(Little late with this. It was online before last week’s playoff games)
By Steve Mazzucchi
Come December, Dallas is done. That’s been the critics’ take on the Cowboys, and after a loss to the Chargers four weeks back left Tony Romo with a 5-12 record in that month, could you blame them? Then the ‘Boys topped the Saints, Redskins, and Eagles to finish the season 11-5. NFC East champs. Curse crushed.
At least one sideline supporter never feared late-season futility, anyway. Fifth-year Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader Sarah Gourley teaches dance to kids (“Everything from ballet and tap to hip-hop and musical theater”), dominates video games (“I thought I was good at regular bowling, but I am even better on the Wii”), and relishes troop-supporting tours from Iraq to Guantánamo Bay. On the eve of NFC Wildcard Weekend, she looked ahead to how the new year might see Romo and Co. shine all the way to a record ninth Super Bowl appearance for Dallas.
ESQUIRE: Midway through December, critics declared the Cowboys dead and buried. How vindicating was it to win those last three games?
SARAH GOURLEY: I wrote an article for our Web site saying I don’t believe in the December curse, and the guys shouldn’t either, and I think that got into their heads a bit. To beat the Saints and be their first defeat of the season really shows what kind of team we are. It got us on a roll, and for our fans in Dallas and everywhere, it proves you can’t judge a team off teams of the past.
ESQ: You guys whupped Philly 24-0 on Sunday. How will this Saturday’s rematch be different?
SG: It’s really difficult to beat a team three times. The Eagles will bring a different game, but our secondary has really worked hard to prevent the big plays that have propelled them against other teams. We can kind of read each other’s cards at this point. I think we might see some trick plays, because everybody knows exactly what’s happening.
ESQ: Is it any different cheering in the new $1 billion Cowboy palace?
SG: Completely different. Everything’s a new ballgame. The architecture is beautiful, but the biggest thing for the cheerleaders is, we crammed into a tiny little room at Texas Stadium. Now we have a beautiful new locker room, cosmetic lights in our lockers, our own outlets — oh my gosh, it was like moving into a mansion.
ESQ: Who do you see making the biggest impact this weekend?
SG: I see big things out of Felix Jones. His speed is important to ward off blitzes. I think cornerback Mike Jenkins will be a big factor. He and Miles Austin and Anthony Spencer are some of our best young players right now. Keith Brooking is big in a different way — a lot of tackles, a few sacks, but also he’s a great cheerleader. His energy has stepped our defense up to the next level. We just learned Romo was named NFC offensive player of the month, which is kind of ironic, because people basically put the Cowboys in the trash after those first two games. If the line can give him time, we’ll be in great shape.
ESQ: We haven’t heard as much about Mr. Romo’s social life this season. Think he’s been more mature and focused?
SG: I can’t say, exactly. From the sideline, it appears that he is, that football is a major priority. I don’t know if that has to do with his personal life, or a personal choice, but it’s exciting. It’s what we’ve been waiting for — his focus and drive is really a key factor in leading our team.
ESQ: Tweeteth DeSean Jackson Sunday night: “Got smashed by them cowboys 2daaaaaay sheeeeesh its all good we gonna sting they ass next week lil buddy.” Thoughts?
SG: The first thing I’ll say is, um, 24-nothing. It’s kind of a compliment to our organization that players go out of their way to say something about us. I don’t think that’ll happen this week. It’ll be a better game, more exciting, closer. I’ll take a shutout any time, but I’m positive that Jackson will be bringing his game this week, as well as the rest of the team.
ESQ: Which Eagles are the most dangerous?
SG: Jackson is definitely one of their best players, it’s no secret. Donovan McNabb always is — you give him the time, he’ll get it done. A kicker can be a problem or a weapon. David Akers could be spot on. The Eagles are a really good team. This is no easy game.
ESQ: Of course, now everyone’s declaring you guys Super Bowl favorites. Realistic?
SG: The funny thing about the playoffs is, it’s all about momentum. Two years ago we were 13-3, but going into the playoffs, I didn’t think we had very good momentum. And the Giants, who had been on and off, were getting better every week. That’s kind of what’s happened with us. We’ve clicked and grown as a team, and we really have the energy we need. There are still things we need to fix, but we’re on the road to Super Bowl contention. How exciting is that?
ESQ: Any predictions for Jets/Bengals, Packers/Cardinals, and Ravens/Patriots?
SG: The Jets have really been doing better lately, but the Bengals played no one last week, so how you can tell? I think the Bengals go in with an upper hand. Packers and Cardinals, another hard game. I think the Packers might come out of that one, but I’m a little partial because I’m from Wisconsin. And you have to go with the Pats. They’ve had an interesting year, but I’d still take them in the playoffs. I had ACL surgery around the same time as Brady, so now I pull for him a bit.