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Have you ever had that feeling when you show up somewhere, and something is off?  You know something isn’t quite right, but you can’t put your finger on it?  That eerie, sour sense of mystery likely flooded the air circulating through the Dallas Cowboys facility soon after the players arrived early Saturday morning, just hours after the death of one of their teammates.

It was an early wake-up for the Dallas Cowboys as meetings began at the training facility at 7:30am Saturday, with the team plane scheduled to take off for Cincinnati a few hours later, a source close to the team told PepperOnSports.   Once the players separated into groups, it became clear that two guys were missing from their respective meetings, third-year nose tackle Josh Brent, and rookie linebacker, Jerry Brown.  The players began talking amongst themselves, but were told only that there had been an “unfortunate accident,”  and no details were provided by team personnel, according to the source. 

It wasn’t until the team had boarded the charter plane in the afternoon that the players received the bad news from head coach Jason Garrett.  Jerry Brown was killed in a drunk driving accident, and Josh Brent - who was driving when his car flipped at 2:21am after hitting a curb at high speeds - had been arrested for DUI and manslaughter. 

Brent and Brown were on their way home from Privae nightclub in Dallas, where a dozen Cowboys players had spent the evening partying with comedian Shawn Wayans, according to a source close to the team.  The Privae website advertises free entry with an RSVP every Friday and promotes an evening with celebrity guest host Shawn Wayans for December 7.  Most bars and clubs in Dallas close at 2am.  

Not that there is ever a good time to learn that one coworker is dead and another is being blamed for it, but right before a two-and-a-half hour flight, without the comfort of friends or family outside of the office seems like a tough way to receive the news.   When asked about the mood of the players during the flight, the source replied, “silence on the plane.”  That was perhaps the longest flight of those mens’ lives.

(Update: “The team couldn’t immediately reveal the details because Brown’s next-of-kin had not been notified,” according to USA Today)

This takes us back eight days ago, in the wake of Kansas City Chiefs player Jovan Belcher, who murdered his girlfriend Kassandra Perkins, before killing himself at Arrowhead Stadium in front of KC’s general manager and head coach.  As of last Friday, there was no precedent in dealing with the murder/suicide carried out by n active NFL player, much less with the suicide happening in front of team personnel at the stadium.

Unfortunately, this wouldn’t be the first time an active NFL player has died in a car accident during the season.  Atlanta Falcons players Ralph Norwood and Brad Beckman were killed in separate car accidents less than a month apart during the 1989 season.

The Chiefs operated under a microscope last week, every decision and movement dissected by the media.  One can only imagine the level of interest and examination facing the Cowboys, a team whose 6-6 record - now seemingly inconsequential in comparison - is the subject of daily debate on both the local and national level.   It should be interesting to watch the ensuing behavior of frequently scrutinized Cowboys owner Jerry Jones in the wake of this tragedy. 

Hopefully the appropriate mental health support will be offered to players and team personnel for the remainder of the season.  One can only imagine the emotional weight the Cowboys will carry with them on to the field Sunday against the Bengals.  

Candid Camera:  NFL Edition

I am a huge fan of pranks.  I even enjoy watching extremely awkward moments, which is probably why Curb Your Enthusiasm is one of my favorite shows.  In the video above, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley sheds his scary-as-hell football persona and gives us a peek of his softer, lighter side, laughable side.  I like. 

Check out the bizarre and at times, cringe-worthy prank Woodley pulls on NFL buddies Steve Breaston, Marcedes Lewis, and Michael Turner.  I’ll give you a hint… it involves solid acting performances, a cross-dressing element, and short shorts.  Everybody wins! 

                                    

It didn’t take long for UCLA to find a rebound after breaking up with Rick Neuheisel a few weeks ago as the school has reportedly hired Jim L. Mora (aka Jim Mora Jr.) to be its next head football coach.

Perhaps L.A. will find itself in another Pete Carroll-esque football fairytale:  A failed NFL coach has a tough pill to swallow, taking a perceived demotion to keep his career alive and turns out to be a college football genius, creating one of the most dominating programs in the nation.  Carroll was 49 years old when he landed the USC job, Mora is 50.  USC football was down in the dumps at the time, just like UCLA is now, not having made the Rose Bowl in a school-record 13 seasons. 

After finishing 6-7, UCLA will play in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl with offensive coordinator Mike Johnson at the helm as interim coach.  Johnson served as the Falcons quarterbacks coach under Mora in Atlanta, a connection that bodes well for Johnson who may very well get to keep his job as a result. UCLA is expected to officially announce the Mora hire Saturday. 

This hire is interesting to me in that UCLA’s first choice was Boise State’s Chris Petersen, who is one of the “it” coaches in college football.  Everything about Petersen screams “college.”  After Petersen turned down the gig, UCLA appraoched Miami’s Al Golden (who wasn’t interested) and subsequently met wth Houston’s Kevin Sumlin who was not offered the job, according to the LA Times. 

It appears as though after most of the big names in college ball either already took jobs elsewhere (like Urban Meyer, Rich Rodriguez, etc.) or declined UCLA’s offer, the Bruins went to the next big name they could find, even though he lacks experience at the collegiate level.

That’s where Jim Mora comes in.  Sure, we know his name, his famous father and “PLAYOFFS!?!”  Sure, he has been a head coach before, but in the NFL, with the Atlanta Falcons, and most recently, Seattle Seahawks before being fired and replaced by Pete Carroll in the offseason of 2010.  In fact, Mora’s only coaching at the collegiate level came in 1984 as a graduate assistant at the University of Washington, his alma mater, according to the LA Times.  Mora has spent the last two seasons as a television analyst for NFL Network and co-hosts a podcast as well.

According to the LA Times, Mora was interested in the UCLA job from the get-go, meeting with university officials twice.  Mora’s interest in the Bruins gig wasn’t completely out of left field as he was born in Los Angeles and his father served as an assistant coach at UCLA in 1974. 

With Carroll out, Kiffin in, and still no NFL team, this would be a golden opportunity for UCLA to get its Mojo back.  Mora’s name alone will help sell tickets but UCLA alumni and Los Angeles football fans will demand success on the field in order to sustain their interest in the Bruins.  Mora certainly has his work cut out for him. 

To read the LA Times article about UCLA’s hiring of Jim L. Mora, click here: http://www.latimes.com/sports/la-spw-ucla-jim-mora-20111210,0,3170928.story