LOS ANGELES -- It didn't take long for Jerry Jones, the enthusiastic owner of the Dallas Cowboys, to start bragging.
"We're looking forward to seeing what they're able to play like when they get a little experience under their belts," he said.
He repeated that theme at a news conference yesterday. The team owners don't usually show up at the news conferences the day after the Super Bowl, but Jones isn't your average owner.
"We have the youngest team in the NFL [average age is 26]. I think it's going to be fun to watch what this bunch does when it gets a little experience under its belt. I think we should serve as an inspiration in the NFL. We really did start from scratch. I think we've got a good chance [to stay on top] because of our attitude. We've got a great coach [Jimmy Johnson]. We've got a quarterback [Troy Aikman]," Jones said.
Jones is sending the message that he thinks the Cowboys are going to be better in the future.
When it was pointed out to him that the past four defending Super Bowl champions from the NFC East have gone 6-9, 7-9, 8-8 and 9-7, he said: "I have a lot of confidence in our ability to compete and get in the playoffs next year. I was talking to [offensive lineman] Mark Stepnoski last night. I don't recall if any of those teams ever went 1-15 [as Dallas did in 1989]. That'll burn a hole in your brain and you won't forget that and it makes you really proud to be standing here.
"We've got enough players on our team who won't forget what it feels like to have that feeling. I think that'll inspire them for a little while."
Jones may be overlooking how competitive the NFC East is. Coach Joe Gibbs of the Washington Redskins never forgot his 0-5 start in 1981, but that didn't keep him from having problems as a defending champion.
In the NFC West, the San Francisco 49ers put together back-to-back 14-2 seasons in 1989 and 1990 after winning the Super Bowl after the 1988 season. The 49ers repeated in 1989 and got back to the NFC title game in 1990.
In the NFC East, it's tougher to stay on top.
That's why it might be early to crown the Cowboys the team of the 1990s.
Even though they're the youngest team in the league, it doesn't mean they're immune to the problems of defending champions.
Start with the injury factor. The Cowboys were virtually injury-free this season. Can they avoid injuries two straight years, or will they suffer a rash of injuries the way the Redskins did this season?
Then there are the contract problems. Running back Emmitt Smith is their most important unsigned player for next year. He has only three years of experience, so he's not a free agent under the new labor deal, but he could be a holdout. The free-agency plan also means they're likely to lose backup quarterback Steve Beuerlein. If Aikman is injured next year, they may not have a proven backup.
They also have to replace defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt, who is now head coach of the Chicago Bears.
It was reported yesterday that Wannstedt is taking with him defensive backs assistant Bob Slowik, who will be defensive coordinator, and offensive line coach Tony Wise, who will fulfill those same responsibilities for the Bears. San Jose State coach Ron Turner will be the Bears' offensive coordinator.
Hudson Houck, Seattle Seahawks offensive line coach this past season, reportedly will be named today to replace Wise. Cowboys defensive line coach Butch Davis will be named
The revised coaching staff will have to help the Cowboys guard against letdown.
"There's no question that it's human nature that, any time you succeed, there is a tendency for all of us, whether it be an organization or an individual, to pull back," Johnson said. "And the more times people pat us on the back and tell us how good we are, the more times that we have the visibility that we have and the media exposure, we get to thinking that we're pretty good and complacency does set in. You forget how hard you worked to get to where you were."
Johnson declined to discuss how he'll react if the Cowboys have problems next season.
"I won't even address 'if we struggle next year,' " Johnson said. "We don't look at negatives in the future. Everything we do is upbeat and positive, and we expect the very best. That's the only thing we'll allow our players to give, is the best."
Johnson's unorthodox approach -- hiring college coaches and making a slew of trades -- has worked.
Johnson was modest enough to say his success won't necessarily start a trend.
"We're dealing with people here. I don't think you can say just because some college coaches haven't had success, no one is going to have suc
cess. [I don't think you can say] one team's done it a certain way, everybody's got to do it that way," he said.
"I think you've got to do things you believe in. I think that's the biggest phrase for your whole organization. We truly believe. We believe in what we're doing. We're not looking for praise for everybody because we're doing it a certain way. We're just doing it because we believe it's the right thing for us."
How the past four NFC East teams to win the Super Bowl have fared in their next seasons:
Team.. .. .. ..SB Yr... .. .. .. ..Next Yr.
Giants .. .. ..1986.. .. .. .. .. ..6-9
Redskins.. .. .1987.. .. .. .. .. ..7-9
Giants.. .. ...1990.. .. .. .. .. ..8-8
Redskins.. .. .1991.. .. .. .. .. ..9-7