I never experienced this kind of frustration or chagrin growing up a Cowboys fan in the early 90's. Perhaps it was because those teams won three Super Bowls in four years, but even then the dropoff was immediate after 1995 and the Cowboys began their frustrating string of playoff disappointments. From 1996 to 2000 I remember every year thinking to myself that no matter what the Cowboys always had a chance with Troy, Emmitt and Irvin on the field. Yet each year became a test in futility as the team grew older and handicapped by salary cap hell.
Through it all I remained steadfast as a fan even though all those around me were wavering in their loyalty. I heard things like the team was a disgrace, the players spoiled and I even heard some say that perhaps Troy and Emmitt's time were up and the Cowboys would be better off going in a new direction. The next six years showed us just how tough it is to replace the nucleus of a team, no matter how worn down they might have become.
Through the lean years of the Dave Campo era and the Vinny Testeverde experiment I barely watched a game. I was away too much, on the other side of the world and I must admit that even I found myself not as invested in the Cowboys as I had been growing up. Things were just too depressing, the team was barely competitive.
Fast forward to Saturday, December 20, 2008.
After nearly three straight years of living and and breathing anything and everything Dallas Cowboys, I found I was asking why I do this to myself. I never encountered such anger, such disappointment as a child when the Cowboys lost to the Arizona Cardinals in the playoffs. Sure I was sad, but it didn't turn my life upside down.
Perhaps it's because growing up there are so many distractions in life; go to school, go out with girls, play street hockey in front of the house, hell I even made idiotic "Jackass" movies that nearly got me killed once or twice. On top of being a diehard Cowboys fan I was also playing hockey, working part time time to buy a car, or trying my hardest to get a date with a good looking girl. So when the Cowboys lost it still hurt, I was still mad but I had other things to turn to when they let me down.
I have found as an adult those distractions are much harder to come by. Work takes up the majority of our time and what were once fun filled days have turned into nights filled with obligations. Our family, our kids, our bills; all the responsibilities in life that makes everything seem not as fun anymore. So to stay sane, adults invest themselves into one or two hobbies to take our minds off the things that life says we must do. For some it's scrapbooking, others it's model train building or photography. And for many of us its sports.
We use sports as an escape and we indulge every ounce of our being into our favorite teams. We hang on every swing of the bat, every shot that bounces off the rim of the basket and every first down that is inches short. We spend most of lives in an emotional shell, overstressed from work and society's responsibilities yet we find we can really let go and let those emotions out when they're directed at our favorite sports team. So when things go bad and the team loses it's like a kick in the gut, you ask how could they let me down like that, don't they know how much this team means to me?
On Saturday night I was pacing back and forth, mumbling obscenities under my breath and alternately jumping up and down cheering and kicking pillows in utter disgust. As the Cowboys started to drive down the field down 19-10 my heart rate quickened, my palms started to sweat and I found I was so nervous I was feeling sick to my stomach. Folks, I wasn't even close to this nervous on my wedding day. I also had this overwhelming sense of dread that I was witnessing the death of a promising season, and months of disappointment were all that remained for the future.
I wondered if I could go through another offseason like the one after the loss to the Giants. For a month I refused to even think about the Cowboys, and then I did the exact opposite and started writing for this blog. This has forced me to live the Dallas Cowboys every day in a way I never did before in my life. Could I live through another offseason of analysis and optimism, knowing that this team has all the potential in the world but chances are in the end I will be sorely disappointed? It was a question I asked myself over and over again during the fourth quarter of the game against Baltimore and when it was over I found myself in a state of mind I had never been as a Cowboys fan before.
At first I quit. I said I can't do this any longer, this isn't healthy and there has got to be some other less stressful means of living my life. But then as I watched the Cowboys come back, then fall short, come back again and fall short once more I started to actually smile to myself. When the game was over I calmly turned the TV off, took a shower and went to bed. I wasn't torn up inside like I have been before, where I relive the bad moments in the game over and over again in my head.
I just told myself that this is how it is, how it always will be and no matter what at least I'm not a Detroit Lions fan.
I actually have extreme respect for fans of teams that failed time and time again to rise above mediocrity (I know what it's like to some extent, I'm a huge Texas Rangers fan). Imagine being a fan of a team that has never shown they have what it takes to win, a franchise that has never found the promised land and each year has always ended in disappointment.
One reason Cowboys fans get so frustrated with this team is because we have been there, we know what it tastes like and we know how sweet the feeling is of being the only one on top. And once you get there you ache to be back there again. And we become so emotionally involved in that quest that when the team falls short we see it almost as a personal insult. How dare they not care as much as I do, try as hard as I need them to? Why cant they just do what is so obvious, I see it why can't they?
Here is what is most frustrating about this year: in all but two games (without Tony Romo) the Cowboys have been in it until the end. We see that it could easily have gone our way if just a few things were done differently and we get outrageously angered that those things were fully in our control. This leads to over reaction and second guessing, the calls for immediate change come flying from all directions and the vultures start to circle overhead. But in the end maybe we need to learn to step back a bit, realize that while we're sorely disappointed we are still fans of a team that is competitive in every single game. The way people react it's almost as if it would have been better for the Cowboys to get blown out, because when you come up just short of your goal you know that it only takes a few little things to make a difference and that is what is most frustrating.
I hear this little gem last night watching the Monday Night Football game: "What is most amazing to me about that list is that no matter how much the Cowboys lose, they are still in the playoff hunt."
That amazed me right there and as much as it angered me it also seemed to symbolize every single Dallas Cowboys fans mentality. We know what this team is capable of, so how can they possibly lose six games? We see they have a chance to win anytime Romo plays, so why can't they get over that hump?
The easiest thing to do when everything seems to be falling apart is to focus on the negative. It's human nature I guess. Watch the local news, or Sportscenter, or CSI or Law and Order. Everything we watch surrounds negative aspects of life; pain, hunger, sorrow and loss. Drama is what we thrive on, and that drama is why we love sports. If everyone knew the outcome of a game why would anyone watch? So when the Cowboys fall short we immediately turn on the negatives like hyenas, tearing them to pieces until there is nothing left.
There's a difference between being analytical and overreacting. You can take a look at things objectively and try to figure why things went wrong, but too many time we cross that line into zaniness.
If the Cowboys make the playoffs but fail to win a game, should Wade Phillips get fired? He's done more with this team than Bill Parcells did, if you want to be hanest with yourself. Should we blow up this coaching staff and start from scratch, give Romo his fourth offensive coordinator in five years? Perhaps a little tweaking is needed but no matter what this team is still competitive at the end of the year, which is better than most teams can say.
It's not my place to tell any fans how to think or how to react to their favorite team. All I know is that I actually came very close to throwing in the towel and not putting myself through such pain again and again. But then I realized that at least I am a fan of a team that has a chance, and that will always be in it in the end.
I love the Dallas Cowboys. I love the history. I love how I feel when I see that majestic blue star.
I love seeing Tony Romo battle and try his hardest every single play. If the Cowboys had won against Baltimore we would all be saying how that was one of the most courageous fourth quarter ever by a Dallas Cowboys quarterback.
I love watching Jason Witten play through excruciating pain because he knows how important he is to the team.
I love watching this defense continue to grow, even though they gave up two plays in a row I have never seen before. EVER.
I love watching Wade Phillips react on the sideline, I love seeing TO pumping up the defense, I love seeing Emmitt next to Jerry in the owner's box.
I love seeing all of my childhood heroes give Texas Stadium one last farewell.
No matter what happens, I still love this team.