History Only Makes Us Feel Better
Next Sunday’s game against the Giants is going to bring reminders of the 1993 finale in which the Cowboys won the NFC East and wrapped up home-field advantage by beating the Giants at the Meadowlands. The similarities—Giants, at New York, vs. Dallas, NFC East title on the line.
Nothing else is similar. That 1993 team had lost four games. Two of those losses came when future Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith had held out to start the season. Another loss came when future Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman was injured. The final loss came on Thanksgiving Day when snow and ice covered Texas Stadium for the only time in the stadium’s history.
In 2011, the running back is injured and is only a starter because a superior rookie back was previously lost for the season. The quarterback puts up fine numbers, but he hasn’t much of a clue about leading the team to wins in big games and won’t be anywhere close to earning the votes to make it to the Hall of Fame. And the team’s new stadium has a retractable roof, so unless some malfunction occurs, it isn’t going to snow in there.
We don’t need to rehash it all, but the Cowboys have already had chance (vs. Jets) after chance (vs. Detroit) after chance (vs. New England) after chance (vs. Arizona) to win this year, only to find ways to lose. Oh, and the team would have wrapped up this division already had the team held on to a 12-point lead with less than six minutes left against the Giants just two weeks ago.
That 1993 team was a team of destiny, and most of felt it then.
This 2011 team? Here’s an analogy—the Eagles kicked a field goal with about 4:30 remaining in the third quarter yesterday. Dallas trailed 17-0 at that point. A guy in our section started screaming, “If your gonna win this thing, you’d better start playing now!” Nobody joined in his chant, and I think the collective thought (or at least my thought) was, with a puzzled look and a long exhale, win this thing?
I really want to think that this could be like 1993. Along those lines, this could be like 1979, when the Cowboys beat the Redskins to take the division title. In fact, this could be like 2009, when Dallas beat Philadelphia in the season finale to win the division and earn the right to host the Eagles during the following week.
But like the comparison between 1993 and 2011, there is little that is similar to 1979 or 2009. In 1979, Dallas was 8-5 after losing to Houston on Thanksgiving. But wins over the Giants and Eagles gave the Cowboys some momentum, and Roger Staubach had enough left in him to lead Dallas to a come-from-behind win.
In 2009, you might recall, Dallas had beaten the previously unbeaten Saints on the road and then beat the Redskins to secure a playoff spot. And Dallas had already beaten the Eagles earlier in the season.
The Cowboys have no such momentum right now. Their only win in December was against a Tampa Bay team that more recently lost 48-16 to the Carolina Panthers. The defense has been a weakness all year, and the defense that played the Eagles yesterday gave up 293 passing yards and forced one turnover only because Jason Avant tried to stretch the ball over the pylon on what was first called a touchdown.
What I fear is that this game might turn out to be something more like the season finale against the Eagles in 2008. One week earlier during that season, my son and I had watched the Cowboys play the Ravens in the last game at Texas Stadium. A Dallas win would have given the Cowboys a playoff spot, but the defense fell apart at the worst possible time. We took a long walk back to the car in the cold, feeling as if the season was over. The Cowboys had a chance to go to the playoffs by beating the Eagles in week 17, but Dallas gave a performance that words can’t quite describe. Philadelphia 44, Dallas 6.
After yesterday’s loss, my son and I took another long walk in the cold (for Texas, at least) to the parking lot after the game, feeling as if the season was all but over. It’s going to take a few more days and a lot of convincing to believe it will turn out otherwise after Sunday night next week.