Lessons Learned From an Old Cowboy
In late July, during his first training camp as an NFL head coach, Jim Zorn noticed Sam Huff walking onto the practice field in Ashburn. He turned to the Hall of Fame linebacker and said, "I really appreciate you coming out here today."
"The way he said it was just so genuine," Huff, now a radio analyst with the team, recalled recently. "Same way he treats his players. No gloss, just straight talk, like a great man who used to coach me with the New York Giants."
Which is why Huff that afternoon told Zorn, "You know, you remind me of Tom Landry."
"That's funny," Zorn began, "because I played for Tom Landry."
"Huh?" Huff said. "I don't remember that."
It's one of those six degrees of Washington facts almost as easy to forget as the name Leo Gasienieca, the player Zorn beat out to become the Cowboys' No. 3 quarterback behind Roger Staubach and Clint Longley in the summer of 1975.
Before Zorn found a pro football home in Seattle, rolled right and sent Steve Largent to the Hall of Fame, before he threw for 21,115 yards and made the Pacific Northwest ga-ga over the expansion Seahawks, he was a shaggy-haired, Southern California dreamer who showed up in Dallas with incredible lungs and a remarkably mature outlook for just 22.
"I was a rookie free agent undrafted from Cal Poly-Pomona -- I mean, who was I?" Zorn recalled this week, a few days before he would coach the final Dallas-Washington regular season game at expiring Texas Stadium.
"So I said I'm gonna do a couple things here: One, I'm not going to allow them to cut me because I'm not physically ready.
"And the second thing was I was only going to be concerned about what I could do. We had nine quarterbacks before the veterans got there. I wasn't going to look at what Roger Staubach was doing."
It had the potential of a Mark Wahlberg film pitch, including the young upstart embarrassing Staubach and other veterans during a two- to three-mile run up and over a small mountain in Thousand Oaks, Calif., during training camp, where an invincible-feeling Zorn finished about a minute and a half faster than any player.
"Let me toot my own horn because I'm 55 and I can do that," Zorn said, recalling the moment. "I remember Mike Ditka [then the Cowboys' tight end coach] was standing there and was just freaking out going crazy when I came in. He was really excited, because, you know, he likes warriors."