A 'Tree Grows in the Meadowlands

Cowboys beat defending champs in season kickoff game

A 'Tree Grows in the Meadowlands

In the fall of ’92 I and a woman from work I liked drove out to a runway near Fort Worth at about midnight to hear presidential candidate Bill Clinton give a short speech. Now, I’m not political in the least, but she was real cute. And Clinton delivered. I heard the new JFK. That same month, I fell in love with a team I once hated.

Clinton and the Dallas Cowboys overlapped again Wednesday night.

The Cowboys of my youth was a team I would follow just to watch them lose, which they didn’t do often. They were White America’s Team, with a God-loving quarterback who spent a few years in the U.S. Navy between his Heisman and NFL most valuable player trophies.

It was great to see them become South America’s Team, when the crushed coca leaf made its way up from Peru. When they went 1-15 in Troy Aikman’s rookie season, with new owner Jerry Jones having pushed out the heroic Tom Landry, it may have my favorite season of Sundays.

But then I moved to Dallas in 1992 to become country music critic of the Dallas Morning News and, I don’t know exactly how it happened, but I was cheering for the Cowboys. Maybe it’s because living in Dallas and not becoming one with the Cowboys is like dating a methhead and not liking long, circular conversations.

Today, 20 years later, I’m a Dallas Cowboys fanatic. I mean, a painful Cowboys loss still hurts for at least half the next day. And a big win?

Last night’s season kickoff game between the Dallas Cowboys and their rivals, the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants, is going to bring smiles to those in the service industry I encounter today. Woke up with a hangover, a love hangover, y'all.

First off, QB Tony Romo was spectacular (22-29, 307 yds) on this huge stage, a nationally-televised game from the NYC area. It doesn't matter that this is September: that game had all the pressure of one you watch with through the reflectionn of Christmas tree lights. While I was multi-tasking (which used to mean sitting on the bowl and reading the paper), I saw that many of my friends were watching Bill Clinton’s speech at the DNC instead of Romo hitting Kevin Ogletree and Miles Austin for key first downs and then touchdowns. “If you watched Clinton’s speech instead of Dallas 24, New York 17, you are a celebrity Scientologist,” I tweeted after Tony Clutch put away the game in a situation in which he would’ve given it away last season.

There’s something different about Tony Romo’s eyes this year. And Dez Bryant has his head in the game, not up against his mama's head. Add DeMarco Murray, who looks to be the first great Cowboys running back since Emmitt Smith, and you’ve got an exciting 2012 version of the Triplets. Last night, the Cowboys sure played like a Super Bowl team, but it’s a long season, as we who worship the blue star know all too well.

Clinton’s speech, which I watched online this morning, was terrific. He laid it out in a way that you’d have to be an idiot to vote for Mitt Romney. But his speech won’t mean a thing when the election comes around. I have Republicans in my family and they wouldn’t vote for a Democrat if he or she (especially she) reduced the deficit, won the war in Afghanistan and knocked the unemployment rate down to 3%. Both conventions were meaningless except that some choirs get all tingly when they’re being preached to.

But the Cowboys/ Giants game actually meant something. Dallas is currently in sole possession of first place in the NFC East. And the defending champs are in the cellar. Now check the electoral vote projections: unmoved since the Clinton speech.

Here’s what we learned from the Cowboys win. The Dallas D is big time, with the defensive backfield showing the greatest bump up from last season. Rookie CB Morris Claiborne and the newly-acquired Brandon Carr were the Smother Brothers in coverage and came up to stop the run when needed. The closest Victor Cruz came to salsa all night was when he got drive-thru tacos on his way home.

A couple times in the fourth quarter, including Jason Hatcher’s roughing the Eli call, which had the weight of a turnover, tested the Cowboys’ fortitude. But Hatch redeemed himself by sacking Manning on third down in the next series.

Then, after the Giants reduced a 14-point lead by half late in the 4th quarter, the Cowboys needed a first down to seal the sweet victory. Uh-oh. This is where Romo usually turns into a husband who comes home drunk and beats us because there’s no leftovers in the fridge. We’re battered fans who keep coming back because “Romo’s a good man, he didn’t mean it.” We’re made to flinch in tense, late-game situations.

It was 3rd and 2, with 2:17 on the clock and Murray made the first down on an end run. But Jason Witten, nursing a spleen injury, had his first impact in the game when he held a Giant lineman. So now it’s 3rd and 12, passing situation. A calm Romo stepped back and hit third down specialist Ogletree for a 15 yard gain. That’s the ball game. Tree came through again and again, eight catches and two touchdowns. If we're going to continue the analogy to the Aikman years, #85 could be the new Jay Novacek chain-moving specialist. Just think of when Witten gets healthy; Romo's going to have more options than Derek Jeter looking for a date to the Jay-Z concert. Only injuries can stop this lineup.

Millions of Giants fans cursed. Millions of Cowboys fans cheered. We've got 10 days to relish, they've got 10 days to wallow. Bill Clinton gave the speech of his life, but I didn’t watch it until I replayed the fourth quarter two times.

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Dallas Cowboys, Tony Romo, Kevin Ogletree

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