Once upon a time (twice, actually, since television never saw an idea it could not recycle), there was a television show called Dallas. It was full of cartoonish characters and ludicrous plots, including an entire season that jumped the shark so bad, they had to pass it off as a bad dream. Much of its portrayal of the city and people of Dallas was based more on East and West Coast prejudices about Texas than anything resembling reality.
In short, it was must-watch TV in its time. It became so ingrained in popular culture, that Jerry Jones, Mark Cuban, and the mayor of Dallas, Mike Rawlings, made cameo appearances at the funeral of the most famous and notorious character in the series, J.R. Ewing, in the remake.
And now, the team Jerry Jones owns is the center of the biggest soap opera in the NFL, as the eyes of the league are riveted on the Dallas Cowboys and the saga of who will play quarterback in the winner-takes-the-NFC-East game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Appropriately enough, the game is the prime time season finale for the league.
Dallas was sharing the spotlight with the Green Bay Packers, but Aaron Rodgers has finally been cleared to play and will take the field against the Chicago Bears. Now, the question of whether Tony Romo will be able to return from the back problems that were clearly in evidence in the final quarter of the win over the Washington Redskins is the biggest one in sports, at least in the US.
Call it Who Plays, TR?
Although Jerry Jones would much prefer to have a healthy Romo rather than Kyle Orton, you know he also gets a little bit of satisfaction from having his team in the spotlight. The NFL is full of games with playoff implications - none of the playoff seedings in the NFC have been decided yet, and four teams playing in four different games are fighting for the last spot in the AFC - and yet, once again, the Cowboys loom over everything else in terms of pure interest. They even are part of a bit of controversy, since if they win and advance to the playoffs, both the winner of the NFC East and the NFC North are guaranteed to have a worse record than the New Orleans Saints and Arizona Cardinals, one of whom is going to get left out of the postseason despite having double digit wins.
The sense of drama is heightened by the changing media reports and the circumlocutions of head coach Jason Garrett. First, came the announcement of doom.
Cowboys QB Tony Romo has been ruled out the rest of the season due to his back injury, per league source.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 23, 2013
Then the team started in with "not so fast", stating that things were still being evaluated. Jason Garrett continues to pronounce that Romo is day-to-day. Of course, Garrett is the one human being you would chose to face interrogation if you wanted to keep from divulging the secret invasion plans, since he is able to talk at great length while not actually imparting any real information, so that little statement means nothing. Still, word from various beat reporters is that things are not definite, and may actually be improving.
Told everyone not to count Romo out after the ESPN report on Monday. Think it's closer to 50-50 now that he plays.— Jeff Sullivan (@SullyBaldHead) December 26, 2013
More importantly, Jason Witten, the player who may be closer to Romo than any other, is not ruling him out.
"I wouldn't count him out until he's out," Witten said. "There's no question. That wouldn't surprise me, but I do think obviously this is different situation (it) seems like with the back and however that plays out. But you've got to prepare with Kyle (Orton) and go as if that's the case and then see how it plays out."
It is hard to say how much of a problem it may be for the Eagles to not know if they face Romo or Orton in prepping for the Cowboys, but you can expect Garrett to milk it for all it is worth. Even if the team already knows who is going to take the first offensive snap against Philly, the public announcement is not likely to be made until they have to, ninety minutes before kickoff. There is no reason to help the Eagles.
There is also the issues of whether the Dallas defense, so porous all season and missing linebacker Sean Lee, the quarterback of the D, can stop Nick Foles, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson and company, and whether the Cowboys will stick with the running game or go all pass as they have so often. Given the relative weakness of the Philadelphia secondary as compared to their front seven, a pass-heavy game plan may actually be the smart way to go. Philadelphia is almost as bad as Dallas defensively, ranking 30th overall and 30th against the pass in yards per game. But the buzz is all going to be about who starts at quarterback for the Cowboys and what the impact will be if Orton does have to carry the team. Add in the signing of Jon Kitna, who effectively reached out to Jason Garrett and volunteered to come backup Orton for free, and there are storylines piled on storylines.
But, just like the most famous episode of the TV series, it is the unanswered question that keeps people fascinated. And the less clear Garrett and others are, the more they dangle a bit of hope that Romo can go despite his injuries, the more riveting it all is.
The drama is palpable, and will continue. The team may be in Dallas, but once again they are staking their claim as America's Team. Or at least America's Most Interesting Team. And if they win this game, they will continue to draw media coverage like, well, Dallas drew viewers.