When the New Orleans Saints bolted to 17 points in just their first 15 offensive plays, the rude guests looked as if they would gobble up their hosts, the Dallas Cowboys, without so much as a “thank you,” belch contentedly, and maybe even take a nap somewhere around the fourth quarter.
But these Cowboys are no body’s turkeys, not since they fired the mascot-masquerading-as-a-head coach, Wade Phillips, and promoted the no-nonsense, never-say-die Jason Garrett.
These Cowboys bite back.
These Cowboys managed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, taking an unexpected, almost unbelievable, 27-23 lead late in the fourth quarter.
After falling behind by 17, these Cowboys outscored the Saints 27-6.
These Cowboys, under the leadership of the 1994 Thanksgiving Day hero, the backup quarterback who forever etched his name in Cowboys’ holiday lore right alongside that of Clint Longley, were ready to score an unlikely upset victory over last year’s Super Bowl champions and Drew Brees, a quarterback drawing constant comparisons to Joe Montana for crying out loud.
These Cowboys were hungry.
But then, the team that snatched victory from defeat’s jaws had it snatched right back on the 15-yard line. A play that should have salted the game away for the home team instead gave the visitors one more chance to spoil everyone’s dinner. Poor, unfortunate Roy Williams, a favorite target of disappointed fans and underwhelmed media types ever since Jerry Jones gave up too much to get him from the Detroit Lions, was speeding toward the end zone, having snatched a short pass on a quick crossing pattern and then out-running defenders for more than 50 yards.
Roy would not make it to pay dirt. Instead, he would be caught, have the ball wrestled from his hands, and find himself standing on the sideline with that failed, sheepish grin on his face, watching Drew Brees take his Saints 85 yards in just 68 seconds to reclaim the lead, 30-27.
All the Saints would need is for kicker David Buehler to miss a 59-yard field goal attempt and they could breathe a sigh of relief and dream of turkey and all the trimmings. Buehler missed. His leg was more than strong enough, but he pulled the ball ever so slightly.
The Saints celebrated their own Thanksgiving Day miracle, but did not celebrate a massacre.
It is safe to surmise that, if this game had been played just three weeks ago, these Dallas Cowboys would have given up on a game where they fell behind by 17 points in barely more than half of a quarter. It would not have been surprising to see them humiliated before a snickering nation of Cowboys-hating, turkey leg-wielding, kinfolk-tolerating football fans, loosening their belts to accommodate their swollen bellies and enjoying the demise of America’s former team almost as much as Grandma’s pecan pie.
Thanksgiving Day was a miracle for Cowboys nation.
This is not a fan base given to accepting moral victories. We prefer Lombardi trophies, thank you very much. But, Landry is dead, Jimmy Johnson only talks Cowboys and doesn’t coach them, and Wade Phillips—despite his own misgivings about the hollow numbers he put up while taking up space where a coach is supposed to stand on the Cowboys’ sideline—was no Landry or Johnson. He was, instead, the man whose lack of perspective, inability to lead, and laissez-faire approach to team management almost completely destroyed a team.
The miracle this Thanksgiving was not on the final scoreboard, unfortunately. That, although much closer than most thought, ended up about the way folks figured it would, with the Cowboys on the short end. The miracle, my friend, was in the fight. Make no mistake, there were mistakes made by the Cowboys, both by players and by their head coach. But they fought. They scrapped. They stood toe-to-toe with the team that most recently hoisted that coveted Lombardi trophy.
When the final gun sounded, the Saints were heaving a sigh of relief rather than waking from a dreamy nap. Considering where this Cowboys team found itself at the end of the Phillips era (with a 1-7 record and in complete disarray), that was a miracle.
For that, all Cowboys fans can be thankful.