No one knew it at the time, but the Dak Prescott era of the Dallas Cowboys began on Jan. 15, 2015, on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field against the Green Bay Packers. Prescott, of course, hadn’t yet turned pro. He had recently finished his junior season at Mississippi State, where, during his four years, he became one of four FBS players and the second in the Southeastern Conference to throw for 70 touchdowns and run for 40. The date is immortalized in Cowboys infamy as Tony Romo’s last impactful moment under center and ground zero for one of the most controversial calls in league history: Dez Bryant’s no-catch.
For years, the Cowboys had avoided the elephant in the room that was Romo’s eventual successor. The next season, Romo suffered a string of injuries, including a fractured collarbone in Week 2 versus the Philadelphia Eagles. A comedy of errors ensued, with Dallas cycling through quarterbacks Brandon Weeden, Kellen Moore, Romo again for two more games and Matt Cassel. Dallas finished 4-12, and reality had finally caught up to the league’s most popular (and despised) franchise. What did post-Romo life resemble?
Rayne Dakota “Dak” Prescott was chosen 135th overall in the 2016 NFL draft. Seven quarterbacks were selected ahead of him, including the top two picks, Pro Bowlers Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, but also Paxton Lynch, Cody Kessler, Christian Hackenberg and Connor Cook. Prescott figured to be a backup in his rookie campaign. Those plans quickly went awry when, in a preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks, Romo was sacked awkwardly, his body folding like a lawn chair at the hands of Seattle’s Cliff Avril. Romo had a broken bone in his back. For the second time in two seasons, Romo’s season had suffered a critical setback. This time, though, proved to be the end. The Cowboys and Prescott never looked back.
Prescott’s rookie season took the league by storm. Led by its stellar offensive line and the emergence of first-year sensations Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys achieved a 13-3 record. Prescott’s 23 touchdowns and four interceptions paced an offense that once again ran like a well-oiled machine. A heartbreaking postseason loss to Aaron Rodgers and those same Packers ended Prescott’s rookie season, although the Pro Bowl soon followed. Prescott’s life story became a national topic of discussion. Prescott is biracial, the son of a black father and white mother in Louisiana, and his relationship with his mother, Peggy Prescott, who died of colon cancer in 2013, became emotional fodder for an already inspiring story.
“She’s the reason that I live life,” Prescott said. “She’s the reason I have a story today.” Largely overlooked is his close relationship with his father, Nathaniel Prescott, who never once sought to defend himself publicly, out of respect for his ex-wife, whom he continues to speak highly of, but also because of the bond he and his son share. “There’s nothing you can tell me. As a black father, we tend to take offense to it. I knew better. It wasn’t for me to convince the world. That’s not my job,” the elder Prescott told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram last summer ahead of Prescott’s second training camp with the Cowboys. “My child knew. That was the main concern.”
Prescott’s second season in Dallas became a story that the franchise and fans have become all too familiar with in the decades since its last Super Bowl in 1996. The team entered 2017 with preseason hype predicting a return to yester-decade dominance. It was all for naught. Elliott’s on-again, off-again but ultimately on-for-sure suspension, stemming from domestic violence allegations, haunted the team all year. Prescott’s numbers took a hit as well, although he still played relatively well, with 22 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, in a system that still hasn’t been fully fitted to his style of play. He and star wide receiver Bryant never found a true rhythm, and the Cowboys finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs. Meanwhile, divisional rival Philadelphia, with fellow quarterback of the future and 2016 draftee Wentz (though injured), sit one win away from the franchise’s first Super Bowl title.
All eyes will once again be on Prescott next year. Critics and fans alike will look to see whether his sophomore season was a one-off or a sign of a career to come.
Prescott is the sixth black quarterback in team history, following Reggie Collier, Randall Cunningham, Rodney Peete, Anthony Wright and Quincy Carter. What separates Prescott from the others is that because of age, personal decisions or talent, none of them was a bona fide star with the Cowboys. That’s what makes Prescott so intriguing. One NFC personnel director told NFL.com that Prescott is due for a major comeback after his second-season setback.
“I feel like they’ve rebuilt the team like the 1990s teams with the dominant offensive line and an efficient quarterback,” the scout source said. “I’m not saying he is Troy Aikman, but if you check their numbers and look at their games, they play the same way. They take care of the football over everything else, and when the team is built the right way, they’ll win.”