It's finally been revealed: the person most capable of solidifying the Cowboys' quarterback position.
And It's not who most people think.
It's not head coach Bill Parcells, offensive coordinator Mo Carthon or quarterbacks coach Sean Payton … and it's not veteran QB Vinny Testaverde or rookie Drew Henson.
The living, breathing key to the Dallas passing game is none other than Vincent Testaverde, Jr., the eight-year-old son of the Dallas QB.
"He gives me a high-five before the game," Testaverde said of his son. "Or he likes to. Every one that he has, we've won the game."
Whether or not it's because of his son's support offerings before games, Testaverde has been under center for at least half of the game in each of Dallas' victories this year, starting three of the team's four victories. After starting the team's Thanksgiving Day win over Chicago on the bench, Testaverde was called off the bench and led his team to the win.
It's hard to say how others would react in the face of what Testaverde has faced this season: losing the team's best deep threat (Terry Glenn) and best blocking tight end (Dan Campbell) for the season because of injuries, the longer-lasting bumps and bruises that come with being a 41-year-old quarterback, and the clamoring by media wonks and fans alike for rookie QB Drew Henson to take over. Testaverde handles it like any other day at the office.
"I show up for work, and I try to do what the boss tells me," Testaverde said. "As I've said before, I'm hear to try to help this team win games."
Testaverde was held out of the starting lineup Thursday because of an injured shoulder, Parcells said. But according to Testaverde, it was back spasms that gave him more difficulty than the shoulder.
"It was more my back than my shoulder that kept me out of practice," he said. "But with the game on Thursday, it was a short week. If it was a normal week, I could have maybe gotten treatment, gotten back for practice, and I probably could have played Sunday.''
For Testaverde, the playoffs remain the driving force, although he admits, the standings have lined up rather oddly.
"That's always the main motivating force, from the beginning of the year," Testaverde said. "There have been years when teams have gotten into the playoffs at 8-8.
"Of course, we're hoping to go 9-7."
Testaverde admitted that playing quarterback for this team -- whether he lines up under center or whether Henson is calling signals -- has gotten a bit easier since the sudden emergence of rookie RB Julius Jones, who broke out Thursday with 150 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries.
"Julius certainly has given us a little spark in the running game," Testaverde said, "and we've struggled in that area. He gives us a chance."
Creature of habit
Testaverde admitted Wednesday that he would rather play Sunday games, even if it means bypassing the national spotlight that goes along with playing Monday night.
"I, particularly, don't like to play on Monday night," Testaverde said. "It throws the week off, especially when we go on the road the next week (the Cowboys will follow Monday's game at Seattle with a home game against the New Orleans Saints).
"But it (playing Monday night games) is something the league does, and we're part of the league, so we'll just get ready to play."
Tune 'em out
When Parcells pulled Henson at halftime of Thursday's win over Chicago in favor of Testaverde, many of the fans at Texas Stadium booed. The 41-year-old QB admitted to having heard the boos, but said that he can't spend time worrying about it, or let it get under his skin.
"I think it would bother anybody," Testaverde said, "even though I don't know that it was all directed at me, personally. Even though it bothers you, you can't let it affect you and how you go out and play.
"It really wasn't directed all at me. I understand they (Dallas fans) want Drew in there -- they want the switch. So maybe some of it was directed at Coach Parcells. But he'd be disappointed if I let it affect me."
Testaverde refused to comment on whether the fans' displeasure with his entry into the game was fair, and wondered about the effect a lot of early playing time might have on Henson.
"Whether it's unfair or not doesn't matter," he said. "I understand what they want (Henson). Sometimes, that can hurt you in the long run -- that's something a lot of people don't understand. I looked at my experience in New York with Chad Pennington. He sat a bunch, which allowed him to learn things. Now he's one of the best young quarterbacks in the league.
"Every quarterback in the league, from (Joe) Montana to (Dan) Marino has been booed."
Testaverde said that when Parcells made the decision to pull Henson at halftime, he really didn't have time to get upset about the fans' reaction.
"I tried to prepare in the few minutes I had," Testaverde said. "That's where my focus was. I think it was more of a distraction to the players, my teammates, than it was for me. I always try to turn a negative into a positive. So I just treated it like it was an away game."
He also said the cascade of boos simply helped to remind him how lucky he is to have his current job.
"Look at how many teams there are," he said. "We (starting quarterbacks) are considered one of the top players in the world. There are only 32 starting quarterbacks. If I was a young player, it might (affect me). But how many professions can say 'I'm one of the top 32 players or lawyers or doctors in the world? How many can say that?
An understudy once again
Having gotten his first NFL start under his belt, Henson now returns to the bench, to watch and learn from Testaverde, who went into the Chicago game after halftime and led Dallas to the won over the Bears. When he told Henson of the decision, Henson said, Parcells didn't mince words.
"He said 'Vinny's going in. Stay ready,' " Henson said. "That was it."
Parcells admitted earlier this week that he would feel a little more comfortable playing Henson in the event of a blowout. With the first half of the Chicago game (and one drive against Baltimore the week before) behind him, Henson said that he also feels more comfortable running the Dallas offense.
"I'm going to prepare the same way I have since Week One," Henson said. "You never know when you might be out there. But having played, yeah, that helps. You don't get that same intensity in practice or anywhere else. So I'm looking forward to my next chance."
Henson smiled when asked what he feels are the the all-too-common questions about whether the instability at the quarterback position might damage his confidence.
"That's a question for all young players, all quarterbacks," Henson said, almost laughing. "You don't get this far without confidence. I know I can play."
Seeing the silver lining
Whereas some players might have crumbled under the cavalcade of boos that greeted Testaverde Thursday, the Cowboys' veteran QB was able to follow his mantra of finding a positive -- actually more than one.
"First of all, I'm just happy we won," he said. "We talked about it on the way home after the game. I don't know if my son really really focused on it, but my daughter -- she's 13 -- she gets it a little more. I just told them to never let someone distract them from what they're trying to get done.
Testaverde said his pre-game high-five ritual with his son was "crucial" for the Cowboys' victory, and he even gave his son a game ball.
"He's really into it," Testaverde said. "He knows every player in this locker room by his name and his number. So I thought it was nice" to thank him with the game ball.
The younger Testaverde told his dad that he wants to go to Seattle for Monday's game to continue the pre-game family ritual.
"He gave me (a high-five) before the Detroit game (which Dallas won), and wanted to come to Cincinnati (where Dallas lost)," Testaverde said. "I should have brought him up there with me. He's been my good luck charm."