n all the universe,
I have a Cowboys-fan friend who exudes these hypocritical qualities. He never misses a game and wears a Bill Bates jersey -- this is a grown man, mind you. He tells me with a straight face, "anything can happen in the NFL." Does this guy work for the league? He says Pittsburgh has a real chance. "Past history doesn't mean a thing." Yuk! "A few early breaks," he says. "Shit, man, anything can happen." I prefer my cigars strong, women quirky, and my Cowboys fans in character: loud and arrogant.
Last week, when the Packers beat San Francisco, I began making plans, starting with removing sharp objects from my home. Now that the die is indelibly cast, it's time to remove the pills. It's over. As much as I hate Dallas, I'll say, "fair enough." They were supposed to win. They did. Cowboys-haters had a brief, gratifying glimmer of hope during an ugly December. Finally, in the end, Dallas won, not due to Cowboys luck, or bad calls, or because the other guys played badly. They won because they do the things football teams, once-upon-a-time, were supposed to do. They run, pass, block, and tackle. Despite what we're led to believe, football's not a complicated game. It's just grownups playing the old playground game of "Kill the man with the ball."
It's shocking how depleted the talent level has become in the NFL. The next best teams in the league, San Francisco and Green Bay, must play the game with one hand tied behind their backs. Not because a star player is injured or because the coach wants to trick someone, but because no one, except Dallas, has enough talent to do those four basic things with any competence. Specifically, they can't execute the most fundamental part of the game. They can't run the football. It's a monstrous misconception to think, as many do, the great 49ers teams were pass-happy units. Those teams always had great running backs. They were nothing like the one-dimensional teams we saw this year. Both the Packers and the Niners, passing on every down, closely resembled a beefed-up Sigma Chi frat league team. They both looked like the Miami Dolphins.
This is not to knock Dallas. This club could compete with any team, from any era. However, in most other years, the results would not be such a forgone conclusion. I hoped Green Bay would not score so damned easily. Time of possession statistics, often vastly overrated, in this case told the tale. The Packers had no trouble moving the ball against Dallas. The result? Putting Dallas' offense back on the field for another grueling, brutal, 12-play, 75-yard drive. Packers defenders were bloody and gasping for air in the first quarter. Dallas had the ball for a quarter plus two minutes more than the Packers. That's a whole lot of Emmitt Smith.
A few weeks ago, previewing the playoffs, I noted we were probably watching the end of a long era in the NFL. Only two dinosaurs remained. It's now clear only one still stands. There are simply too many teams and not enough talented players to compile a decently rounded club. Dallas should've gone undefeated this year. They were, easily, the better team in each of the four games they lost. They lost, mostly, because they got bored.
It's said miracles do happen, though I've never seen one. A miracle is the only chance the Steelers have against Dallas. In the next two weeks, we'll hear a suffocating amount of hype about Pittsburgh's dangerous five-receiver set, how Dallas can't possibly match up with Kordell Stewart, about a running attack which sounds way more potent than it is, about the great defense, which, even by AFC standards, was quite average, and finally, about how Neil O'Donnell won't "beat himself." It's all bullshit. Pittsburgh, like everyone else, can only choose the way they wish to die. They can load up the line and try to stop Emmitt Smith. Or, they can double-up on Irvin, only to die the death of 1,000 cuts, as Smith and the huge line, slowly at first, but inexorably, as the game wears on, slash them to death with increasingly more gruesome gashes. Yummy.
Three Super Bowls infour years is something which may never happen again. Next year, when the Dallas juggernaut finally caves in to the pressures which have felled the rest of the beasts, I can gloat. But in reality, my gloating will taste like a dinner of cold ash. You can't take away those Super Bowls. Jimmy Johnson, insulated in the TV booth, has become the best coach of all time. Next year his Dolphins, like they were this year, will be hyped into the unbeatable team. And maybe so. For one year. Today, only one Tyrannosaurus Rex remains at the last watering hole. Unfortunately, the water is in Dallas.
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