How ’bout them apples?
Going into Sunday’s game, the Cowboys and Steelers had faced off 30 times in their long and storied inter-conference rivalry—three times on the grandest stage of all. They had each won 15. Twelve times, their contests were settled by less than a touchdown. Twice in the ’70s, the Steelers beat the Cowboys in the Super Bowl, but each time by less than a TD. In the ’90s, the Cowboys rolled the Steelers on the way to their third NFL championship in four years…and exacted a measure of revenge.
Both teams came into yesterday’s contest with their division’s lead in sight. Both teams played like they had something to play for. One team emerged victorious in dramatic fashion with overtime heroics.
That would be your Dallas Cowboys.
The Wrecking Ball
And how surprising is this?
Well, if you look at their circumstances, it is very, very surprising that this team—the one that famously fades in December—has won five of its last six contests.
On the defensive side of the ball, those circumstances are dire. Up the middle, where a defense must be the strongest if it is to survive, the Cowboys are playing with mostly all back-ups. Jay Ratliff, the nose tackle, has missed more games than he has played this season. His backup, Josh Brent—who was largely unknown, but proving himself capable filling Ratliff’s shoes—has become a household name for all the wrong reasons, as he faces manslaughter charges in the death of his best friend and teammate Jerry Brown. Both starting inside linebackers are on injured reserve and done for the season. Sean Lee, last year’s team leader in tackles and the quarterback of the D, went down first. Then Bruce Carter, playing outstanding football for the first time in his young NFL life, soon followed. Before the season could even get started, the promising strong safety Barry Church went on the IR.
Add first-round pick CB Maurice Claiborne to Sunday’s players unable to perform, and you basically have Rob Ryan sending a MASH unit into combat.
But these Cowboys keep finding ways to win, partly because the defense keeps the game manageable, partly because Tony Romo is playing some of the best football of his career, partly because DeMarco Murray is back on the field and making all the difference in the world in the running game. But mostly, I believe, because Jason Garrett has provided solid leadership.
In the face of senseless tragedy and loss, Garrett showed the kind of leadership qualities many of us have long believed he possesses. He was as “human,” as empathetic, as we have seen him. Yet, he was unflappable, a rock, steady. These past two weeks, with the season on the line and his team reeling emotionally, Garrett has put together his finest performances as a head coach and a play-caller.
The result of this team’s gritty, never-say-never and don’t-dare-quit attitude is that the NFC East is theirs for the taking. Just win two more games and the once 5–6 Cowboys are division winners and riding a huge win streak into the playoffs. Just like last year, their fate is in their own hands.
Unlike last year, this team is playing its best and most inspired football at the end of the season.
The Rally Cry
So, while those 15,000 or so displaced Steelers’ fans that annoyed everyone at Cowboys Stadium yesterday stuff their terrible towels in some place the sun isn’t shining, lick their wounds and think about next year, the Cowboys appear destined to continue going about the business of putting the past behind them and winning in the face of extraordinary adversity.
Color this Cowboys’ fan proud for the first time in a very, very long time.
How ’bout them Cowboys?