The Cowboy Way: My painful relationship with America’s Team

By Geoff Ratliff

Jeremy Sickel, Editor

Being a Dallas Cowboys fan is hard. I don’t expect much sympathy from most of the sports world, because having worked in New York city for the past two years, I honestly believe that Yankee fans may be the only other franchise that can sympathize with our plight. Long suffering fans of teams like the Cubs, Clippers, and any team from Cleveland may argue that their fates are far worse, but I will tell you that it is far worse to have experienced sustained success and lost it than to have never succeeded at all.

I’m guessing that what I feel now is similar to what Yankees fans experienced during the eighties and early nineties; that eighteen-year gap between titles had to be agonizing given the regularity with which the Yankees previously churned out titles. 2010 marked the fifteenth consecutive season without a ring for America’s Team, including a stretch of thirteen consecutive seasons without a playoff win. While many of those years, shortly after Superbowl XXX, provided no hope whatsoever, the last six seasons have been particularly painful given the false hope that accompanied many a preseason.

My connection to the Cowboys, is completely random and began shortly before their run of dominance in the early nineties. Growing up in St. Louis, MO, one would assume that I was either a Cardinals or a Rams fan, but I was only ten when Bill Bidwell took his ball and moved to Arizona, creating a seventeen-year void where we had no NFL team prior to the Rams arriving in 1995. I was sort of partial to the Raiders – my dad’s favorite team – and still consider them my favorite AFC team, but my love for the Cowboys began after spending a week in Dallas during a church trip in the summer of 1990, during which I enjoyed myself so thoroughly that I decided to adopt their football team (I also became a Texas Longhorns fan during this same trip).

Success came quickly for my new-found squad as the Jerry Jones era began with the drafting of Troy Aikman in 1989, the Hershel Walker trade in 1990, and the drafting of Emmitt Smith that same year, all leading to the first of three World Championships in a four-year stretch. It wasn’t long, however, before I started to sense storm clouds on the horizon. Even non-Cowboys fans are familiar with the battle of egos between “The Two Jimmies” that led Johnson to resign just weeks after the team won their second consecutive title following the 1993 season. Sure, we caught lightning in a bottle when Barry Switzer led us to another championship after the 1995 season, but truth be told, any competent Pee Wee League coach could have guided that juggernaut to a title.

I long believed that Jerry Jones’ arrogance would doom this franchise to go title-less for as long as he owned the team, a belief that was validated primarily by the fact that Jones refused to hire a General Manager to run the team, instead believing that he had enough football knowledge to keep the magic going. Once Jones lured Bill Parcells out of retirement, I started to soften my belief about his ownership as the Cowboys suddenly started getting back to the solid talent evaluation that had allowed them to build the previous decade’s dynasty; but what I didn’t know at the time was that my renewed faith in one area would be defied tenfold by a new era of frustration: The Tony Romo years.

For people who hate the Cowboys, Romo is usually the one name that comes up that will quiet any Cowboys fan during any discussion about the team and it’s prospects. In his early years, you could point to his relative inexperience in the NFL and his humble, blue-collar work ethic that took him from an un-drafted free agent, to the leader of the NFL’s premier franchise, and frame them as positive indicators of his bright future. But as the years went by, Romo went all Hollywood on us – with high-profile girlfriends like Jessica Simpson and Carrie Underwood showing up in the press box – and the failures that could once be chalked up to being green now started to become associated with a part of his quarterbacking DNA.

A lot of people think that Tony Romo just isn’t a winner and he has recently started to draw comparisons to LeBron James (more on that later) – and this season’s opening night loss to the New York Jets was just another example of how he just lacks that “it” factor that keeps him out of the discussion of the NFL elite QBs. From the fumbled snap in the NFC Playoff game against Seattle, to the late game turnovers against the Jets, Romo has established an annoying habit of making critical mistakes on the biggest stages. To quickly shoot down the LeBron comparison, this is completely different from not even attempting to make plays, and is perhaps more frustrating because it builds a body of evidence that leads one to believe that maybe the haters have it right.

But for every game like the one against the Jets, Romo bounces back with a performance like he had last week against the San Francisco 49ers that gives you just enough hope to stay on the bandwagon for another week. Much like I predicted the Cowboy’s demise during the post Jimmie Johnson years, I similarly declared us cursed during the Romo Era as far back as three seasons ago, shortly after the Cowboys gave Romo a completely undeserved contract extension, which ensured that we were stuck with this guy for the foreseeable future. Trading him could set the franchise back three or four years and sticking with him could be just as frustrating, but I so desperately want to believe.

I’ve come to the conclusion that Tony Romo has become the Alex Rodriguez of the Dallas Cowboys, which wouldn’t be a problem if he weren’t the guy. A-Rod can get away with his shenanigans and failures – both on the field and off – primarily because he is not the face of the franchise, and the Yankees can go on competing for, and winning, championships with him as a major contributor. Romo may more closely resemble Derek Jeter in his genuinely humble demeanor and sense of accountability, but it’s clear that the Cowboys won’t win it all with him as the main guy. Just as Aikman had Smith to take the pressure of him, I truly believe that a star running back is the one piece that is keeping them from the promised land. I desperately hoped that Felix Jones would emerge as that guy, but he has proven to be too injury-prone for the role.

So where does this leave me? Well, I’m not giving up on the Romo Era quite yet. He does have enough gutsy performances and come from behind victories on his resume to have a tiny bit of equity left in the bank. I stated before the season that I thought the Cowboys would win the NFC East and make the playoffs, and I’ve seen nothing in the first three weeks of the NFL season to change my mind about that. They finally have the right head coach in place in Jason Garret, a guy who was around for and played a critical part in the previous era of Cowboys dominance, and I love the addition of Rob Ryan to the defense. But ultimately, for better or for worse, the fate of Cowboys Nation still rides on the right arm of #9. I’m still with you Tony. Don’t f@*k it up!!!

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