The Dallas Cowboys were actually becoming a likeable story this NFL season, until they signed 'him,' and took the luster off, writes John Gorman.
I wanted to write about the Dallas Cowboys. I know, I know. Everyone writes about the Dallas Cowboys … but this time it feels different. At 2–4, clinging to hope until their two most marquee players return from injury, this incarnation seems decidedly un-Cowboys, desperately holding on to third place in a tire-fire of an NFC East.
I wanted to talk to you about how the Dallas media has been remarkably reserved and measured in their coverage of the Cowboys this season. This has trickled up to the national media, who have saved premium column space for stories like the surprising Cincinnati Bengals and the methodical dominance of the New England Patriots. Dallas Cowboys Media Hype Over-saturation Levels have been downgraded to “low” for the first time in years.
That’s not to say there are no stories of intrigue. Tony Romo, still in a sling, still not throwing much after getting his clavicle cracked, is trying to work his way back by mid-November — just in time for a still very much in-play stretch run to the playoffs. The former unheralded unknown from Eastern Illinois has become a bit of a sympathetic hero — a snake-bitten tale of a talented, entertaining protagonist entering the twilight of his roller-coaster career. Brandon Weeden has filled in at quarterback and done Brandon Weeden things. Matt Cassel has come on in relief of Weeded and been appropriately Casselian. A season teeters on the brink unless Dallas can prove it can win with a cannon arm tied behind its back.
Make that an arm and a foot. If I were to have you name any two Cowboys, inevitably, the next name on the list would be all-world wideout Dez Bryant, who has been sidelined since mid-September with a broken right foot. I wanted to talk to you about Bryant’s maniacal focus on becoming a better player and a better person, and how obviously it’s paying off to even the untrained eye. I would expect him to pay immediate dividends upon returning to the lineup. He has to. Dallas is currently trotting out a three-receiver set of Terrence Williams, Cole Beasley and Devin Street.
I wanted to talk to you about Jason Witten, who, with Dez and Romo on the sidelines, is unexpectedly enjoying a bit of a renaissance at age 33. With 30 catches on 37 targets, Witten has regained his stature as an All-Pro tight end.
I wanted to discuss Joseph Randle and his efforts to fill in for departed bellcow running back DeMarco Murray. And the semi-tragic, untimely ACL tear suffered by Lance Dunbar, who in a span of a month went from virtual unknown to pass-catching lightning bug to IR. Also, Sean Lee. After missing all of last year with his third ACL tear, the former tackle and takeaway machine has come back to play inspired football as well as he ever has. It’s a helluva comeback story for the J.J. Watt of the Metroplex.
From comebacks to never-going-aways, do you realize we’ve reached nearly five full seasons of Jason Garrett under the headset in Dallas? Did you know he’s never had a losing record? Did you know he’s 42–34 as coach? These are easy things to look up and marvel at, but the sentiment worth letting marinate is how much it now feels like he’s entrenched as an established leader, a steadying force and a sorely-needed buffer between the field and the front office.
Speaking of the front office, do you hear that noise coming from Jerry Jones? Exactly. I wanted to talk about how Jerruh’s been oddly muted during the first half of this season, except largely for earnest musings about how much he can’t wait to see his full arsenal back on the field. The deft touch displayed during the draft has paid off well, as Dallas now appears to have an embarrassment of riches on the offensive line, which last season powered a team led by a healthy Romo to a 12–4 record. Orlando Scandrick is better than anyone other than Orlando Scandrick expected him to become. Jones appears to be, quietly, running a football team rather than lording over an entertainment empire.
I wanted to talk about all of it. The Dallas Cowboys. America’s Team. Feel-bad, feel-good story of the year. I wanted to talk about how remarkably easy they could have been to root for, and how surprisingly hopeful we should be about maybe seeing them in the playoffs once Romo and Dez return. They’ve already dinged up their main competition, the Giants and Eagles, once a piece, and in the NFC East potato-sack race where the Giants are currently alone in first at 4–3, nine wins might be enough to get them there.
I had this column written. And then I saw this man blowing up at his coach on the sidelines on Sunday. And I remembered: That man — that monster — is still on this team.
That man who grabbed his girlfriend, threw her onto some firearm-adorned furniture, strangled her and threatened to end her life.
That man who enjoys the comforts of an NFL locker room only because his victim failed to show up to testify —allegedly because of some hush money.
That man who, according to a league investigation, used physical force — not on a field, but on his girlfriend — at least four times.
That man the NFL suspended for 10 games until an independent arbiter reduced it to four.
That man who cat-called Tom Brady’s wife and wife’s sister during a routine on-camera Q&A upon his return from suspension.
He shows zero remorse for his actions. He has demonstrated zero interest in learning from his mistakes, or even addressing them. He still patrols sideline-to-sideline, free to “focus on football.”
That man has no idea how lucky he is. He has no idea what a gift he’s been given. He has no idea how good he has it. As long as he’s playing for the Dallas Cowboys, as long as he continues his cold-blooded execution of the playbook while remaining hot-tempered and ill-mannered off of it, he has prevented a host of great stories — some warm-and-fuzzy, some sad-and-gloomy — from creeping to the lede in this column.
I was about to send this week’s column to my editor without a mere mention of his name. And then I remembered it, and I remembered what he did to her, and decided he still didn’t deserve mentioning. But, trust me, he’s there, and in a season as dark as it’s been in Dallas, he’s the largest storm cloud hanging over it. And that’s the only thing really worth mentioning.