IRVING — For Cowboys rookies, their first taste of NFL life is like anyone else starting a new job — they're trying to get off on the right foot.
"First impressions matter," said Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett. He remembers the first time he saw guys like running back Lance Dunbar and receiver Cole Beasley. Both were unheralded and have carved out nice roles on the Dallas roster.
Meanwhile, for top picks like first round pick Zack Martin and second-rounder DeMarcus Lawrence, they want to begin to show they're worth the investment.
A sore hip robbed seventh round pick Ahmad Dixon the chance of showing his wares on the field, forcing him to watch and cheer from the sideline. Fortunately for him, he had already made one heck of a first impression the moment he became a Cowboy.
On the third day of the draft, the Cowboys made the customary call to Dixon. "We just picked you to be a Dallas Cowboy," said owner Jerry Jones to his new selection.
A barely audible "thank you" was all Dixon could get out. He was overwhelmed.
"He was trying so hard to talk to me," Jones said later that night.
When asked what was happening on the other end of the phone, Dixon said, "Yeah, I did cry. That doesn't happen every day in your life. Yeah, I just couldn't say much. It was a joyful moment."
It was the same story when head coach Jason Garrett tried to say "hello." The emotion (not to mention the eruption from his family after hearing the news) made it impossible for the new Cowboys player to communicate.
It was an awkward beginning, but it struck a chord with both Jones and Garrett. What came out may have been shaky and muffled — and Dixon didn't say much — but the sentiment spoke volumes.
"Somewhere, somehow, that really made me appreciate being in the NFL," Jones said afterward, "it means that much to 'em, they're that emotional about it."
Garrett concurred. "It's really a moment I won't forget real soon."
With rookies taking the field this weekend, there are dreams being realized across the NFL. Dixon is a special case, though. He says he learned the game watching and loving the Cowboys growing up. And his late grandmother — with whom Dixon lived at times — was a diehard Cowboys fan.
"Once it set in on me that the Dallas Cowboys had just drafted me, I knew she had something to with that," Dixon said. "She might have come down from heaven and tapped Jerry and told him, 'Hey, give him a phone call... it's about time.'"
The Baylor product will get his chance to show he belongs on the big stage, wearing his beloved blue star. We have no idea how it will turn out, but he's already served notice about what he'll put into it.
"I'm gonna bring my passion to the game. That's something no one can take away from me," Dixon said.
The Cowboys are convinced he's right. "We all winked at each other and said, 'Now that guy — at least for starters — that's a good way to start coming in and getting a feel for what it means to him to play," Jones said.
And it took less than five words. Now that's a first impression.