One of my fondest memories of the 90's Dallas Cowboys dynasty was the year, 1990. Dallas, for those of you who were too young to witness it, was 7-9 that year. For those not paying close attention, there was really nothing all that spectacular about that team. Emmitt smith gained less than a thousand yards, Troy Aikman had 11 TD's with 18 INT's, Kelvin Martin, not Michael Irvin, led the team in receiving and the defense was middle-of-the-road. Again, nothing to write home about.
Or was there?
Dallas won four of its last six contests that year and, if you watched those games (and I did) closely, you probably saw the same thing I did. While the team was not seeing the kinds of results, aka wins, that would make most fans happy, it was clear to some fans that this team had gone back to its roots and made a commitment to a set of core values that created a more "spirited" level of play. Their intention was to be tough, physical and passionate. I'm glad I was there to see that formation of greatness taking place because, without it, I wouldn't have appreciated their time at the top as much as I did. The bottom line is that I liked that team. I REALLY liked that team and I liked where they were heading.
On the other hand, there was that team in 2007. They were 13-3 with a top seed in the Conference. You know what I remember about that team? I remember that the biggest personality in the organization was a mercurial, self-obsessed egomaniac of a Wide Receiver. I remember a head coach who did not understand what it took to build toughness and passion. I remember the team being leaderless and, while I enjoyed the wins, I never really liked that team. I didn't like where they were heading.
Five contests into the 2011 campaign, I have a distinct sense of déjà vu. I've seen this somewhere before. The good news is that I know exactly when and where I saw it. The better news is that I also liked where it led. Now, I'm not making any sort of predictions about this team, this coaching staff or where they are headed, but I absolutely CAN tell you that learning to win is not an event, but rather a process. When I think about the effort and energy put forth by the entire team against the New England Patriots in Foxboro last weekend, well, it may just have been a watershed event for this team. Some people will say, "You're nuts. It's just another loss". Au contraire mon frere.
I saw that same thing in 1990. They lost some tough games where they were clearly NOT ready for, pardon the pun, prime time. But in those losses, I also saw a group of players that had become the embodiment of its head coach. He was unyielding. So were they. He was hardnosed. So were they. He was all about learning what it took to win. So, we would later come to find out, were they.
Now, I am going to take a moment and chastise some of you for your positions on last Sunday's game because I think you've gotten caught up in the moment. As I read through the post-game threads, I saw a lot of bashing going on. I saw people bashing the defense. Really? The defense?!?! Why? Because you predicted they would hold Tom Brady to 13 points through the bulk of 4 quarters of football? Maybe you did. And even if you did, why berate them for one drive when Dallas was the first team in some time to keep the Patriots under 30? In their house no less!! No...what I saw was a group of defensive players who were flying around, playing with toughness, staying disciplined within their roles and playing with an edge. How can you not appreciate that given what we saw last year?
Another segment of the BTB population went after Garrett. Now I'm not JG's biggest supporter and the jury is clearly still out on him, but many of you were screaming your bloody heads off in prior weeks about him calling passes in situations where runs were more appropriate, especially given Romo's roller coaster performances late in games. So here he plays it conservative, takes the ball out of Romo's hands and gets the safe field goal to take a lead late in the 4th quarter. Lo and behold, many of you say THIS loss is about him not being more aggressive. Can you say hypocrite?
Maybe all of the angry detractors are right in saying this team isn't any different than previous iterations where the bottom will fall out and the true losing colors of this team will be revealed. Maybe this team is really just as poorly run and undisciplined as all of the others we've had to tolerate since Jimmy Johnson left town. But...what if they're wrong? What if what we're witnessing is the education of a team and an organization that just needs to learn what it takes to be a winner? What if this is the foundation-building process for an organization readying itself for a run at high performance over an extended period of time?
I don't like losing. I don't believe in moral victories on the football field. But I do believe, wholeheartedly, that the very idea of becoming a champion is something that has to have a beginning. It has to have important milestones. It has to have its good and its bad, its highs and its lows, its wins and its losses. We see it every day, and not just in sports. We see it from our soldiers defending our nation at home and abroad. We see it in times of struggle and strife as we did with Katrina and 9/11. From personal experience, I can tell you it happens every day in the treatment rooms of medical facilities caring for people with terminal illness. It happens in schools between teachers and children. It surely happens on football fields with people of all ages.
The character and courage needed for people and groups to be great sometimes just needs a little time to truly reveal itself. If you didn't see at least some of the character traits and qualities that are requisite for a winning team, then I'm open to the discussion. If you didn't see a group of people fighting hard on the gridiron to make their fans proud, then you're barking up the wrong tree. And that's what you need to take some quantum of solace from. That's where you need to take a step back and revel in the idea that just maybe, this is the beginning of a new era of Dallas Cowboys football. They may not get the bling, but it won't be because they didn't give it their all. And, from one fan to another, while I want to win every single game by 40 points, I can certainly find peace and happiness in a Cowboys football team that displays the kind of effort I saw last weekend. That's probably because I like where they are heading.
So, as you sit back and think about what you've seen, and what you will see, from our beloved Cowboys this year, make sure you don't blink. You could miss this...