Well, it's the end of an era for me and every other Dallas Cowboys fan. I had hoped that this post would be written on a night where the Cowboys won, but unfortunately they fell short tonight. Actually, falling short is being kind. They failed miserably in a game that was vitally important for their post-season hopes.
This season has been a long, strange one for Dallas and perhaps it's fitting that the team that seemed to have so magic once it moved into Texas Stadium should falter so dramatically in the final years of this one-time sports mecca.
I have many wonderful memories of attending games here as a child. My first game to Texas Stadium was in 1971 where the Cowboys, led by the great Roger Staubach, beat the Philadelphia Eagles, 20-7. Just over a month later, I went to my first layoff game where the 'Boys defeated the 49ers 14-3, in the NFC Championship.
Over the next few years, I saw some amazing games and amazing players. Of course, the one that stands out the most for me was watching Clint Longley, AKA the Mad Bomber, throw a winning touchdown ass to Drew Pearson with second remaining to defeat the hated Washington Redskins, 24-23 in 1974. It was the only time I ever remember crying after a game. I can still hear my father's voice screaming with all the other 65,101 fans in the stadium that Thanksgiving Day.
My last trip to Texas Stadium was in 1989. While the Cowboys were headed for a dreadful 1-15 season, the game I attended (on Thanksgiving, again) turned out to be one they still talk about today. On that day, Philadelphia Eagles coach Buddy Ryan (allegedly) placed a bounty on quarterback Troy Aikman and kicker Luis Zendejas. Aikman was certainly harassed all day (he was sacked 11 times) and it was obvious that they went after the kicker, as he landed on his butt after being put there by Andre Waters, after the play had ended.
So with all these wonderful memories, I am deeply saddened by the woeful performance by my team tonight. Since this game had so much at stake, it was was odd that the whole atmosphere felt more like a pre-season game, than a playoff preview. The team - once again - took on the lack of emotion and fire of it's head coach, Wade Phillips. Aside for the last few minutes, at no time did it appear that Dallas had any intensity. Baltimore, on the other hand - a team also fighting for its layoff lives - acted like a team on mission. They showed that win or lose, they were not going down easy.
But Dallas played much the way they have all season. They made stupid penalties, they looked wholly out of sync and the play-calling was atrocious. On a number of occasions, I predicted what play they were going to run before they actually ran it. If I knew what they were going to do, it seems logical that the Ravens knew as well.
Considering how much "star power" the offense has, I am simply stunned that they have played as ineptly as they have. Is Terrell Owens not a great receiver? What about Jason Witten? Roy Williams? Tony Romo? As good as these layers supposedly are, as a team they are simply average at best.
So what makes great players into a great team?
Coaching, that's what. Before Wade Phillips was hired, Bill Parcells built this team. However, whether because he was tired, or maybe he no longer wanted to deal with Jerry Jones, he left the team. Jones then hired Phillips, much the way he hired Barry Switzer to replace Jimmy Johnson - because he needed someone who would let Jerry run the organization his way.
Well, Wade Phillips was that man. Unfortunately, he is not the right man for the job as coach of such a highly talented group of players. When you have such an array of talent, it's easy to just sit back and let them do their thing. However, the NFL is not the kind of place where you can show up and expect to succeed. I find that under Wade Phillips, this team has a sense of entitlement that not only is unearned, but it really unwelcome.
Now that they have lost tonight, they can still make the playoffs. However, it will require losses by either Atlanta or Tampa Bay tomorrow. If either of those teams lose, Dallas will still need to defeat the Eagles (in Philadelphia, no less) next week to get in.
But in reality, they aren't good enough to do anything in the playoffs, should they get in. A team that can lay such an egg in front of a national TV audience, on a night where they are saying goodbye to the stadium with the hole in the roof, where they knew they had to win, not only lost, but looked miserable doing it.
I will miss Texas Stadium and I will miss my memories of the many wonderful times I had there. I am just so disappointed for the city and the fans who had to witness this team and this final season. Tom Landry, Roger Staubach, Tony Dorsett, Drew Pearson, Randy White, Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, Tex Schramm and all the rest who made this place what it was deserve better.
And they deserve better than Wade Phillips.