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Eight and a half minutes into the third quarter of the Cowboys game against the New York Giants on Sunday, after an impressive 9-yard scramble, Dak Prescott sat upright on the turf holding his right leg aloft, the foot turned at a sickening angle. The 25,000 in attendance at AT&T Stadium were silent for several minutes as team doctors tended to the eerily calm quarterback. An eternity later, Prescott was swarmed by teammates offering fist bumps and back slaps, wishing their leader well as he was carted off the field. Unable to contain his tears at the full realization of what was happening, just before entering the tunnel, Prescott raised a fist, and the crowd cheered for him.

Prescott’s ankle suffered a compound fracture after being inadvertently rolled up on by Giants defensive back Logan Ryan during a tackle. Prescott, who had surgery to repair the ghastly injury Sunday night, will miss the remainder of the 2020 season. The injury cuts short what I challenge anyone to argue, if not for the Cowboys’ dismal record, was so far an MVP-caliber year. Prescott leads the league in just about every statistical passing category and has been the only reason his team has been in any game this season.

After Prescott was carted off, preseason acquisition and former Cincinnati Bengal Andy Dalton came in for relief, and apparently the game was somehow completed, though I can’t seem to recall much detail about how it unfolded after that point. I do know the Cowboys would go on to win 37-34 on a last-second field goal by Greg Zurlein, but the details are clouded in a deep haze of grief. Even the hilariously awesome double reverse touchdown pass caught by Dak from Cedric Wilson seems a little lost in the fog. There’s perhaps never been a more hollow victory in franchise history.

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Injuries, even severe ones, unfortunately, are an unavoidable part of the game of football. Anyone who has followed the sport has likely witnessed dozens, to stars and role players alike, perhaps to even their favorite players. As a card-carrying Tony Romo apologist, I’ve certainly bore my share of moments when your gut sinks into the couch and you plead with every fiber of your being, “Please! Just get up!”

It’s always terrible. Even though I saw similar things with Romo multiple times, I’ve never felt such unbelievable heartbreak as I did this last Sunday afternoon. If even some small part of you didn’t tear up along with Dak as he realized his season was over, you’re likely a flawed sociopath and you probably kick puppies.

You definitely hate to see such a thing with any player. What athletes put themselves through to compete at the highest level would crumple most people like a cheap export fender. Taken against the backdrop of the last seven or eight months of Dak Prescott’s life and the genuinely great person that he is, this one just hits different. In that span, Dak has battled depression (an admission that inexplicably saw ridicule in some of the more heinous sports “media” circles), he suffered the loss of his brother to suicide, and he also endured a maddening contract negotiation with an ownership that seems hellbent on taking full advantage of his inherent good faith. Through it all, he’s been the definition of a leader and an exemplary model of what the “right kind of guy” in football is. Yet, all the while, he has sustained constant short-sighted judgment and disregard by a not insignificant portion of so-called Cowboys “fans.” No matter what he accomplishes, “he’s just not good enough” for these people. Prescott has hoisted the mantle passed to him from Romo as an absolutely criminally underappreciated player — not nationally but by his team’s own damn fanbase. Perhaps no fanbase is more toxic than that of the Dallas Cowboys (save for maybe that of the Star Wars universe).

Seeing the number of malevolent football puppy-kickers rejoicing on social media about how “this will save the Cowboys money with Dak’s contract” was almost as nauseating as seeing Dak’s right foot bent 45 degrees the wrong way.

After the treatment he’s suffered from these “fans” and an ownership cosplaying as hardballers, I frankly don’t understand why Dak would even want to play here anymore. But that’s just who he is. He loves the Dallas Cowboys more than any fan out there. He deserves better.

There will be plenty of time to suss out how the team looks going forward, to ponder how Dalton can fill the hole left by the heartbeat of the team. Naysayers will finally get to see if they’re right that “anyone could throw for 300 a game with these weapons.” Or muse on how the remaining roster is still plagued by a score of other injuries (second-year defensive tackle Tristan Hill was lost for the season with a torn ACL on Sunday as well), is woefully prone to turnovers, and has a defense that gives up at least 30 every game. But for now, I think it’s appropriate for real fans to take a moment and just appreciate all that Dak has been through, all he’s accomplished, and what he’s done for this franchise. Then we can look forward to the amazing comeback story that we’re no doubt in for down the line. Thank you, No. 4. Get well soon.

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