Less than one month ago, he was a relatively anonymous member of the Cowboys’ practice squad. Three weeks later, he has two conference player of the week awards, two touchdowns and is the talk of the town. When the Cowboys’ locker room was open to the media Monday, the largest group of reporters was not the gaggle surrounding quarterback Jon Kitna, who had thrown three touchdown passes in Sunday’s win over the Detroit Lions.
Even his teammates are looking at him in a different light, at least jokingly. Tight end Martin Rucker wandered through the locker room, and when seeing the reporters huddled around his suddenly-famous rookie teammate, he yelled, “you’ve changed!” Tight end Martellus Bennett wormed his way through the media and grabbed a television reporter’s microphone, at which he started interviewing McCann himself while the “other” members of the media looked on.
Even veteran wide receiver Roy Williams — whose respect for rookies is well-documented, said, “he’s the man. ‘Mr. McCann’ is what I call him.”
That statement alone wouldn’t wield much impact, except for the fact that during the team’s offseason OTAs, Williams didn’t see much need to acknowledge a little-known rookie who already had begun to make plays against his future teammates. When asked then about McCann, defensive backs and receivers alike hailed his speed, intelligence and work ethic. When asked for his analysis at the time about McCann, Williams’s response was to ask “who?” and walk out of the locker room.
All of this attention, of course, stems from the fact that it is McCann — the undrafted, unheralded rookie out of SMU who was signed by the Cowboys, picked up by the Baltimore Ravens when Dallas waived him at the end of training camp and then brought back to Dallas when the Ravens tried to slip him through waivers to get him on the practice squad — has had the two most significant plays in interim head coach Jason Garrett’s two-game coaching tenure. Last week, he returned his first NFL interception 101 yards for a touchdown in the Cowboys’ victory over the New York Giants, earning NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors. This week, he scooped up a punt and raced 97 yards up the sideline for another score, helping earn the conference Special Teams Player of the Week award.
Garrett, who crafted a 12-year career as a backup NFL quarterback despite going undrafted out of Princeton, said he doesn’t care about a player’s pedigree, or what school he attended. Garrett said that anyone who can make plays will be on the field. McCann has done exactly that.
Skeptics could be forgiven if they dismissed his 101-yard interception return against the Giants as nothing more than an absurdly fast player being in the right place at the right time. But it was his return of the punt against the Lions that really endeared him to his teammates and coaches.
“Everyone was going crazy” when he returned to the sideline after scoring what proved to be the game-winning points Sunday. (Special teams) Coach (Joe) DeCamillis said he was glad to know I listened to what they have been teaching.”
What DeCamillis had been teaching was the rule that if a player on the kicking team touches a punt, the ball is live, and the returning team can grab it and run … and should a fumble ensue, retain possession, anyway.
“I was trying to do it on the punt before the one I took back,” McCann said. “Their punter (Nick Harris) had been killing us, dropping it inside the 10-yard line, inside the 5. So on the previous punt, the same guy who knocked the one I returned out hit the other one out, and I went for that, but it rolled out of bounds. But I had it in mind.
“When the next one came around, he knocked it out, and I couldn’t have gotten a better bounce. I had my back to the field, so I didn’t know exactly where everyone was, but when I turned and started running, I realized there were three guys right there. I don’t know — maybe that made me a little faster.”
Over the past two weeks, McCann’s cell phone has filled up with voicemails, e-mails and text messages. His Twitter account (@bmac929) has gone from “about 100” followers before the New York game to nearly 500. After enjoying relative anonymity while starring at SMU, he now gets asked for autographs.
“It’s fun,” he said. “My teammates are having some fun with me, but that’s OK. It’s better than them ignoring me because I’m not making any plays, right?”