Sunday, December 15, 2013

An Open Letter to Dallas Cowboys Ownership, Management, and Coaching Staff

Dear Jerry Jones, et al.,

Good evening.  I sit here on a brisk Sunday night, sipping an entirely-too-strong-for-a-Sunday Crown Royal and ginger ale, and I have you to thank.  Your team, which happens to be the one that I root for and have spent countless dollars and hours on, has just blown a 23-point halftime lead to the Green Bay Packers (sans Aaron Rodgers, mind you) and suffered its third one-point loss of this 2013 NFL season, and I have you to thank. Your team, your pride and joy, your medium for exhibiting every last ounce of your despicable and laughable hubris, now sits 7-7 and clutching frantically to its hopes of winning the dreadful division in which it has the good fortune of playing, and I have you to thank. Your exorbitantly talented team, with its salary cap strife and aging core, remains the picture of mediocrity that it has been over the past 6 seasons.  And I have you to thank.

Let's start at the beginning, shall we?  I became a Cowboys fan at the beginning of the 1992 season.  My Dad has been a Cowboys fan for nearly 40 years and while the easy narrative would be to say I was brought up that way from the womb, it's not exactly true.  My earliest football memories are "we root against the Eagles."  That's basically all I knew until about age 6.  To provide a frame of reference, I spent the first 25 years of my life living in Southern New Jersey, never more than 25-30 minutes outside of Philadelphia.  Odd, you may say, that I grew up virtually in the shadow of Philly and was taught nothing but disdain for its football team from as early as I can remember.  But, as I always say in my own defense, spend enough time around Philadelphia Eagles fans, and you'll understand the incentive to root for someone, ANYONE else.  But being a Cowboys fan was not necessarily forced on me.

Dallas opened the 1992 season on Monday Night Football against the defending-champion Washington Redskins.  On the opening drive, the eventual #1 defense in the league promptly forced a 3-and-out and then blocked Washington's punt through the back of the end zone for a safety.  I remember getting out of the shower at one point later in the game (hey, I was 6...I showered when I was told to), and quickly getting dressed and running to the living room to see Kelvin Martin return a punt 79 yards for a touchdown to put the game on ice.  From that point, on the evening of September 7, 1992,  I was hooked.

From the kid a few months shy of his 7th birthday and about to start second grade that I was then, to the 28-year-old financial professional working in New York City that I am now, I've never wavered.  Granted, it sure helped that this franchise captured three Super Bowls in four seasons right as I started to become old enough to understand football and actually play the game myself.  But from 1992 on, during the months of August through January, I've devoted the vast majority of my emotional capital to this team.  I vividly remember the 1992 NFC Championship Game in San Francisco.  In 1993, my Dad took me down to Dallas for my 8th birthday, and I actually got to meet you. I sat in the 700 Level at dirty old Veterans Stadium on a freezing cold day on my 9th birthday in 1994 to watch Darren Woodson return an interception 94 yards for a touchdown to beat the Eagles. In those days, I thought the loss in the 1994 NFC Championship Game six weeks later to those same 49ers, in which Dallas fell down 21-0 in the first 8 minutes thanks to three turnovers, was as bad as it got.

The truth is, 1994 was merely a harbinger of what awaited.  1994, as you sure remember, was the first year that your Cowboys played under a head coach not named Jimmy Johnson.  No, not the race car driver - the other one. You know, the guy more responsible than anyone for taking the old and decrepit 3-13 team you bought from Bum Bright in early 1989 and turning into a young, fast, swarming 13-3 juggernaut of a World Champion within 47 months? And who, for good measure, went back and won a second Super Bowl immediately after that, despite you having your hand in his pocket and your mouth in his ear the whole season? Remember that guy?

I'm sure you do.  You couldn't stand the fact that Jimmy Johnson was hailed as the mastermind and you were considered the check-signer, despite the truth in it all.  After the two of you parted ways, you sought to it that if and when your team ever won again, it would have your fingerprints all over it.  Yes, you did win a third championship in 1995 with coach Barry Switzer, the first of several go-with-the-flow head coaches you have brought in since Johnson, but everyone with half a brain knows that that team won with your former Arkansas teammate's players.  But make no mistake, this team was now completely yours, and it showed. The number of off-field incidents, drug busts, and underachieving locker room malcontents, things you can look past when you win, all went up. The inmates were running the asylum, and this time most of the inmates weren't the best football players either.  Two years later your team was 6-10 and replaced Switzer with Chan Gailey, whose two early and unceremonious playoff exits brought about the Dave Campo Era, a three season, 15-33 stretch that saw the swan songs of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and anyone else not named Larry Allen or Darren Woodson who had previously had a hand in winning you a Lombardi Trophy.

Oddly, I'm proud of the Dave Campo Era -. The Dave Campo Era is what I point to if ever called a frontrunner.  Dumb as I was, I justified it all to myself, "you have to stink for a while to pay for past success.  The stars got old and the team is in salary cap hell. I can handle this!" The day I broke my collarbone playing high school football, I refused to take any of the pain medication until late that night because the Cowboys were playing on Monday Night Football in Washington, and no way was going to risk falling asleep. Six days later, I sat in a dumpy South Jersey bar with sawdust on the floor, arm in a sling and barely able to dress myself from that freshly broken collarbone, to watch a game that featured the unquestioned highlight of the Dave Campo Era - George Teague knocking T.O. down on the star. Fittingly, it was a blowout loss.

Now, let me be fair.  You, Mr. Jones, are anything but a man who will stand around and abide losing.  So you had just the right phone number on speed dial to get a franchise turned around.  Bill Parcells put an immediate end to the Dave Campo Era in 2003 and promptly went 10-6 with an abysmal roster.  The Tuna drafted two future Hall of Famers in Jason Witten and DeMarcus Ware, cleaned out the dead wood, took on a project of a quarterback from Eastern Illinois, and had the team trending upward for the first time in a decade.  By 2006, the Cowboys were ready to make waves in a relatively weak NFC.

You know what's funny about the crushing Wild Card loss in Seattle that ended that 2006 season? It's only about the fourth or fifth worst loss in the past seven years.  Parcells' tenure ended after that game, because he'd had enough of working for you.  So there went the only other real head coach you've ever had. There went, for the second time, the man who'd taken your team from laughingstock to contender. But according to you, he was only brought in so you could ensure yourself your new stadium. More on that a little later.

Naturally, you brought in Wade Phillips, just the "by-golly, sure thing Boss" coach you wanted on your sideline. God bless him, but we all knew at the outset that Wade was the last person who should be brought in to pilot a team with Super Bowl aspirations. Stop me if you've seen this movie before, but Phillips took Parcells' roster in 2007, stocked with 13 Pro Bowlers, and went 13-3, only to get massively outcoached by Tom Coughlin and the Giants at home in the Divisional Playoffs.  You know what didn't help either, Mr. Jones?  The fact that you handed out NFC Championship Game tickets before that ill-fated divisional game.  2008 brought a team heavily favored to go the Super Bowl, only to go 9-7 and miss the playoffs thanks to a 44-6 obliteration by the Eagles in Week 17.

But you had bigger things on your mind, for 2009 would see the christening of Cowboys Stadium, a venue so magnificent, such a standing definition of the word "ostentatious," that it was almost immediately nicknamed JerryWorld. Having been one of your patrons to make a pilgrimage there, I must say the place is knocked out.  It's spectacular. Congratulations, Mr. Jones, because your stadium truly is a palace.  You know what else it is?  It is the #1 vacation destination for opposing fans in the NFL.  I'm sure you see it at every home game - an easy 25%, and sometimes an easy 40%, of the 90,000+ fans in the place are rooting AGAINST the Cowboys. Most weeks, the pageantry of the stadium renders your team's home-field advantage virtually nil, to the point where your home fans have to be reminded on your giant video board to be quiet when the Cowboys are on offense and to be loud when the opponent has the ball.  Your treasured stadium is sterile and embarrassing, all the way down to the air conditioning inside the place that must be stuck on the "MORGUE" setting.  How about this for a fun fact?  Twice in the past 3 seasons, a visiting team has come into Dallas and either tied or set the record for their franchise's biggest comeback win - Detroit in 2011 and Green Bay just this week.

The stadium befits the franchise - a high-profile, star-studded team that does incredibly many little things wrong.  Outside of a four-week stretch at the end of the 2009 season, which featured a win in New Orleans against the then-undefeated Saints and back-to-back revenge-drubbings of the Eagles in Week 17 and in the Wild Card round, your Cowboys have routinely failed to get out of their own way.  After Wade Phillips was mercifully dismissed in 2010, you made your hot shot alleged-genius and former Dallas backup quarterback Jason Garrett the head man.  It was a job he'd basically been assured of in early 2008, when you gave him $3 million a year to stay put as your offensive coordinator when Baltimore came calling trying to hire him as their head coach (that sound you hear is an enormous "THANK GOD" coming from central Maryland).

How many brutal losses has your Princeton clipboard caddy presided over as head coach?  2011, a year in which your team lost out on the NFC East in a win-or-go-home Week 17 game, brought a blown 14-point 4th quarter lead against the Jets, a blown 24-point lead at home against Detroit, a game in Arizona in which Garrett ICED HIS OWN KICKER, and a blown 12 point lead at home against the Giants the very next week.  Let me remind you that your team missed the playoffs by one game that year.  One game.

Nothing has changed since Garrett took over for Wade Phillips.  Your team is consistently near the top of the league in penalties, has a crippling lack of depth on both lines and in the linebacking corps, and has exhibited no killer instinct. Inability to overcome defensive injuries left the Cowboys out of the playoffs by one game again in 2012, and thanks to this latest abomination against Green Bay, they will be lucky to even make it into a third straight Week 17 de facto NFC East championship game.  Under Garrett, the coaching staff has time and again gotten away from what works in such a hurry that you'd think there was a rule limiting the amount of times you are able to run the ball in a game.  It is rare that coaches with seemingly such little grip on the flow of a game and such little ability to identify and attack an opponent's weakness get to keep their jobs for this long.

Here's the thing, Mr. Jones, and this is what it all boils down to.  I can handle the losing.  It's a part of life and a part of being a sports fan.  You can't enjoy the wins if you don't also get beaten down by the losses.  But it's the way it's all gone down that is irritating.  I've often said that if the Cowboys were simply a flat-out bad team, life would be easier.  Before you decided that you were going to run the show, the Cowboys were arguably the most consistently successful team in the post-merger era.  Since then, they have been a punchline, a joke, a 20-car pileup on the interstate.  Under your management, and under your hand-picked yes-man coaches, your team has invented ways to lose. It's one thing to feel like a loser, but it's another thing to feel like a sucker.  And that's what you've made your entire fan base out to be.  Suckers.  We're all suckers.  Your team is that hot girl in the bar who lets you buy her drinks all night only to tell you at 2 AM that she has a boyfriend.  Every Sunday I plant myself in front of my TV or on a bar stool, decked out in Cowboys gear and amped up for the game as if I were playing in it myself.  And more often than not, I saunter off afterwards wondering what it was all for.

And I have you to thank.