A few Cowboys fans gave up on the season when Tony went down injured for the first time after Week 2. But for most fans, the prevailing thought was that the Cowboys would be able to win some games in his absence, and that if the team managed a record of around .500 when Romo came back, the Cowboys would still be in play.
The Cowboys hit .500 faster than most people would have thought after losing to the Falcons and then losing to the lowly Saints in successive weeks. But at 2-2, there was still hope all around. After all, Greg Hardy and Rolando McClain were coming back from their suspensions, and Dez Bryant would join the team two weeks later.
All to no avail, as four losses later, the Cowboys were sitting at 2-6, a point from which no team has made the playoffs since the team moved to a 16-game schedule in 1978. By now, many fans were clinging to the terrible state of the NFC East and the "mathematically not eliminated" mantra as reasons for continued optimism, while others threw in the towel and proclaimed the rest of the season an extended tryout for 2016.
At 2-6, the Cowboys were getting ready to face the cellar-dwellers from Tampa, who themselves had only managed a 2-5 start to the season, in what was clearly a must-win game. Clarence Hill of the Star Telegram explained:
The Cowboys believe 9-7 or even 8-8 could be enough to get into the thick of the division race. But that means going 7-1 or 6-2 the rest of the way. Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-5) is a must-win if the Cowboys hope to have a chance at something to play for when Romo returns.
The Cowboys lost that game too.
But hope returned for Cowboys fans in the form of Tony Romo, who promptly delivered on that hope and led the Cowboys to a 24-14 win over the hapless Dolphins. The Cowboys now stood at 3-7, tied with the Lions and 49ers for the worst record in the NFC, but renewed playoff talk was running strong among Cowboys fans, and the weak glimmer of hope after the Tampa loss had turned into a raging fire prior to the season-ending loss against the Panthers last night.
And that's okay. We're fans. It's our job to be optimistic.
We accept this as an integral part of our fanhood. But we also try to be as objective about our subjectivity as we can be, as we understand that blind homerism can lead down a slippery slope.
And today we know that the 2015 Cowboys season is effectively done. Sure, the Cowboy haven't been "mathematically eliminated" yet, but does anybody seriously believe the Cowboys can dig themselves out of this hole without Romo?
The 2015 season is over for the Cowboys, and has been over for quite a while. And as frustrating as that may be, it is also liberating in a way. No more worrying about whether the Cowboys can win their next umpteen games in a row. No more worrying about whether the next backup QB will cost us a game or five. No more worrying about whether this or that player can return to action sooner. That's all over. And it's okay to let it go.
That doesn't mean you're suddenly indifferent to the Cowboys, far from it. As fans, it's our job to be optimistic. And part of that is finding new things to be optimistic about.
You can be optimistic about a high draft pick. You can be optimistic about the next round of free agency. You can be optimistic about the team being healthier next year. You can be optimistic about how the young players will develop, or changes to the coaching staff, or the next cheerleader tryouts. In short, you can be optimistic about a ton of things. You can also be pessimistic about all of those things, and much more, that's also part of the fan experience.
But it all starts with letting go. Some of us let go a little earlier, some hung on to hope as long as possible. Either way, now it's time to find something new to pin our hopes on.
Because as much as this still season hurts, I have a feeling the Cowboys are going to make a huge impact next season.