The Dallas Cowboys were once perennial championship contenders, but if you tell that to anyone under 25 you might have trouble convincing them. For the past two decades, the team has been kept from the Super Bowl, and they rarely even threatened their conference for supremacy.
In that time, team owner Jerry Jones expanded his role in the team’s scouting, development, draft strategy, and personnel acquisition, becoming the rare (for a reason) owner/GM combo. He doubled down on his decisions, ignoring signs that they weren’t working, and he put his faith (and the team’s future) into an undrafted quarterback, Tony Romo, who has proven himself to be one of the unluckiest people alive. After a botched snap that would have given the Cowboys a real shot at the championship in 2007, Romo has been injured and off his game more often than not, despite a career of considerable individual achievement in terms of yards, touchdowns, and QB rating.
A few years after that heartbreak, the ‘boys seemed to have found their formula – rather than focusing on an increasingly homogeneous NFL which focused on passing, they used their league-best offensive line to put the ball in the hands of their running back, DeMarco Murray. This proved to be incredibly effective for the 2014 season, as Murray rushed for 1,850 yards and 13 touchdowns. Those numbers would be career bests for almost every running back in the league, and stand among the best seasons in the history of the position.
Despite the one-dimensional dominance, they faced a tough division that year and were forced to win a Wild Card game to continue to the playoffs where they met their demise the following week against the Green Bay Packers, ending their seemingly Cinderella season prematurely.
The Cowboys just never seemed able to put it all together, and as a result have missed out on the Lombardi trophy for 20 full seasons. If we’re going purely on odds to make the Super Bowl, in a vacuum, every team should make it to the championship every fifteen years (30 teams in the league, 2 teams in the championship). Obviously, there are countless variables that skew those odds, and some teams have never made it in their entire franchise’s history. However, the Cowboys aren’t the Lions, who’ve been around nearly 90 years and have never won, and they’re not the Jaguars, who were founded in 1995 and have never made it to the game at all. The Cowboys have been to eight Super Bowls, winning 5, second only to the Pittsburgh Steelers in trophies in league history.
This isn’t just a dry spell, this is a drought.
However, as much as it pains me (and millions of other decent, hardworking football fans in this country) to admit, the Cowboys are the best team in the NFL right now, and are poised for a 9th Super Bowl appearance, and maybe even a 6th win. All of this, without either Romo (besieged by injury), or Murray (no longer on the team), or any other established superstar (outside of the somewhat limited Dez Bryant and workmanlike Jason Witten). Rather than rely on traditional thinking and strategy, Jones seems to have finally seen the light, and has used a drastically different approach than before: Use that line that got you Murray’s MVP caliber season to protect your rookie back, Ezekiel Elliott (averaging over 100 yards per contest) and let your mobile, rookie quarterback Dak Prescott (nearing 3,000 yards passing, and 250 yards rushing, with 25 total touchdowns) make decisions with his feet and his arm as he sees fit, since he has all that time behind the wall of pro-bowl tackles, guards, and center.
It seems to be working, as the team has only lost two games all year, to the always-tricky New York Giants, and until their 12/11 defeat, had rattled off 10 consecutive wins, by a combined 105 points (second only to the Patriots, whose defense is more considerable).
While you cannot win a Super Bowl with offensive dominance alone, the Cowboys have performed admirably on defense this year, allowing the 5th fewest points in the league, which seems to signal a turning point in the team’s style, and bodes well for a deep postseason campaign.
So, while it’s been fun to torture Dallas fans over the irony of a mediocre team labeled “America’s Team” since Bill Clinton was in the Oval Office, that time may be coming to an end. Get your last few jabs in now, if you can think of any, because they might not be able to hear them over the confetti, the fireworks, and the roar of their vindicated fans.