The Dallas Cowboys are the top seed in the NFC, and begin the playoffs Sunday after a first-round bye behind their rookie combo of quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott.
But, perhaps, the Cowboys owe some gratitude for their season to Cord Sandberg.
Specifically, his decision to pursue professional baseball instead of playing college football at Mississippi State, where Prescott became the starter following an injury to Tyler Russell in 2013.
While what ifs never present an answerable scenario, what if Sandberg had chosen college over baseball? Would he have won the starting gig following Russell’s injury. Would Prescott have beaten him out the following year or transferred? Would he have been a future NFL draft pick and starter of a playoff team this weekend?
“Everything does happen for a reason, but, yeah, I guess from time-to-time I think about the what ifs,” Sandberg said. “Definitely not in a regretful mindset. Just for the heck of it, just thinking about it.”
Sandberg can take the hypothetical out in the video game version with NCAA ’14. In the game, Sandberg is listed as Mississippi State’s third-string quarterback, because he was included following signing day when he signed his national letter of intent with the Bulldogs.
“I put in the third-string quarterback when I play with Mississippi State when I play the video game, so it’s fun to do that,” Sandberg said.
But Sandberg quelled his college football dreams when he signed with the Philadelphia Phillies. Choosing baseball over football seems like a difficult choice at first, especially when you consider just how talented Sandberg was at both. He dominated the Manatee County gridiron as a dual-threat quarterback in the mold of Tim Tebow.
“Cord’s thing was his sky was the limit,” former Manatee High teammate Thor Miller said. “He’s gifted and talented.”
Sandberg quarterbacked Manatee High’s last state championship team in 2011 and was back under center when the Hurricanes were ranked No. 1 in the nation for most of his senior season in 2012.
Had he gone to the Bulldogs from high school and eschewed baseball, Sandberg would have been a freshman the year Russell got hurt and Prescott, a redshirt sophomore, changed his career trajectory with his performances that led to the NFL and Dallas drafting him.
“Dak got hurt late in that year and I remember watching the Egg Bowl when they played Ole Miss,” Sandberg said. “The true freshman, his name is Damian Williams. He was a guy they ended up getting once I chose baseball. ... He started the Egg Bowl and I remember watching thinking, ‘Wow, that could have been me if I was there doing that.’”
While the what ifs are endless, the reality is Sandberg is entering his fifth season of professional baseball and is coming back from a scary injury. At the end of last year’s Florida State League campaign, Sandberg was hit in the face by Daytona left-handed pitcher Ismael Guillon.
Sandberg has recovered and is preparing for minor league spring training. Last season was his first with the Clearwater Threshers in high-A baseball, where he hit .230 and hit four home runs. The goal is the majors, but should that dream not happen then Sandberg still can go back to school and football would be a possibility.
“Growing up I played absolutely everything, but as far as in high school I was mainly playing football and baseball,” Sandberg said. “I had a passion for them both. Hitting a home run, for me, that’s the best feeling in sports. I haven’t gotten to experience everything in sports. But being able to win a state championship, very cool. Love those guys, that was a great season. ... The fact of me playing Major League Baseball, if for some reason it wasn’t in the Lord’s plan to become a Major League Baseball player, definitely knowing that I can be able to not only go back to school to get an education, but to play another passion of mine, which is quarterback in football, that definitely factored into my decision for sure.”
Seattle at Atlanta
Houston at New England, late
Green Bay at Dallas, 4:40 p.m.
Pittsburgh at Kansas City, 8:20 p.m.