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This one hurts. Still, I am not one of those who would rather my team get blown out than lose a close game. Many were consoling themselves yesterday by saying "think of this like the 1991 Cowboys: a young up and coming team that would go on to become dominant. I disagree.
I love a team that fights, and this iteration of the Dallas Cowboys has supplanted an earlier version in my heart. I tweeted it three times. Once half-mockingly at 21-3. Once jubilantly at 28-28. Once with pride and sorrow at 34-31.
"1994 NFC Championship."
I have long thought it the greatest football game of my lifetime. My memories of Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, and Emmitt Smith don’t center on the rings. They center on a time when the team went down early by three touchdowns to the other dominant team of the era, led by the (then) highest-rated passer of all time. And Michael Irvin and Troy Aikman made mince meat of the man widely regarded as the best cover corner of all time, taking over the game en route to a final defeat. I have long held that it was the greatest football performance of my lifetime. A heavyweight title bout where one fighter was knocked to the mat repeatedly in the opening rounds, but who got up and went all fifteen, making it a fight to the bitter end.
22 years, to the day, later, last night was bigger than that.
Once again early miscues led to a devastating early deficit. Once again the reins on the other side were held by the greatest passer of the era. Once again, lesser teams would have folded up tents and said, "we’ll be better next year." But this team rose up. They not only made a game of it, but tied it, twice, in the fourth quarter. Fourth-round rookie Dak Prescott went toe to toe with Aaron Rodgers at the top of his game. Ezekiel Elliott electrified us. The defense made key stops and important sacks. Playing with a herniated disk, Dan Bailey kicked a 52-yard field goal to tie the game in the final minute. Blitzing off the corner, Jeff Heath blindsided Aaron Rodgers to seemingly seal the deal.
And then one terrific throw and catch later, it was all but done. 3rd and 19. Toes in, knees barely off the ground out of bounds, Jared Cook hauled in the catch of the day. A 51-yard Mason Crosby field goal later and time was expired on the Cowboys season. But fight to the end they did, and they gave us so much to watch on the way.
Most of all though, heap praise on one Dakota Rayne Prescott. Statistically, he out played Aaron Rodgers. Not just any Aaron Rodgers, but a white-hot, laser-beam-throwing, miracle-working Aaron Rodgers. Prescott was simply as good as he could be for three quarters. This was a playoff performance for the ages. Simply marvelous. If there were any doubters they should simply be silent. As one of the loudest proponents of Tony Romo, hear me when I say that what Number Four did last night was as good as it gets. That a fourth-round rookie played like this in his first playoff game should have the entire NFC quaking in their boots.
And while the team is spent (Jason Witten, in particular, seems to have been devastated by the loss), we, and they, should walk proud today. I come back to Teddy Roosevelt.
This team spent themselves in the arena last night. I am proud to cheer for them. In tribute, I leave you with reminders of the victories in the game that Dallas won on the way to final defeat. The cold and timid commentators who wish me to tell you how this coach, that player, or this referee cost the Cowboys the game needn’t watch. But those of you who wish to enjoy the ride... those who were there through the roller coaster of the season and remember the greatness alongside the heartache... this is for you.
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.
For Dallas, the fight is finished.