ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Jimmy Johnson loves the video boards at Cowboys Stadium right where they are.
Johnson was in the $1.15 billion new home of his former team in June for the first event, a concert featuring George Strait and Reba McEntire, and couldn't take his eyes off the screens. He returned Thursday to film some commercials and still thinks they're just fine, even if a punt banged off them during a preseason game against Tennessee last weekend.
"If there's anything wrong, it's that people are going to watch the video board and not the game," Johnson said. "It is so dominating, but I think it's so cool. I think it's great."
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones spent about $40 million on the boards, which are about 60 yards long, making them the world's largest high-definition television screens. They hang right over the middle of the field, 90 feet over the turf. While that's 5 feet above the league's minimum, the fact they stretch from 20-yard line to 20-yard line makes them a giant target.
Sure enough, one of 14 punts in the preseason game hit it, prompting all sorts of debate about whether a change is needed. Titans coach Jeff Fisher and backup punter A.J. Trapasso — who repeatedly hit the boards during warmups, then for real in the third quarter and almost did it again on his do-over — have said the screens need to be raised.
"Who knows, Jerry might've put them up to it so people will talk about it," Johnson said, laughing.
Actually, Jones has been adamant about keeping the boards in place. A change would be expensive, of course, but Jones also is defending the reason he put them at 90 feet to begin with — the fact most punts are aimed toward a sideline. Johnson agrees, citing the same reason.
"Once the regular season starts, I don't see it being an issue because I don't think you'll have punters trying to punt the ball straight up to try hitting the video board," Johnson said.
The Cowboys practiced in the stadium Thursday night, drawing 26,460 fans who were let in free but charged $10 to park. They saw receiver Roy Williams leave the field with a shoulder injury, but didn't see punter Mat McBriar hit the boards.
McBriar went about 0 for 25. He's yet to hit it and is wondering what all the fuss is about.
"It looks lower than it is just because of the size of it, that's kind of what I feel," McBriar said. "No one has told me not to hit it."
He insists Trapasso was kicking it right down the middle every time. McBriar, who certainly has the leg to hit the board, never kicks that way because "it's just easier to cover half the field or a third of the field as opposed to the whole thing." So by aiming for the sidelines, the boards aren't an obstacle for him.
"I don't want to get away from what I'm used to doing," he said.
The next test comes Saturday night with a preseason game against San Francisco. Will 49ers punter Andy Lee take aim?
"Maybe in warm-ups," he said.
As for the game, Lee said he'll be more concerned with putting the Cowboys in the worst field position he can.
"You have to go out there and not change anything," Lee said. "Otherwise you might start messing things up. I'm trying to get ready for the regular season."
Twenty years ago, Johnson made the leap from coaching the University of Miami to replacing Tom Landry as coach of the Cowboys. Dallas won only one game that year, but won Super Bowls following his fourth and fifth years. Then he clashed with Jones and was gone. (The former college teammates are on good terms again, as evidenced by Johnson sitting with Jones at the Strait-McEntire concert.)
Now Johnson is heading into his 10th straight season as an NFL analyst for Fox. With that leaguewide perspective, he considers the Cowboys among the teams to beat this season.
"I think they're good enough to win the whole thing," Johnson said. "But I think there's 10 teams that are talented enough to win the whole thing if they stay healthy and if they don't make the mistakes and if they get hot at the right time. I don't think this team is as talented as they were a year ago but they could be a better team."
Cutting Terrell Owens removed some of the talent and much of the turmoil. It also turned Williams into Tony Romo's No. 1 receiver, which has drawn skepticism from several players of Johnson's era, most notably Hall of Famers Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin.
Johnson's take: "I haven't seen enough consistency out of Roy Williams to go out on a limb."
Williams had one big season in four full years in Detroit. Dallas traded for him in the middle of last season and he had 19 catches and one touchdown in 10 games.
"Any player in Detroit could be misevaluated," Johnson said. "If a team is not winning, it's hard for me to give credit to an individual who makes plays."
The commercials Johnson taped Thursday include a code of conduct message that will be played inside Cowboys Stadium, and two more about drinking responsibly that will air locally and nationally.
When his image shows up on the massive video boards at Cowboys Stadium, a huge roar is sure to follow. Johnson knows it after the warm reception folks gave him when he and Jones were shown together during the concert.
"People like success," he said, smiling. "Obviously it brings back great memories."
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.
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