Dallas Cowboys 14, New York Giants 31

I don’t remember Eddie LeBaron, the Cowboys’ starting quarterback for whom Don Meredith was a backup. By the time I was able to form lasting memories, Don Meredith was quarterback. I’ve been a Cowboys fan since then.

Back up. I’ve never known much about sports. I peaked in 6th grade. The glorious touch, flag, and sandlot tackle football I knew as a late-blooming, short, skinny elementary school lad morphed into pads and helmets and tedious practice and bizarrely big guys in 7th grade. I chose the number 00 and figured I’d do it barefooted. I played four or five minutes as middle linebacker and my chosen number was prophetic (but always put me at the top of the roster). The game no longer made any sense to me. I sailed through the rest of my life, to this moment, pursuing matters other than sports (but always loving the Dallas Cowboys).

This background is important so that you understand why I say I don’t understand the fuss. My beloved Cowboys entered an appearance at the Meadowlands Sunday night, and they played exactly as I would have played.

First, let’s be clear, not everybody was happy when the league changed from 14 games to 16 games. I understand why the Cowboys would nurse this grievance. It’s cold in December. This whole playing-football thing, outside, in the cold, it’s not everybody’s thing.

Second, it would help if the season didn’t come down to the final game – and the stakes were whether we had to play more football in the cold, or not. What kind of incentive is that?

Third, and I truly do understand this, hurling a large determined man to the ground is overrated. There should be politer ways of signaling displeasure with forward progress.

Fourth, I get the Cowboys’ petulant preference for penalties. Who knows all this stuff? Better to play authentically and lose a turnover than play slavishly by the confounding rules.

Fifth, concerning turnovers, they’re really fundamentally unfair game-changers and shouldn’t be pursued lightly. And if there is an opportunity to toss a frikkin’ recovered fumble back to Eli Manning, who was smoking a cigarette in the backfield at the time, by all means…

Sixth, I personally live to see Tony Romo running for his life. I consider this the apex of the sport. I don’t believe the league adequately rewards this athletic part of the sport.

Seventh, look, it’s hard to get excited about playing the Atlanta Falcons next week. (Boring!) Especially if you don’t have to.

Eighth, 8-8… Call me a symmetry-freak. I just like it. You win some you lose some, carefully calibrating as you go. That’s a neat and tidy season.

Congratulations, I suppose, to all the disproportionately winning teams in the play-offs. Personally, I think you could do with a little Dallas Cowboys Zen, but I know lots of teams and fans are still stuck in the whole playing football well into deep winter thing.



Cowboys give away season opener

My beloved Dallas Cowboys down one on the season opener against the New York Jets.

I have to hand it to the Cowboys: there is no team in history better at losing. By that I mean losing with panache, squandering a commanding lead, handing victory with stupid stupid mistakes to a team that had no chance to come back, giving its fans a comeback-win to talk about for years. That is losing with style. That is losing with an eye on losing history. How to lose. The Dallas Cowboys. Best ever.

UPDATE: The Boys redeemed themselves Sunday. This time it was the Boys behind for the entire game against the 49ers, and an injured quarterback, who came back in and rallied the team to an improbable tie, and then threw a 77-yard pass to the 1-yard line in overtime to give the Boys the field goal and the win. Emotional roller-coaster, yes it is.

Cowboys Mock the “Lock of the Century”

I don’t do sports commentary because I haven’t done sports in decades, having peaked in 6th grade.  But watching the Dallas Cowboys (1-7) beat the New York Giants (6-2), convincingly (in New York), I cannot help but commentate.

Credit to the Cowboys for contributing high drama to the sport.  And unpredictability.  A sport is emotionally engaging to the extent it is unpredictable.  If you know what will happen in a game, then it is less game than low-grade theater.

On Yahoo Sports “Lock of the Week,” two of the three commentators (an unusual doubling) — Jason Cole and Michael Silver — picked New York to beat Dallas easily.  Indeed, both called the game “the lock of the century.”  Pause to chuckle.  All these guys have to do is pick three games that are easy calls.  Two of them not only called New York to beat Dallas, but labeled it the easiest call for the next 90 years.  Pause to chuckle.

See, one of the things that is so satisfying about being a Dallas Cowboys fan is the upending of so many careers in sports prediction.  Unfortunately, this includes effusive predictions of greatness.  The Cowboys are exhilarating and heart-breaking, but rarely in between.

They stayed ahead of the Giants the entire game.  The Giants moment toward the end of the first half, when they were poised in the red zone to go ahead by a point, against a battered Cowboys secondary, got turned into its opposite when rookie corner Bryan McCann picked off an Eli Manning pass and returned it 101 yards for a touchdown.  Team record.  That was glorious.  Then just as the Giants were driving in the 4th quarter and poised to execute the resolute comeback the Giants do supremely well — what they did against the Cowboys in the last heartbreaking loss — Alan Ball picked off an Eli Manning pass and sealed the Cowboys victory.

Inductive reasoning tells you that a team that’s, to date, 0-14 on 3rd down conversions, won’t convert a third down deep in their own territory against the NFL’s top-ranked defense.  So Jon Kitna tosses to Felix Jones for a 71-yard touchdown in what the experts could have plausibly described as the defensive hold of the century.  Pause to chuckle.  And then came that 3rd and 22, the sort of play that sent Dallas fans into other rooms to dispatch long overlooked chores, like dusting grandma’s china, while the other team played a while.  But oh my, that 1-15 stat became 2-16.

You just never know.  That unpredictability of professional football is why commentators love recourse to mysticism.  And their chief mystical mantra is “momentum.”  The Giants won the last five games.  The Cowboys didn’t.  The Giants trailed the Cowboys in their last meeting, and pulled out a decisive win when the “momentum” shifted and the Giants scored five straight touchdowns.  So the commentators — anybody else notice this? — kept seeing the “momentum” shifting to the Giants, remarkably, even after the Giants had to punt.

But “momentum” is only something you can truly see in hindsight, and it’s therefore a phantom concept.  The Giants never managed anything even remotely approaching momentum.  Yes, they managed more yards, more first downs, and more time of possession — all mystical indicia of victory.  But (and we only know this in hindsight), it was never actually “momentum.”

And that’s because of momentum’s mystical stepchild — fortune.  Football is a game of luck.  A billion-dollar industry is devoted to obscuring the role of luck because there’s little of interest to say about a crap shoot.  The Cowboys were remarkably lucky Sunday evening, in conspicuous contrast to their last several most unlucky outings.

If I sound fatalistic about football, read on.  Football, like most of life, dances on a probability curve.  Line up the competing forces on any given play, and you can theoretically map a probability curve for the result — but only a probability curve, not a scientific prediction.  Luck determines the result, and makes the game exciting.

What is professional about professional football (and the reason why college football is more rollicking and, well, less professional) is the enormous investment in shaving the probability curve.  Coaches analyze every aspect of multiple scenarios and determine what players need to do to prevent the ravage of fortune.  Players internalize this understanding and shave the probability curve on the field.

Jon Kitna got his first NFL victory since 2007 because his offensive line gave him extra seconds — against the NFL’s top-ranked defense.  And Kitna showed what he can do, throwing for 327 yards and three touchdowns.  An offense is only as good as its offensive line.  An extra two seconds shifts the probability curve enormously.

The Cowboys were professionally lucky Sunday evening.  In a sport of plodding yards toward first downs and punts, penalties and turnovers are especially the province of (mis)fortune, and the Cowboys have been plagued.  Sunday evening, they were the beneficiaries of the Giants’ misfortunes.  Even the pass interference penalty against the Cowboys that led to a Giants touchdown seemed, in retrospect, merely a modesty reminder from Lady Fortune.

And modest, of course, is how we two-and-seven Cowboys fans feel.  Modest and giddy.