The last two years have not been kind to the Dallas Cowboys. In 2010 we were a losing football team, a 6-10 team. In 2011 this team was the definition of average with an 8-8 record and only one win over a team with a winning record. This team has been brought down to the lowest it has even been with Tony Romo. The Cowboys and its fanbase have been defeated, embarrassed, and humbled. All the while the Cowboys' great rival, the New York Giants, have amassed winning records and Superbowl wins. The Giants believe they are once again clear favorites to win the NFC East and that the Cowboys are the same losers they've known for the past 2 years.
While many Cowboys fans crow with their normal 11-5 Superbowl champ predictions, as they do every year, the national opinion of the Cowboys is the lowest it's even been. Most national writers expect the Cowboys to finish 3rd, or even last in the division. No one but the true blues talks about the Cowboys as a serious playoff contender. Undoubtedly the Cowboys are at their lowest point in years where it seems like all may be lost.
In classic storytelling a hero is confronted with an obstacle or struggle. We root for him as he fights back and tries to overcome his challenge. Initially he fails and falls to his lowest point where it seems like all is lost. But from his failure he learns something, it's a truth about life, or courage he didn't know he had, or maybe he learns Kung Fu! Because of his failure he changes as a person and gains a power he didn't have before. Armed with his new skill he confronts the bad guy but this time he overcomes the struggle, wins the day, and gets the girl.At their lowest point this Cowboys team has learned, it's changed in ways the New York Giants don't expect.
Eli Manning expects to walk in and notch another 300 yard game against the Cowboys as he's done every game for the last 3 years. But this isn't he same secondary. The Cowboys of old would have given Mike Jenkins a big contract extension just like they did for guys like Ken Hamlin and the mediocrity would continue. But the Cowboys have changed. From their failures the Cowboys have learned the need for objective thinking and brought two of the best cornerback talents the NFC East has seen since prime Asante Samuel.
On the defensive line the expectation is to face DeMarcus Ware and JAGs. Instead the Cowboys have changed from putting fencepost DEs like Spears and Olshansky as starters to pass rushing DEs like Hatcher, Lissimore, and Crawford. What's better, the Cowboys have grown these players from inside, molding them year-after-year into the exact kind of DE they want.
Last year the Giants notched an amazing 6 sacks on Tony Romo. Let that sink in, six sacks in one game. Talk to Giants fans and they expect to see the exact same again. Why expect anything different? Well, while the Giants were sleeping the Cowboys transformed the offensive line, changing 4 of the 5 starting positions. Even more importantly they brought in one of the most genius o-line coaches in the league in Bill Callahan to build them from the ground-up - breaking every bad habit, harping on every detail, demanding perfection until it was realized.
As you look across all position groups you'll find an astonishing statistic, of the 22 starters from 2010 there are 14 new players on this team. Only 8 starters have retained their jobs: Romo, Ware, Ratliff, Witten, Miles, Spencer, Free, and Sensabaugh. Beyond the Roster this team has developed a new identity. In this culture they no longer talk about "victory monday" where they don't have to work - now they talk about how they run wind sprints at the end of practice to toughen themselves for 4th quarters. From failure the Cowboys have transformed themselves into a new team and gained skills they never knew they had.
In a hero's journey he often also needs outside help. Maybe it's a friend who helps him take on the enemy together so he is not alone, othertimes a colleague sacrifices himself so the hero may win, and yet others it's the gods themselves that intervene on behalf of the hero. The gods often hate the self-conceited who admire their own work in hubris. The Giants are 4 point Vegas favorites and have a fanbase hardly excited about what they view as an easy opening game against the Cowboys. Whatever the reason, the gods have given help to the Cowboys by striking the Giants with injuries. The Giants' #1 CB is done for the season on injured reserve and the #3, Prince Amukamara, is already declared out for the Cowboys game with an injury of his own. This forces Michael Chow, a CB who has never started an NFL game and is so bad he was cut from the Jacksonville Jaguars, into starting duty opposite Dez Bryant. In the middle of the field Chris Canty got 2 of his 4 sacks last season against the Cowboys. He is on the PUP list and won't play for the first 6 weeks of the season. His backup is also declared out forcing an unheralded deep backup named Rocky Bernard into the starting role, a man with zero sacks last season. Finally, DeMarcus Ware has been given a clear path to the QB. The Giants' left tackle is declared out for the game which means Ware will be standing across from a backup swing tackle that the Redskins cut this offseason because they didn't think he was talented enough for their horrible offensive line, which is saying a lot.
So onward the Cowboys march into the lair of the enemy, right into his home turf where he is most powerful. They march onto the biggest stage possible as more people are expected to watch this game any any in NFL regular season history. On Wednesday your Dallas Cowboys have the chance to rise from the pit of underachievement and failure that they've been cast into. They get to take on their biggest enemy at the height of his power on the biggest stage imaginable. On Wednesday they have a chance to make a statement to the entire nation: A transformation has occurred. This is not the same Cowboys, this is not the same year, this year is different.
And maybe after defeating the bad guys, they'll get the girl in the end too.