And just like that, it’s all over. The better part of a year’s worth of emotional investment built to a single critical moment has abruptly vanished. Despite our heroes’ best efforts, Football Thanos has successfully collected the Pigskin-finity stones and snapped his lethal fingers. A potential sixth Cowboys Lombardi trophy has suddenly withered to dust, carried away by the breeze.
The space once filled with our season-long dreams and aspirations sits suddenly empty. Hopelessness and frustration are rushing in to fill the vacuum left behind. It’s another year. Another playoff loss. And another failed Cowboys season. Let us weep, rend our garments, scream great primal howls of anguish, and refuse food or water in protests as we wallow in our collective despair.
The bad guys win again, kids. For the second straight year, Dallas’ postseason ambitions were felled by the playoff supervillain San Francisco 49ers on Sunday. The ’Boys, decidedly on brand, were once again their own worst enemy, succumbing to their classic conference rival by a score of 12-19 in typical, hair-pulling, chest-aching, “What the hell are they doing?!” Cowboys fashion. Penalty-filled, turnover-plagued, ineffectively schemed, and potential unachieved — it checked all the usual boxes. The genes that have defined Cowboy football DNA for a quarter-century now were on full display and look ripe for cloning the next quarter-century of mediocre seasons to come.
Thanks to the solid defense that has been the identity of this team throughout the year, and despite a return to the ineptitude that has often plagued the offense over the course of the year, the game was there for the taking into the final minutes. Then, as if to outdo the embarrassing QB draw play that ran the game clock to zero to seal their loss to the Niners a year ago, this year’s Cowboys’ attempt at a last-minute comeback ended in an infinitely more bizarre and confounding way. It’s now a core memory, the perplexing image of running back Ezekiel Elliott snapping the ball in place of the center only to then be completely trucked by a Niners rusher chasing Dak Prescott out of a nonexistent pocket, forcing the QB to settle for an impotent four-yard pass to an immediately tackled Kavonte Turpin as time expired. Thanks.
In the immediate aftermath of a postseason loss, it’s easy to get mired in the emotion. We call for coaches to be fired and players to be cut and burn our jerseys in effigy, desperate for some place to lay the blame. A target to focus our pent-up rage. Or grief. I’m not immune. I’ve been prone to these sorts of tantrums from time to time. Yet after 27 years of wheel-spinning Groundhog Day seasons of Cowboy football, I’ve actually managed to develop something that has helped me keep things in perspective, keep a handle on the feels, and has therefore exponentially increased my enjoyment as a fan: I simply expect it to be this way.
I don’t mean that to sound as defeatist as it probably does, but, honestly, why would it be any other way? In a former life (one I’ve tried desperately to Eternal-Sunshine-of-the-Spotless-Mind out of my memory), I worked in sales. I recall a phrase often repeated by my manager at the time: “Good is the enemy of great.” It’s the sort of nauseating sales-jargony platitude that makes the world despise salespeople nearly as much as members of Congress, but there is some grain of wisdom beneath the scummy, too-white-smiled, schlocky veneer.
As it applies to football, the maxim is all too literal.
Regardless of another disappointing devoid-of-championship season, the Cowboys are a good football team. They, with few random exceptions, typically are. And that is exactly their problem. They’re good. Not great. They’re never good enough to win it all (or even get close), but they’re also never bad enough that fans don’t buy into the fact that they just maybe could, so we as fans are caught in an endless loop of hope and frustration.
Making the playoffs just about every other year tends to give the expectation you belong there. It also ensures you’re never picking high enough to acquire premier talent in the draft, the sort of talent necessary to actually do something in the playoffs once you get there. There’s never a rebuild because they never have to tear it down.
There’s a point of view that what happens in the regular season, even a pretty dang good 12-win season, doesn’t matter. How the season ends is what’s important, and if when it does you’re not hoisting a hunk of metal over your head in a snowfall of confetti, it’s all been a failure. But when a good regular season is all you can reasonably expect, the sting of not having that hunk of metal doesn’t hurt as much.
So take heart Cowboy fans. Another likely semi-successful Wild Card-berth season ending before the NFC Championship game begins in just six months. Don’t expect anything more, and you might actually enjoy the games.