Despite the suffering I endured, I learned quite a bit about the little things in football. In a season where your expectations are marginal, you tend to not question all the bad things that can happen in a given season because you expected them. In 2007 my expectations were actually pretty low. Sure we were in the Play Offs the year prior, but we were all aware of our limitations at CB and so I felt are defense was going to get torched every week. My expectations came equipped with knowledge that this team was incomplete and could be exploited.
But in 2008, there wasn’t a weakness to be found, for the exception of behind the QB and, hey, it’s Romo, he doesn’t get sacked. He’s elusive. He’s got a feel for the pocket. He knows how to avoid the defensive rush. Blah, blah, blah. CB was more than fortified with a healthy Newman and the additions of Pacman, Jenkins and Scandrick. Safety was manned by 2 Pro Bowlers. The LB’s and DL had a decent rotation. It was going to be the return of the Dooms Day defense coupled with an offense that outscored every team in the league the year prior. My expectations, needless to say, left no room for any excuses for failure, for the exception of injury.
And then injuries happened, but still…I had questions. And a good many of those questions were answered by my incessant need to feed off all things Dallas Cowboy’s football related in any sports site available. And believe me, despite all that I already knew about this game I love, I learned so much more than all my years combined in this season alone because of this failure to my expectations. What did I learn?
You can’t buy a Super Bowl. My boyhood perception of how the Cowboy’s played other teams was somewhat skewed. I felt, they didn’t simply win. They man-handled their opponents. I’m not sure how I missed it, but in hindsight, those games were hard. Every one of them was a mountain for that team to climb. My memories of Emmitt Smith play out like a highlight reel. But not every run Smith made yielded yards. Not every game was won with Emmitt’s feet. Irvin didn’t make the acrobatic catch to win every game. Aikman, in his time, wasn’t considered a great quarterback with the likes of Dan Marino, Joe Montana, John Elway, Jim Kelly, Phil Simms, Randall Cunningham, Warren Moon and Boomer Esiason playing at that time. They were in fact fallible. And character, well, the undesirables were starters on that roster too. . But everyone played and played hard. They worked together. It wasn’t exactly what you would call a great composition of talent, either. There were players playing above their station, as the Super Bowl MVP of 1995 might have indicated.
I learned about the power of belief. Belief is a strong word in the world of football. I watched the interview of Ray Lewis prior to the Baltimore game assured in my own belief that the Cowboy’s would win having the stronger offense in a game that featured two very stout defenses. But after the interview, I had my doubts. Why? You could see that Ray Lewis believed. And since we all know that he is what makes that defense play beyond their individual reputations, I knew that entire defense believed too. And then, when I saw their offense play with that same sense of entitlement to the win in this game, absolute dread seeped in. And harder still about that game is the Cowboys repeatedly gave me hope in that fourth quarter, only to see those hopes crashed on a shore of missed tackles and missed opportunities.
It reminded of something I remember seeing throughout that successful 2007 season. Remember Romo’s smile? Sure I wrote several articles about the power of his smile and how the offense seemingly played better when he wore that on his face. But I never really delved in, I don’t think, into what that smile meant. But I think we all know that ultimately it meant he believed. He believed in the plays being called, the players that surrounded him, and his ability to do whatever he wanted with that ball without contention. A fumble here, an interception there, but the next time we saw him in the huddle, there was that infectious smile again saying something like “Hey, will get them this time.” And typically he was right. He generally always followed up a bone headed mistake with something to make you forget all about it.
Throughout the offseason following the draft and through the preseason I had a sliver of a doubt about rather or not this collective of talent could play as a team. But that doubt was constantly assuaged away with sports analyst abroad stating with utter confidence this Cowboys team was going to be a force to be reckoned with. Like no team I have heard about in the preseason in years prior, this Cowboys team was the talk of the town with their impressive role call at training camp. This highlighted by the Hard Knocks crews turned the Cowboys into the ultimate Hollywood team. And with that, I wondered what type of effect it would have on these Cowboys. But I wanted to believe what they sold us: That’s part of being a member of the Cowboys. You have to get used to that attention because the Cowboys are America’s team. I learned that no football team is bulletproof to distraction; no body is immune to acting different under the encouragement of the stage lights. These guys, million dollar contract or not, are just like any of us.
The Texans in years past with David Carr under center taught us about how important the Offensive Line is, regardless of the other talent present on the field. But once again I made the mistake of believing irresponsible sports analyst who stated that the Cowboys OL are only second to the Browns, in terms of strength. Then, as the season progressed, I learned how he came to that determination; not through observation, but pure stats and a popularity contest known as the Pro Bowl. How effective were the passing and running games in the year prior? How often did the QB get sacked? Of these players, who went to the Pro Bowl? The first two questions could be answered naming one player: Tony Romo. He made both Jason Garrett and the Offensive Line look great in 2007! I was there; I saw it.
The last question answered itself over time. The Pro Bowl, unfortunately, take’s 1/3 of fans votes. And let’s face it, how many fans vote for players outside of their team? A huge bias is in place in the voting, and well, it pretty much has rendered the game to serving as an ability for a ‘popular’ player to petition for more money on his contract. But because some sport’s analyst from a credible source said my OL was great and I wanted to believe it, my questions of this assessment initially didn’t go very far…not until their performance demanded I do so. And to be honest, I was disgusted. Because I watched these players in the offseason and I saw that they thought very highly of themselves for all the recognition getting poured on them when any Cowboy faithful who watched the 2007 season should know these accolades were completely undeserved.
And so it is in the game football. Fans and analyst alike are not impervious to misleading concepts. As a fan I don’t watch every game and can’t expect a sport analyst to watch every game of the previous season for every team he decides to write an opinion on. But the ultimate lesson here, regardless of whose formula it is that measures performance, they are all based on stats which doesn’t always tell the whole story.
This leads me to my next lesson learned. The media is a monster; the worse kind of monster. Remember Aliens with Sigourney Weaver? The media is that kind of monster. You see, their pretty dangerous in their own right, but then their articles act like those spider-looking creatures with tails (or tales if you prefer) that plant little eggs in you which hatch and create more monsters. See the parallel? Then we get all these disciples regurgitating what was said by a previous reporter with an anonymous source and the epidemic spreads.
Which brings me to the last lesson.
In the wanning moments of that dreadful season, everyone had an opinion of who should be fired, who should be released, and who should change as a player or coach. I’ve offered my opinion on these drastic changes a few times myself. Some have even suggested the Cowboys owner Jerry Jones should fire the Cowboys GM Jerry Jones and have started a fund raiser requesting donations of $5 or more to put said request on billboards throughout the city.
Word? You think that might work? Sorry, I sense an epic fail in the making. Maybe if it was just a strange coincidence that both these individuals had the same name, just maybe, that would work. But we are talking about a wealthy man who made his money in oil. I’m sure he saw plenty of billboards suggesting he fire himself to save the environment and we all see how well he took that suggestion. He bought a football team with his earnings. He didn’t spend it repairing the environment or donating it all to some note worthy cause, though I’m sure he’s made a few contributions here and there that is not a drop in the bucket to his accumulative wealth; he purchased a football franchise to live out the ultimate Fantasy Football League and has been doing so now for twenty years.
So, write your letters. Sing your songs. Make your jokes. But know your role. As a fan, you are static. Your opinion does not effect change even if you have a plane with a huge banner circle Jerry Jones mansion. I have said it before: That is the rub of being a fan of anything in general; you share in the success and failures of outcomes you have nothing to do with as a spectator. It is a frustrating existence when your team loses. But the human condition forces us to believe that we can control all things, which is why we argue, debate, fight, and go to war. This concept in life is bigger than just the game of football. It affects everyone and everything around us. And when you broaden your view to see the big picture and all that it encompasses, such as the war, the suffering that surrounds us, the news filled with inhumanity in a world dominated by humans (irony intended), things like a losing season of your favorite football team seems so small. And that is the biggest lesson of them all…