The Hope and Pain of Another Season of Dallas Cowboys Football

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This is the best time of the year if you’re a fan of the Dallas Cowboys. Even if it’s still hot, the weather’s changing. The days are shorter. The natural optimism that comes after a three-day holiday weekend is here. And with that, you can convince yourself of lots of things, including those that haven’t happened in over a quarter-century. Days before another NFL season begins, you can almost convince yourself the Cowboys will win the Super Bowl this year.

It’s that time of year when fans can argue—not without reason—that the preseason only matters if players get hurt. That, even though the Cowboys lost all their preseason games, Dak Prescott, who didn’t take a single snap in those games, is ready to play, which is the greatest victory possible. And that he, and every other player who missed games last year, especially members of the offensive line, are eager to show the disastrous 2020 season was just an anomaly. Because really, there isn’t a team in the league that would have a winning season if they, too, had to start four different quarterbacks

That’s the hope.

Maybe CeeDee Lamb will be even better in his second year. Maybe Zeke will play like he did in his first three seasons while eliminating the fumbles. Maybe things can only get better on defense between their free-agent signings, Dan Quinn as the new coordinator, Randy Gregory playing a full season, and the Cowboys using eight of their 11 draft picks—including their top selection, Micah Parsons—on that side of the ball.

It’s a time for optimism because if not now, when?

Cowboy fans can reasonably argue there’s too much talent on this team for them to play badly. That they play in what’s likely the worst division in the league and in a conference so full of parity—or mediocrity—that only the Arizona Cardinals have failed to reach the playoffs at least once in the past five years. Between that, so much turnover of good teams from one season to the next and the addition of an extra playoff team, the Cowboys’ chance of returning to the postseason has increased. And that, once in the playoffs, anything can happen.

It’s that time of the year when you can already imagine the optimism that’ll come if the Cowboys beat the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the supervillain Tom Brady on Thursday night. You can almost remember how, relatively speaking, there are few autumn days better than the one after the Cowboys have won. That, as the days turn colder and darker, listening and watching sport shows talk of another Cowboys victory makes you feel warm. You can almost imagine Jerry Jones’ billion-dollar smile while waving from a slow-moving car in a Super Bowl parade in downtown Dallas. And because it’s a time of optimism, you don’t even have to remember the riots after the parade. 

So yes, this is the best time of the year for fans of the Cowboys. When optimism is at its highest since they’ve yet to lose a regular-season game and the pregame theme song still makes your palms sweat. Because if you’ve made it this far past the glory years, it also means you’re well acquainted with the pain the team brings.

This side of the glory years, being a Cowboys fan—or hater, since I know you too are watching and reading—means having lived through long seasons of disappointment.

It means expecting the worst because you remember when Jimmy Johnson shunned a toast from Jones and so, right when it felt a dynasty would last a while, it basically died in a hotel bar. Because you watched Michael Irvin lying motionless on the football field while Eagles fans cheered, and with that came the end of the Triplets and their Golden Era.

After that came confusion from the cognitive dissonance of trying to convince yourself that maybe one of the 10 quarterbacks who came after Aikman might be the answer. And once Antonio Ramiro Romo arrived as that answer, just when it felt like you were about to celebrate again, a football was too slick to handle. If you watched that game where I did, you would have seen a grown man quietly cry in disbelief. 

That wasn’t me, although I almost did the same a few years later when referees in Green Bay claimed Dez Bryant dropped the ball. No one knew it then, but that was effectively the end of Antonio Ramiro Romo’s Hall of Fame, star-crossed career. Three years later, when the NFL admitted Dez caught it—something we already knew—it was laughable and felt oddly familiar. It became another of the absurd games that ended a season that had been full of hope.

Maybe hope is the problem.

Because, after that, somehow, the Cowboys transitioned from one franchise quarterback to another. And with that came the hope of winning again. Of course, last year, when Dak—having his best season—broke his leg, you couldn’t help but think it was the usual Cowboys curse. The type that, no matter if the team’s winning by three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, there’s still a chance they’ll lose. You’ve seen it before. You’ll see it again. When that happens, Rowdy’s permanent smile will look like it’s there just to keep him from crying because those are games when you see social media celebrate that gut-punch of a loss. Almost as soon as the game ends, people you consider friends will call and text you just to let you know they saw it too. The following day, co-workers will do the same.

And they should. As a franchise, the Cowboys symbolize too many negative things to ever be lovable losers—above all, excess. 

Because the impossible-to-solve riddle of being a fan of this team is that in doing that, you’re essentially cheering for Jerry Jones to win. Even though he, a billionaire owner who salts his McGriddle because the perfect blend of sweet and savory isn’t good enough when you can have more of the other, is the one who made you a pessimist. And if by some miracle the Cowboys do win the Super Bowl, it somehow means Jones’ decisions gain instant validation.

But, luckily, you don’t have to worry about it since you know there’s a good chance the Cowboys finish 8-9, that they’ll lose the last game of the season, in the most ridiculous way, when a playoff berth is on the line. That, you know, from having seen it before. That, you remember, and it makes you pessimistic. And that will be forgotten once we’re back at this same point in 2022 again, hoping this is the season– making this the best time of year. 

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