DAVIE (CBSMiami/AP) — Athletes and coaches often will have strong connections to one another regardless of how much time may have passed between them.
Looking ahead to this week's game against the Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins interim coach Dan Campbell allowed himself a minute to look back.
Campbell once played for the Cowboys, and the East Texas native started cheering for them as a youngster in the 1980s, when his favorite player, Tony Dorsett, was taking handoffs from Danny White.
"It was always America's Team," Campbell said. "I loved Dorsett. I loved Danny White. That was kind of my growing-up era. I loved Randy White, 'Too Tall' Jones. I mean I was a big fan of all those guys."
Campbell remained a Cowboys rooter after he became a player and blossomed into a fine tight end at Texas A&M.
Then he was drafted in 1999 by Dallas' division rivals, the New York Giants, and became an ex-Cowboys fan.
"When I played for Giants, that was always a weird game, for me to play the Cowboys," Campbell said. "But throughout the years it's like anything else. Now you're on the other side, and you're just trying to win. That's all that matters."
Such will be the case Sunday, when Campbell coaches his sixth game for the Dolphins.
At 39, he's the NFL's youngest coach — so young his former teammates include Tony Romo and Jason Witten, both still with the Cowboys.
Campbell smiled Wednesday when asked to share his best story about Romo.
"I had one that just popped in my head," he said. "But I can't tell it."
Campbell's 11-year NFL career included three seasons at Dallas in 2003-05, where he started 30 games.
"He was a hard-working, tough guy who loved ball," Witten said. "Great energy. Smart. Good leader. I would say that you knew all along he was always working to be a coach."
Before replacing Joe Philbin last month, Campbell had been the Dolphins' tight ends coach since 2011. The Cowboys once tried to hire him for the same job, owner Jerry Jones said.
"Boy, has he ascended in a way that I don't think anyone could have expected," Jones said on his radio show this week. "We're very respectful of what he can accomplish as coach."
Campbell and Cowboys coach Jason Garrett were teammates with the Giants in 2000-02.
"Dan makes everybody around him better," Garrett said. "His dominant trait in my mind is he has great energy — in practice, playing the game, on the field, off the field. He loves life, he loves people, he loves football."
The Dolphins are 3-2 under Campbell, and 4-5 overall and last in the AFC East. They remain as inconsistent as when Philbin was coach, and with an 0-4 record in division games, they're long shots to end a seven-year playoff drought.
But a respectable finish might prompt owner Stephen Ross to bring Campbell back next year, in part because he's popular with his players. They praise his energy, positive attitude and motivational skills.
"He has been phenomenal," center Mike Pouncey added. "I loved him as an assistant, and definitely love him as a head coach."
"He's continuing to find ways to give us that little spark," receiver Jarvis Landry said. "Guys are playing harder and harder for him each week."
Notes: Jelani Jenkins (left ankle) and Koa Misi (abdomen) sat out practice Wednesday, raising the prospect the Dolphins could be without two of their three starting LBs Sunday. Both will probably be game-time decisions, Campbell said.
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