For most NFL teams coming off three straight years without a winning record, simply finishing with a winning record would be considered a success. And if that winning record translated into making the playoffs, the season would probably be considered not just a success, but a triumph.
But that is not necessarily the case in Dallas. What endears us Cowboys fans so much to the rest of the NFL fanbase is our collective ability to hold on to successes from nearly 20 years ago and derive some sort of expectation and relevance from it for today. Our own Tom Ryle described this sense of entitlement as follows:
No matter how badly things went the previous year, no matter who takes a look at the team from a non-Cowboys fan perspective and says they aren't very impressed, we expect the team to be ready to win. Or we expect any problem from last year to be immediately and completely fixed this season. We think that if someone is head coach of the Cowboys and he does not deliver results, namely playoff appearances and championships, right now, he must be fired for incompetence. I mean, how can he not succeed? He is coaching the Dallas Freaking Cowboys! Anybody can coach them to a Super Bowl, right, Mr. Switzer?
Yet here we are, with one playoff win to show for the last sixteen years. With that in mind, and as we prepare for the 2013 season, what do you think would need to happen for the season to be considered a success?
How about a season like 2006? The Cowboys end the season with a winning record and make the playoffs as a wildcard team. Unfortunately, they lose the wildcard game on a bobbled hold. Would you consider a loss in the wildcard game a success?
How about a season like 2007? The Cowboys storm out to a 13-3 regular season record, easily win the NFC East and enter the playoffs as the number one seed. They then lose to the eventual Super Bowl winning Giants in the divisional round. Would you consider a loss in the divisional round a success?
How about a season like 2009? The Cowboys pitch two successive shutouts against division rivals to win the NFC East with an 11-5 record and embarrass the Eagles in the wildcard round. However, the fun and games in Dallas are quickly brought to an end when the Cowboys get dismantled by the Vikings 34-3 in the divisional round. Would you consider a second playoff win a success?
What all three scenarios above have in common is that they all ended with a defeat. The fact is that unless the Cowboys win the Super Bowl this year (please spare us all that "In Dallas, success is measured in Super Bowls" entitled nonsense) their season will inevitably end in a defeat.
I don't think that a season without a winning record could be considered a success in any shape or form, regardless the circumstances. I also think that making the playoffs is a prerequisite to consider the season a success. But what happens after that? Do the Cowboys have to make the divisional round, do they have to play for the Conference Championship? Or is the manner in which they play the final game (in whatever playoff round it happens to be) more important?
What needs to happen for you to consider the 2013 season a success for the Cowboys?