The NFL is a lot of things.
The largest and most powerful professional sports league in the United States is a game, a corporation, and in many ways a reality show. We tune in week after week hinging on the storylines and being emotionally attached to specific characters.
If the NFL is a reality show, then the Dallas Cowboys are its superstar. America's Team – a humble sort of nickname – is always center stage while being simultaneously loved and hated. The drama is always seemingly more juicy when it accompanies the football club that boasts an iconic star upon their helmets.
Let's talk about that word – drama.
Drama typically runs parallel with big storylines, and boy oh boy have the Dallas Cowboys had their fair share. Over the course of time, the Cowboys were established in 1960, they have always been at the center of drama: last-second comebacks, epic victories, and an occasional off-the-field “can you believe this is happening?” moment or two.
On Thursday night the Dallas Cowboys, thanks to a Philadelphia Eagles win over the New York Giants on Thursday Night Football, locked up what every football team wants: their division, a first-round bye, the number one overall seed in their conference, and home-field advantage in the playoffs. Huzzah, baby.
The 2016 NFC East Crown was certainly not achieved without quite a bit of drama, and that's what's been on my mind ever since Eli Manning's game-clinching interception (love that dude, man). Think about the ridiculous circumstances that have served as obstacles for America's Team this season:
- Coming off a 4-12 season that was such because Tony Romo was hurt, the Cowboys failed to trade back into the 1st Round to get Memphis' Paxton Lynch.
- Later in the draft Dallas saw Michigan State's Connor Cook taken a pick ahead of where they wanted him. They'd go on to settle for someone else in the 4th Round.
- The Cowboys took a player in the 2nd Round, Jaylon Smith, who would likely wouldn't (he's on IR now) play a snap all season.
- MLB Rolando McClain didn't show up for Training Camp.
- DE Randy Gregory had offseason hiccups and was absent as well (not to mention Damien Wilson was shot in the eye with a paintball!).
- The 3rd Round Pick, Maliek Collins, got hurt and missed a ton of time.
- The reigning 4th leading rusher in the NFL, Darren McFadden, hurt his elbow.
- QB2 Kellen Moore was hurt. The settled for rookie ascended on the depth chart.
- The 1st Round Pick, RB Ezekiel Elliott, had hamstring issues at camp and was a question mark.
- QB1 Tony Romo – who's absence plagued 2015 – was hurt. The rookie inherited the keys to America's Team and all the drama that came with that title (and would definitely come).
- The first 4th Round Pick, Charles Tapper, discovered a new injury and was put on IR.
- The perceived best CB on the team, Orlando Scandrick, was hurt.
- A new star cornerback rose from his phoenix-made ashes, Morris Claiborne, and he got hurt.
- The best Left Tackle in football, Tyron Smith, got hurt.
- Stud sophomore Guard La'el Collins was hurt. Ron Leary, who had his own drama during camp, filled in.
- Dez Bryant got hurt.
- The Dez Bryant MRI Saga happened.
- Dez Bryant's father passed away.
- Gavin Escobar's father passed away.
- Tony Romo got healthy, demoted himself, and then drama really happened.
- The Cowboys lost a second game, and panic was at an all-time high.
- Jason Garrett rallied his team.
- Dallas beat Tampa Bay.
- Ezekiel Elliott raised a ton of money by jumping into a Salvation Army kettle.
- Philadelphia beat New York.
When you look through that sequence of events – one that isn't totally in chronological order for those detail-minded folks – you think… there's no way on Earth that this season could go well for this team.
It's Friday, December 23rd and the Dallas Cowboys are 12-2, NFC East Champs, the NFC's #1 seed, and the road to Super Bowl LI goes through their house (not to mention that every single game of importance from here on out will take place in Texas). It literally went as best as it possibly can… with two weeks to spare.
It's not real. It really isn't. You look at what went into it and what came out of it, and it doesn't make sense. It's not supposed to happen like this, it's not supposed to be this easy.
That's the Dallas Cowboys way though, isn't it? Everyone else lives in a world with specifications and parameters that are defined for mortals, but the legendary Dallas Cowboys find ways to conquer all.
December 21st, 2014: #DallasCowboys Clinch NFC East.
December 22nd, 2016: #DallasCowboys Clinch NFC East and #1 Seed in NFC.
The Cowboys captured their second division title in three years literally two years and one day apart. That's not real! You couldn't write that even if you tried! I'm sitting here – writing – and I'm telling you that you could not dream up this dream that has become the 2016 Cowboys.
That division title in 2014? It only featured a quarterback playing at an MVP level (he'd finish second in voting) and the NFL's leading rusher. This season, 2016, LITERALLY HAS THOSE EXACT SAME THINGS… AND THEY ARE ROOKIES! If Jason Garrett doesn't win Coach of the Year, I am going to lose my mind.
Ever since Dez Bryant caught that ball at Lambeau Field it's felt like the Dallas Cowboys have been scratching and clawing for their chance to get back to that same position – one game away from the NFC Championship. On Thursday night they officially did as they are back in the Divisional Round, one game away from the NFC Championship. It actually happened! Two years later. No big deal.
It takes you beyond the grains of modern logic when you try to fully comprehend what the Dallas Cowboys have done this season. You can't even qualify the whole thing by saying that they've defied expectations because there are no expectations for what they've done… it's that ridiculously uncommon.
The only explanation for the phenomenon that has been the 2016 Dallas Cowboys season – down to the detail that the Philadelphia Eagles were the ones that in fact clinched everything for them – is really just five simple words.
This is the Dallas Cowboys.
This is life. And what a life it is.