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Cowboys Meltdown: So You Think You've Got It Bad?

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Watching the game on Sunday and following the near nuclear fallout on the internet since, I began thinking about the highs and lows of my life as a Cowboys fan. Right now is certainly a low. So I can do one of two things. I could reflect on the bright side of life and focus on the moments of pure, unadulterated joy that being a fan of the Cowboys have brought me. Uhm, yeah, perhaps not today.

Or I could focus on moments of complete and utterly crushing defeat. Where the pain of defeat is so real it continues to live on and fester inside of each one of us. Yep, I think I’ll do just that. Sunshine pumping posts are postponed for now.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is where fandom begins in earnest. This is where many of us with a proclivity for warmer climates leave the ship. This season has been a series of repeated punches to the gut that have left many of us reeling. But with the thrill of victory comes the agony of defeat. We’ve had more than our fair share of victories over time, and we’ve also experienced the agony of defeat many times.

In fact, since Sunday I've reflecting on four specific, crushing defeats that left me with a vacant stare for days and even weeks. In many ways, these defeats define my experience as a Cowboys fan as much as the victories – if not more so. What scares me a little is that all four share an uncanny resemblance to how the season has progressed so far. These are all games where, like this season, penalties, turnovers or sloppy special teams play did the Cowboys in.

Bear with me as I relive those four games, because as you think about the pain of this season, you can reference it against the pain of these four examples. I promise you, it won’t compare.

This is not about "The Catch" (Dwight Clark), "The Drop" (Jackie Smith) or the "Ice Bowl" (Lambeau Field) – all games that are now part of the fiber of Cowboys lore, but of which I have no recollection, so they are not personal for me. When some of the old-timers here talk about these games, I can feel their pain, but do not share it. The four games below are all personal to me, and I’ve chosen one from the eighties, one from the nineties and two recent ones so that everybody can feel just a little sucker-punched after having read this.

The examples are listed in chronological order, not in order of importance. I’m sure you’ll find a suitable ranking for these examples, just as I’m sure you’ll think of more…..

"Holding, Number 75, Offense"

Eight weeks into the 1986 season, the Cowboys, Giants and Redskins all had a 6-2 record. The Cowboys face the Giants in week nine. In week one, the Cowboys narrowly beat the Giants on MNF 31-28, so a win here would have given the Cowboys basically a two-game lead over the Giants with seven games left. The Cowboys won the yardage battle, 408-245 but the Giants won the game, 17-14. Danny White suffered a broken wrist, ending his season and ultimately shortening his career. The Cowboys went 1-6 in their final seven games to finish 7-9 and missed the playoffs. The Giants won their remaining seven games to finish 14-2 and went on to win the Super Bowl. Here’s a summary of the last Cowboys drive in that game from a site called, which also lists the six worst games in Cowboys history:

Near the end of the 4th Quarter it was Giants 17, Cowboys 14. The Cowboys received the ball for one last possession. [Backup QB] Pelluer passes the ball to Dorsett, Dorsett runs down to the 6 yard line, hurray!, at the very least we can get a field goal and tie this game up, right?

Wrong! Holding, Number 75, Offense. The play gets called back. So, the drive continues, Steve Pelluer goes back to pass, it's a screen to Timmy Newsome, he runs down to the 10, hurray!, at the very least we can get a field goal and tie this game, right?

Wrong! Illegal Motion, Number 75, Offense. The play gets called back.

The Cowboys ended up committing 5 penalties on that last possession, not to mention that Number 75 also gave up a sack. I can't remember how many were Holding, or even how many were committed by Number 75, Phil Pozderac, but it seemed like ALL of them. It was like Phil Pozderac single handedly destroyed the Cowboy's chances to win this game.

"First quarter debacle"

In the 1994 playoffs, the Cowboys were coming off two successive Super Bowl victories and were facing the 49ers for the third year in a row in the NFC Championship game. San Francisco quarterback Steve Young at the time still faced the pressure of "never being able to win the big ones", while Dallas quarterback Troy Aikman entered the game with a 7-0 record as a starter in the playoffs. This was going to be a piece of cake, right? The Cowboys had the triplets, one of the most potent offenses and one of the most potent defenses in the league. So what happened?

  • On the first drive, Troy Aikman threw a pick six.
  • On the second drive, Michael Irvin fumbled the ball, the 49ers recovered and went on to score a TD.
  • On the resulting kickoff, Cowboys returner Kevin Williams fumbles the ball, 49ers kicker Doug Brien recovers and the 49ers go on to score a touchdown. 49ers lead 21–0 lead with 7:33 left in the first quarter.

At the end of the game, the Cowboys had outgained the 49ers 451-294 but still ended up losing the game 38-28.

"The Blocked Punt"

Fresh off a 13-3 season, the Cowboys were one of the Super Bowl favorites heading into the 2008 season, had started the season 4-1 and faced the 3-2 Cardinals in what was going to be a routine win en route to another dominating season. At the end of regulation, the Cowboys had just barely managed to stay in the game by scoring 10 points in the final three minutes, and forced the game into overtime.

In overtime, the Cowboys get the ball. Romo is sacked on the first play, and two incompletions later the punting unit takes to the field at the Dallas 15. The Cardinals' Sean Morey blocks Mat McBriar's punt, Monty Beisel scoops up the ball and scores from three yards to give the Cardinals a 30-24 victory over the Cowboys.

This game marked the first time in NFL history that a team started a game with a kickoff return for a score, then ended it with a blocked punt in overtime for a touchdown.

McBriar suffers a fractured foot on the final play and is out for the season. Tony Romo suffers a broken pinky and is out for three games and the Cowboys struggle to a 9-6 record before facing the Eagles in the final game of the 2008 season.

"Worst Loss In 20 Years"

With a playoff ticket on the line, the Cowboys suffered their worst defeat since 1988 in the final game of the 2008 season at the hands of the Eagles, 44-6. The Eagles scored 24 of their points off of Cowboys turnovers and scored 17 points in the final 2:09 minutes of the first half:

The Eagles cap a long drive with a TD with 2:09 left in the second quarter to extend their lead to 17-3. On the fourth play of the next Cowboys drive, Sheldon Brown intercepts a Romo pass intended for Roy Williams. 1:13 left. Two Cowboys penalties for 26 yards (personal foul on Adam Jones and PI against Terence Newman in the end zone) later, Brent Celek scores on a 1-yard TD pass with 15 seconds left in the second quarter.

Adam Jones is stripped of the ball at the Cowboys 31 on the following kickoff. Three seconds left. David Akers kicks a 50-yard field goal. The Eagles lead 27-3 going into halftime. A little over 2 minutes earlier, the score was 10-3.

On the next Cowboys drive in the third quarter, Tony Romo is sacked, loses the ball, Chris Clemons picks it up and returns it for a 73 yard touchdown.

Marion Barber fumbles the ball on the ensuing Cowboys drive, Joselio Hanson scoops it up and runs 96 yards for another touchdown. 8:28 left in the third quarter. The Eagles have just scored a staggering 31 points in 5:41 of playing time.

How bad have you got it?

Dave had an article a while back with more of the Cowboys greatest hits, for those who like this sort of thing. The question is, how does this season rank on your scale of personal pain, and is everything really lost?

Don Banks summarizes the Cowboys outlook very succinctly:

Giving up, I suppose, is not really an option, as long as the Cowboys can still conceivably go 9-7 or 10-6 and make the playoffs in the mediocre NFC. Eleven games remain, and that's nearly three-fourths of the season. But this Dallas team is now playing the rest of the season with a very small margin of error, and so far, the Cowboys have essentially specialized in errors, starting with that Week 1 meltdown at Washington.