I'm a Dallas Cowboys fan. Through and through, I root for them and tie myself to their fortunes in a way that makes it uncomfortable to explain to people who I don't know well. That's why this offseason has been so troubling. I've felt like I've sleepwalked my way through this entire labor dispute morass. Thinking back, I can tell you that Major League Baseball lost me because of their ridiculous labor dispute and I've never made it all the way back as a fan. The tenuous position the NFL put me in this year made it particularly difficult to talk about the things I love. Free Agency, draft strategy, organizational dynamics and all the other things that contribute to the joy that is football's annual emotional off-season roller coaster were absent in my heart and in my mind.
Maybe it was divine intervention and maybe it was just a prolonged melodrama that just needed to play itself out, but I don't care...BECAUSE FOOTBALL IS BACK!
Ah yes! There is joy in my heart again. I am filled anew with thoughts of everything from how to upgrade the defensive end position to which bargain basement free agents could make a big impact to how to sneak into the Cheerleader tryouts (again). Soon, the crack of shoulder pads colliding on the gridiron will fill my ears. The passes into the flat with Felix Jones in space will charge the hairs on the back of my neck with enough static electricity to power the Metroplex. The aerial rainbows from Romo to Bryant will have my mouth agape. The speed with which Ware bends the corner and wraps up opposing quarterbacks will leave me awestruck. The earth is again rotating on its proper axis.
It's a funny thing this football. I have friends and family in many countries around the world and it is nearly impossible to explain to people whose lives revolve around "futbol" how this game, our game, makes me feel. Baseball pundits tell you their game is much more cerebral. Basketball devotees claim their players are the best athletes in the world. That's fine. But watch a soccer fan or a baseball fan during a game and you'll see them look away from the field or the video screen while the ‘action' is taking place. I can never, ever, take my eyes off of the field once the ball is snapped. The very thought just makes me nervous. And maybe that's just me. Maybe I'm a little too..."fanatical" like that. But I'm okay with it.
So when I see Romo stride through the tunnel for our first game, I'm sure I'll see, as I have in the past, visions in my head of Craig Morton and Roger Staubach and Danny White and Troy Aikman. When Jason Garrett walks over to the sideline, I'll pray that Tom and Jimmy have somehow helped him gather the wisdom and leadership needed to make this year's team a champion. And when Ware lines up on the edge with his ears pinned back, I'm sure I'll imagine Harvey Martin and Charles Haley in my head for just a moment because these decades of devotion have created sedimentary layers of indelible memories that I dearly cherish. It's those memories that connect NFL fans in a way that is entirely uncommon. Every fan I've met seems to have that one special memory that sticks out. Whether it was an off-field interaction with a player, an amazing play they saw while sitting in the stands or just a memory of going to the game with their family and/or friends. My old boss almost tears up recounting a game he watched with his dad where they watched Johnny Unitas perform acts of heroism. That kind of emotion is tangible and while I'm sure fans of other sports feel the same way, there is something different here.
The other thing about football is the primordial linkage we have to the physical contact that anchors the sport in its roots. Even with the new "player safety" rules, there is something almost indescribable about the feeling I get when I see a player really bring the lumber on a blindside blitz. We can see the collisions before they happen and as our anticipation reaches its apex, it results in that hit that rattles teeth. We can almost...feel it. I'm sorry, but that feeling is nonexistent in other major sports. It's unique to football.
There's so much to love about America's Team playing America's Game and I could not be happier now that the elongated offseason is coming to an end. We're lucky enough to be fans of one of the most storied franchises in the sport, but that's the beauty of the beginning of every new season. EVERY team is a Super Bowl contender and EVERY fan can erase the pain of the prior season's disappointment with the blank slate each new season brings with it.
It's part of every fan's special relationship with this game that we love so much.
I won't deny it. It's deeply personal. Why it means so much to me I may never know. But the return of this uniquely American endeavor that we call the NFL has once again renewed my faith in all things pure and good.
So welcome back football, we've missed you.