I woke up on December 16, 2009, and made a decision. I was going all in.
Three days earlier, the Cowboys had lost their second game in a row, dropping a 20-17 decision to the Chargers, leaving them at 8-5. Even worse, Demarcus Ware was carted off the field with a neck injury.
Dallas had begun the season 8-3, but as soon as the calendar turned to December, the losing started. Typical. A college friend of mine who was born and raised in New Orleans and had season tickets since the 1990s had invited me to come down to see the Cowboys play the Saints. This had been planned months ago, but following the two losses, I was anything but enthusiastic to go down and watch my Cowboys play the 13-0 New Orleans Saints.
But that Wednesday morning, I decided to put all that behind me, and I would be the most ridiculously insane Cowboys fan I could be. Despite the five losses, despite the annual December swoon, despite losing our best player, despite going up against the undefeated Saints, I was not just going to root for the Cowboys, I was going to go into the lions' den and talk as much trash as I could.
I got myself in the zone by wearing Cowboys' jerseys on Wednesday and Thursday before even leaving my home in Maryland. On Friday, I put on my Romo jersey and headed to the airport. When I arrived in New Orleans, my college friend (who I will refer to as "Blooter") was waiting curbside to pick me up. He jumped out of his SUV and started yelling at me as soon as he saw me approaching, wearing his own #9 Brees jersey. Our banter was soon interrupted by the person parked behind Blooter—he immediately challenged my friend: "Why are you even picking him up? You should make him take a cab!" This was actually a common theme throughout the weekend—Blooter was often attacked by locals for being in the vicinity with me. To his credit, he accepted the attacks with good humor, while pointing out that he was a long-suffering Saints fan like the rest of them.
That night, while most Cowboy fans were partying in the French Quarter, I was hanging out with Blooter at his local dive bar. There I was, wearing blue and white, while the other 30 patrons were all wearing black and gold. The result of the game was such a foregone conclusion that I was immediately cut off whenever I tried to make an argument in favor of Dallas winning. The discussion didn't focus on whether the Cowboys would win or lose, it focused on how much they would lose by.
We got up late the next morning and headed to Drago's for brunch, which consisted of several dozen charbroiled oysters. Once we were through with that, I headed next door to the casino, while Blooter decided to take a nap before the late start. I entered the Harrah's and finally saw some evidence of Cowboy fans. We had our own language of subtle high-fives or fist bumps. We would address each other by our jerseys: "Romo." "Witten."
I made my way to the craps tables. I typically bet against the dice, which is usually frowned upon, but since I was wearing a Cowboys jersey anyway, I didn't think much about it. But then a very loud Cowboys fan got everyone at the table excited, talking about how we were all together right now at the table, even though we would be opposed later on that night. He literally went around the table to each person, "Are you with me?" He got all these Saints fans on his side. "Yeah, I'm with you!!" Each person was more emphatic than the last. He finally got to me, "Cowboy, are you with me?" I wasn't entirely sure how to respond, so I just pointed out, "Well, actually I bet against the dice." He paused for a moment, squinting at me. "Well, [BLEEP] you!!!" The Saints fans cheered.
Despite my unwelcome reception, the dice turned cold, and I made good money. I was up $700 when I noticed my wife calling me, so I cashed in and headed outside into warm sunshine. I returned the call and discovered that Maryland had been dumped under a foot of snow. My wife, a California girl, was stuck in the house with our two kids, and nowhere to go. A man of action, I immediately took steps to rectify her situation.
First, I called our neighbor and asked whether their high school son was interested in making $20. If so, he should proceed to my house with a shovel (which he did). Second, I took my casino winnings to the nearest shopping center and spent half of it on a bracelet for my wife.
I returned to Blooter's dive bar that afternoon, just in time to hear that Ware would be able to play that night. We had a quick bite to eat before making our way to the Superdome. I was proudly sporting a brand new Ratliff jersey, but still having to answer questions from Saints fans. On the ride over, one woman asked, "Why are you a Cowboys fan?" I started to give her the answer to that question when she gave me the follow up of, "Are you brain damaged?" I decided to just keep quiet.
We arrived in our seats and yet again, Blooter was castigated for bringing me with him. There was a lot of smack talk back and forth, but it was all in good fun. The game got under way and the Cowboys defense held the Saints to a quick three and out. The Cowboys took over and quickly drove to midfield. As they broke the huddle, I noticed rookie WR Kevin Ogletree lined up wide. Eager to show my knowledge, I pointed him out to Blooter and said, "Keep an eye on him. The Cowboys are trying to get him more snaps. I wouldn't be surprised if this play is designed to get him the ball." Perhaps the Saints also thought that, because Ogletree was covered, but his counterpart on the other side was not, as Romo lofted a beautiful deep ball that Miles Austin hauled in for a 49-yd touchdown. Blooter was not amused. "Not only did you score a touchdown, but I didn't even see it because you told me to watch some guy I've never heard of!!"
Another three and out by the Saints is followed by another quick touchdown drive by the Cowboys. Less than ten minutes into the game, Dallas is ahead 14-0, and I'm going nuts. As the game proceeds into the 2nd quarter, the Cowboys continue to put decent drives together, but aren't able to end with scores. Doesn't matter to me, I'm happy to see the Saints offense on the sideline. Every first down that Romo and company get receives the first down signal from me. After several first downs, a woman's voice from the row behind me calmly informs me, "If that finger comes in front of my face one more time, I'M BITING IT OFF!"
The Saints fans are getting antsy as their team's offensive struggles continue. With the score 14-3, they start at their own 10 with about four minutes left in the half. I decide to stop being a jerk for five minutes and with my casino winning burning a hole in my pocket, I offer to buy a beer for anyone who wants one. The Saints begin to march down the field as the beer man hands frothy beverages to me and I pass them out to the New Orleans faithful who suddenly think that maybe this Cowboy fan isn't so bad after all. I hand out the last beer and sit back down, realizing that the Saints have just crossed into Cowboy territory. On the next play, Brees goes for it all, but is picked off by Mike Jenkins inside the 5. "HA!!" I yell. "That's karma right there! You guys got your free beers, but we got the ball! That's TAINTED beer you're drinking!!" Clearly my attempt at not being a jerk failed miserably. The Cowboys tack on a FG before the half, and we are miraculously still up two touchdowns.
The Cowboys come out of the locker room the same way they started the game, methodically driving down the field, and when their 7-minute 74-yd drive culminates in another touchdown, I am on the edge of delirium. The Saints faithful are stunned. The teams trade scoreless drives as the 3rd quarter comes to a close.
To his credit, Blooter never gives up hope. As the Saints fans around us seem resigned to losing the game, he gets louder and more emphatic. The Saints open the 4th quarter with a quick TD drive and that emboldens him further. When the Cowboy get the ball back, the dome is rocking. A quick three and out sends the ball back to the Saints. I'm worried about where this is heading, so I offer to buy more beer for the fans, but they all decline. Once bitten, twice shy, I guess. Three minutes later, they are celebrating another touchdown. It's now 24-17, with eight full minutes to play. I close my eyes and think, this is NOT happening, this is NOT happening...
Romo and company take over at the 20 and I don't think I've ever experienced such loudness in my life before. I remind myself that I went "all in" for the Cowboys this weekend, so now is not the time to back down. I taunt the Saints fans around me, "I can't HEAR you!!" I simultaneously do the "raise the roof" motion trying to get them to be even louder. Blooter, of course, is leading the charge, reminding me that he never gave up.
And yet on the field, the Cowboys haven't given up either. Facing a critical 3rd and 7, Romo finds Austin for 32 yards into New Orleans territory. Several plays later, the Cowboys find themselves inside the Saints' 10-yd line. Nick Folk trots onto the field to put the game away. The Saints are out of timeouts and the 24-yd FG will give Dallas a 10 point lead with 2 minutes left. The Saints fans are screaming themselves hoarse, and while Folk has had his share of hiccups this season, he couldn't possibly miss this gimme. Could he?
CLANG!!! The sound of the ball hitting the upright is painfully loud, although it is immediately exceeded in volume by the raucous cheering of the Superdome. The Saints take over at the 20, 80 yards from tying the game up. Noting that the Saints fans stood and screamed when the Cowboys had the ball, I decide to do the same now that the Saints are on the field. Blooter takes one look at me, grabs my Cowboys cap, slaps me with it and tells me to sit down and shut up. Ok.
Brees marches the Saints into Cowboys territory. With about 20 seconds left, he drops back, but doesn't see Demarcus Ware coming. Ware sacks him for the second time, knocking the ball loose, and Jay Ratliff falls on it. Unbelievably, the Cowboys have won! I find myself hugging Blooter, which surprises both of us. "What are you doing?" he demands. "I don't know. I've got no one to hug." He slaps me with my cap again.
The ride home is rather quiet. I break the silence. "So what did you guys think of the game?" The woman who thought I had brain damage looks like she wants to kill me. I decide not to ask any follow up questions. The mood at the dive bar is somber, so I wander back to the casino where I know I can find some fellow Cowboy fans. I walk up to the same craps table I played at earlier. This time, I leave up $800. Fortune was smiling on me that weekend.
ADDENDUM: Blooter and I will be attending Sunday night's game. I'll have to see whether free beer results in turnovers again.