could lead the NFL in percentage of runs.
Now that's exactly what he has. That, and an 11-1 record, the best in the NFL.
Jones knew he could get better value with draft picks used on players who fit better in a throwback offense, and he knew defenses wouldn't be as prepared to handle an offense that wanted to maul them rather than toy with them.
So the Cowboys invested heavily in offensive linemen. Then in 2015, they planned on selecting running back Todd Gurley before the Rams surprisingly chose him with the 10th overall pick. The next year, the Cowboys were picking fourth. That all but assured them the first crack at the best running back, and they picked a bruiser in Elliott from Ohio State.
The next step was to find an eventual successor to Tony Romo. The Cowboys struck out in an attempt to trade up for Paxton Lynch, and then watched Connor Cook go off the board before they could pick him. So they settled for Mississippi State's Prescott.
Jones had his new Triplets.