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'Hard Knocks' Episode 5 recap: Ambitious Cowboys confront bottom line in season finale

In the beginning, it probably seemed easy for Jerry Jones.

Buy a team. Hire a coach. Hit on a few draft picks. Sign some veterans. Make a blockbuster trade. Mix it all up and win a Lombardi Trophy.

Then another.

Then another.

Seven years into his run as owner of the Dallas Cowboys, Jones was a three-time champion and the envy of the football world. But at some point, the degree of difficulty jumped radically for "America's Team." Dallas has now gone 25 consecutive years without so much as a Super Bowl appearance, and a new season dawns with very few people outside the North Texas metro area predicting a return to the big game for the Cowboys come February.

Jones knows the glories of the '90s don't mean much now. On the season finale of Hard Knocks, he put it as only Jerrah can: "Yesterday is as dead as Napoleon."

We wrote about it a couple weeks back: On one level, Jones has never stopped being an immense success in the NFL. Under his watch, the Cowboys have grown -- by a wide margin -- into the most valuable sports entity in the country. The return on his initial $150 million investment in 1989 is astronomical. But owners in the NFL aren't judged -- by the greater public, anyway -- by how much money they make. It's the results on the field that matter. Everything else is noise.

The Cowboys of 2021 are an interesting team. They play in a weak division nestled within a conference in transition. They might not be a buzzy Super Bowl pick, but there's an opportunity to do something special this season. About a month shy of his 79th birthday, Jones knows he only has so many bites at the apple left.

"It's a sensitive thing, the NFL," Jones said from his palatial private office overlooking the Cowboys' outdoor practice field at The Star. "There's a lot of other things that I do that second and third place is great. That's not what works here. You're either No. 1 or you've got a disappointment.

"The biggest thing is we're a bottom-line activity: Win."

Just win, pardna.

Extra points …

  • Ambition is never in short supply in Big D. I'm not sure how I feel about this …
  • We covered the unfortunate timing issue of last week's episode falling on the same day as final cuts, but I still want to call special attention to Azur Kamara. His family escaped civil war on the Ivory Coast and now Kamara finds himself as an active member of the Dallas freaking Cowboys. America's Team, American Dream. Mike McCarthy was practically beaming when he told Kamara he made the final 53.
  • Another international story this season focused on Monterrey, Mexico, native Isaac Alarcon , who didn't make the final roster but remains in the building as part of the NFL's International Pathway Program. Strong mothers are a common theme in Hard Knocks, and we see it again with both Kamara and Alarcon. "Tell me the real possibility that a Mexican is doing what you are doing right now?" Ma Alarcon says during a car ride ahead of a flight home. "We looked at the numbers and it's 0.0000001%. That means it's a one-in-a-billion chance. So we are amazed. We are indebted. We are excited. We are so happy." How could you not root for these people?
  • I also find myself rooting for Dak Prescott, my pick for 2021 Hard Knocks MVP. Dak really impressed me as a teammate and competitor across these five episodes, and he also struck me as a generally down-to-earth and genial dude who just so happened to sign a $160 million contract earlier this year. Said Jones of his franchise QB: "That nature, that aura, the personality. It's just there." Yup.
  • "Running is the reward" is the most special teams coach s--- ever. Never change, John "Bones" Fassel.
  • I'm glad CeeDee Lamb made a speedy recovery from COVID-19, but I struggle to have empathy for a man who went a whole week without being able to smell his $200 candle or taste meals prepared by his personal in-house chef.
  • How does Trevon Diggs' son not have a sitcom yet? Nuclear levels of precociousness.

That wraps my 10th season of episode recaps for this wonderful show. I was so fortunate to get a hold of this beat a decade ago ... and I don't plan on letting go until they kick me out the door. Be sure to check out this season's Spotify playlist right here, kicked off -- as always -- with David Robidoux's iconic Hard Knocks theme.

And with that, let's start a new tradition by ending our final recap with another tradition -- Liev Schreiber's season-closing monologue. Take us to church, Ray Donovan:

"Training camp isn't just about getting in shape or getting the playbook sorted out. It's about building a team. That's more art than science. Because a team is more than just names on a roster. It's a living thing, with a personality and a pulse. One heartbeat, working for one thing -- lifting the Lombardi Trophy five months from now. There are plenty of questions; aren't there always? Still, Jerry Jones knows the one that counts: How 'bout them Cowboys?"

'Til next year, may you all enjoy a life filled with #MojoMoments.

Dan Hanzus hosts the award-winning Around The NFL Podcast and has been's Hard Knocks beat writer since 2012. You can check out his complete recap archive right here.

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