"If you want me to tell you who's going to win, you have to tell me who's going to play."
– Babe Laufenberg
"We have met the enemy, and he is us."
– Walt Kelly's Pogo
We're all day-to-day. Or in the case of the NFL, week-to-week. Seldom has a season proved it more for your Dallas Cowboys.
This is what the league fathers wanted. Mothers, too. Everyone has a chance. Once upon a time in a bygone age, the good teams were good and the bad teams were bad. You knew who they were, and you could count on it. Oh, you could get bad pretty quick with the right combination of poor management, bad luck and sloppy coaching. And you still can. But you couldn't get good very fast, and you darn sure couldn't go from one to the other in the same season.
Now, you can. This is what the league wanted when it adapted the salary cap to go with free agency. It's certainly not a bad thing. You could argue it's one of the best things to happen to the NFL in the last 25 years. Everyone has a chance, and when you do have a bad year, the system is set up for you to make the right decisions and turn it around. Don't tell the people in Cleveland or Chicago, but that's how it can work.
Some of it is perspective, though. Your Humble Correspondent would like to gift you with two thoughts: Define Winning, and Cherish the Moment.
If winning to you means only one thing, and it involves a trophy in February and a ring in July, you may be in for a long slog, unless you're willing to move to New England. And rumor has it even they don't win the Super Bowl every year, although that's unconfirmed.
But if winning means being competitive and getting more W's than L's and seeing how you stack up at the end, this NFL can be a lot of fun. Sixteen fan bases are going to be unhappy every week, and 31 are every year. But that's on us. The thing that gives us, as fans, that whiplash feeling is not knowing what to expect.
This is also part of the beauty of the NFL, by the way. Not only can your team be a contender next year, it can get better through the season. It can be totally different than it was last week! We just usually don't like that.
We don't care about the league being competitive. If we wanted to care about Cleveland, we'd live in by-God Cleveland. We want to see OUR team be excellent all the time, no excuses, always win. What other people do means nothing, except as a benchmark for how we can complain about what we have and blame our players/coaches/front office.
In the 21st century NFL, by the time the season gets much past the quarter pole, you can usually tell that there are a couple of really bad teams and a couple of really good teams. Everyone else is in the middle, trying to get out. But getting out isn't easy, and sometimes we can't see it happening.
The Cowboys are having that whiplash kind of season. We think that because last year was surprisingly good, we're now going to have the long run of excellence to which we're entitled. But defections, injuries and suspensions conspired against that from the very beginning. That's how you can beat a good team like Kansas City and lose to a good team like Atlanta.
Part of the problem, a big part, is what WE thought of those teams. If we thought Kansas City was a powerhouse (they're not; they're just a good team that's now struggling), then beating them must mean our team could handle Atlanta, which we thought was a mediocre team (they're not; they just had a mediocre record because they've been struggling, too, and now we're all going to find out how* they *handle the roller coaster.)
So we sit here at midweek reeling as a fan base because the last thing we saw was assuredly not good, and we have injuries, and Philly is coming to town with the best record in the league, and WE HATE PHILLY AND WE DON'T WANT THEM OF ALL PEOPLE TO EMBARRASS US AND AAAARRRRGGGHHHH!!!!!
It's easy to forget that last year, when our team was so great and their team was so average, that the Cowboys needed overtime to beat the Eagles in Arlington. An empirical case can be made that they had a far superior offseason to Dallas', and that's what we're seeing now. Just give them credit. They're really good. That doesn't diminish you, and it doesn't guarantee a result Sunday night. They're just good, and the Cowboys are going through a rough patch. That's okay.
Chances are both teams are going to be good for the foreseeable future. But why worry about the foreseeable future? There are people getting paid richly for that. What do WE do?
What we might want to do is just enjoy the ride. A close friend observed what seems like moments ago that it's almost December! The season is almost over! Where does it go?! It flies by!
YES! Exactly. It's almost December. But it's not. It's mid-November. Don't have Christmas before you have Thanksgiving. You'll miss Thanksgiving. The season is closer to being over than to starting, but it's just two games past the halfway point. There are six more games after this one. And we haven't got to THIS one yet. Stop. Relax. Enjoy.
The Cowboys probably aren't as good as they looked last year. Remember how happy you were after the last game last year? Exactly, because we don't know how to enjoy what's in front of us. Don't be in such a hurry to get to the end. Enjoy the middle.
You were elated after Kansas City. You're despondent after Atlanta. You're petrified pending Philly. Good! Enjoy it all. It's all part of the deal that is the NFL. I can't wait to see what the players and coaches do this week to address the shortcomings of last week. Enjoy the moment in front of you. It's not coming back.
Also, we're not in Cleveland.