FRISCO, Texas – Connor McGovern knows better than to root for the New England Patriots now.
But allow the Penn State offensive line product – Dallas’ third-round draft selection – to explain his literally head-splitting reason for rooting for the Patriots growing up.
“I have a lot of hair right now,” McGovern began to explain, from the Cowboys locker room on Friday, after his first rookie minicamp practice. Then he pulled several locks of hair from the front-right of his head aside.
“See the scar right here?” McGovern continued. “They were playing the Rams a couple years ago in the Super Bowl, and I split my head open that night, and I was in the ER.”
Four-year-old McGovern was “kind of screwing around,” he says, when he fell and hit his head against a wall on Feb. 3, 2002. He told his parents from the emergency room that Super Bowl night that he’d become a fan of whichever team triumphed. The Rams, then in St. Louis, had won the Super Bowl two seasons earlier; New England had never won a title. Then the Patriots edged the Rams 20-17 for Tom Brady and Bill Belichick’s first Super Bowl championship.
Dallas OL Connor McGovern (66) works out with fellow Cowboys rookies last Friday. (Photo: Tony Gutierrez, AP)
“I stayed true to that word,” McGovern said, “so I was a Patriots fan.”
Fast forward 17 years and the Patriots and Rams rematched this February in Super Bowl LIII. Brady and Belichick claimed their sixth Lombardi Trophy. McGovern had grown from a 4-year-old with a head gash to an NFL draft prospect.
McGovern also showed reporters on Friday a scar on the left side of his head.
“I’ve got a matching scar on this side,” he said, fumbling to find it. “Where is it? I was seven and playing around on a trampoline with my cousin and he lost his balance. His teeth actually ripped out my head.”
McGovern didn’t adopt a new NFL team for that head injury. Instead, he’d wait until his Penn State days to latch on to a new pro team. McGovern came to admire the Cowboys offensive line as he watched the unit’s film during Nittany Lions days. McGovern started 35 of 39 games in three seasons at Penn State, including all 13 games each of the last two seasons. He moved from center to right guard in 2018.
“Once I got to college, I kind of fell out, didn’t watch as much football,” McGovern said. “While I was there, the offensive line we always watched the Cowboys line because the chemistry aspect of how they always did everything the right way. We tried to model our game after that. So I kind of ended up to be a fan of the Cowboys, too, through the offensive line.”
When McGovern was still available late in the third round of the draft (NFL.com projected him a second-to-third-round pick), the Cowboys snatched him at pick 90, despite not spending time with him pre-draft beyond scout assessments.
“He was a classic case of us doing our best to look up at the board and say, ‘Who’s the best player up there?’ He for us, was by far the best player at that time,” coach Jason Garrett said the night Dallas drafted McGovern. “It was us looking at each other and saying, ‘There’s the blinking light.’”
The Cowboys released draft-room footage of the team’s decision to take McGovern despite multiple trade offers at pick 90. In the video, Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones asks decision makers if they like McGovern.
“We love Connor,” Garrett says, pounding his hand on the boardroom table for emphasis. “We love Connor.”
Go behind the scenes in the War Room and listen as the #DallasCowboys are on the clock, discussing all options before they decide on taking Connor McGovern with their third-round pick. #CowboysDraft
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McGovern said he watched the clip a couple days later and was at a loss for words seeing the front office’s excitement level match his own. Now, he looks forward to learning from All-Pro offensive linemen like right guard Zack Martin, center Travis Frederick and left tackle Tyron Smith. He’s eager to block for All-Pro running back Ezekiel Elliott after paving the way in college for Saquon Barkley, the 2018 NFL offensive rookie of the year.
He could become an immediate presence at left guard if the Cowboys choose to move 2018 second-rounder Connor Williams back to tackle, which Williams played in college. Cowboys right tackle La’el Collins’ rookie deal expires after the 2019 season. Dallas may not have the cap space for Collins as it works toward extensions for quarterback Dak Prescott, receiver Amari Cooper and Elliott.
The Cowboys signed Pro Bowl defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence to a five-year, $105 million deal in April. Jones acknowledged then how much the team would need to rely on contributions from draft selections on cheaper rookie deals.
McGovern, whom the Cowboys see as capable at guard and center, said his skills split evenly between pass protection and run-blocking. But he’s ready to help power Dallas’ ground game.
“I’d say it’s a 50-50 split but I love run blocking, love putting a guy on his back,” McGovern said. “So I’d say the favor goes toward run blocking.”
And he’s not worried about any lingering head trauma from his childhood scars.
“Perfectly fine now,” McGovern said. “It’s been a while since I split [my head] open.”
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