Anyone can love a star.
Stars get the glamour and the headlines. Chicks dig the long ball, we're told, and that's a home run or a three-pointer or a deep pass. Big plays. Splashy, headline-grabbers. That's what we want. Winning, so much winning.
And it's not even limited to team sports. What golf shot gets your attention? A 350-yard drive? A 40-foot putt? No one talks about the mid-club chip to the green. Tennis highlights are 120 mile-per-hour serves.
Team sports are even worse. A crisp pass that leads to a dunk or a wrist shot goal from the point or a screaming goal from the edge of the box? The pass never gets the love. That's not the highlight. Enjoy Ezekiel Elliott taking that screen pass 72 yards in San Francisco? Well, how about the clearing blocks by Zack Martin and Noah Brown? Did you go back for those?
No, you didn't. That's not what we're taught anymore. We can't name the supporting actor who glues the scene together, only the star. And that's okay. We need stars. We need then in sports and theater and music, even in organized religion and, heaven help us, in politics. We need them in the sales force. Stars sell the product, whatever it is.
But everyone can't be a star. A general needs his army as much as the army needs its general. And since we're in the team sports-following business in this little corner of the world, it feels right to offer a reminder that the stars might get the headlines and the highlights, but the unsung heroes provide the glue that keeps it all together.
These thoughts are prompted by the heartbreaking injury suffered by Cowboys captain Dan Bailey on Sunday. Yes, "heartbreaking" may be a little dramatic in the adjective department, but as tough as it will be on the Cowboys, if you know Dan Bailey at all, you hate this for him. You hate it because there is not a more unassuming player on the team, and there's probably not a player in the league who plays his position better than Bailey.
No one is a better teammate, no one works harder, none more respected. Dan Bailey has never missed a game in his life, at any level, and you know what he feels? Guilty. He feels like he's letting his team down. Say "Cowboys" to fans here, there or yonder, and you'll get back "Dak. Zeke. Dez. Witten. Lee. Tank." Not many will say "Bailey." But we're all about to find out what we've been taking for granted for seven years.
Dan Bailey can't be a real unsung hero, though. He can be overlooked, which he is, but he's the guy who makes the game winning kick. He scores the points. That's not unsung. You know who's unsung?
L. P. Ladouceur is unsung. The steadiest long snapper in the business. Thirteen years without a bad snap. Not a punt, not an extra point. Just perfect. And if he sat next to you in a restaurant you wouldn't know him.
Chris Jones, the punter, is unsung. Also the holder. Never a bobble. Currently leads the NFL in percentage of punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line. Guaranteed to walk through any mall you want to name without being recognized, and proud of it. Prefers it that way.
Dan Bailey's injury is making the notion of unsung heroes come to mind, and maybe it's time we paid some attention to people like Dan and L.P. and Chris who don't get the headlines, but without whom this ship runs straight into a reef and stays there. Let's think of some more.
Anthony Hitchens is one. He's probably the most overlooked, unknown outstanding player on the offense or defense. Not eye-catchingly big or fast. Not any kind of self-promoter. Probably will never play in a Pro Bowl. He's just smart and humble and super competitive and proud and solid. You didn't know he wasn't there until he wasn't there. You'll forget him again. His teammates won't.
Cole Beasley was one until last year. Throw it to Dez. Throw it to Wit. Oh yeah, the little guy with the long hair who only moves the chains every time he touches it. Until last year, when the ball was snapped and the quarterback dropped back, your eyes went to Dez. The ball went to Beasley. Now that he's led the team in receiving, he's attracted too much sauce. But don't worry. He'll find a way and you'll notice.
And the offensive line, you notice when you think they're not good. Or not "doing their job," as though any of us even know what's involved in that. This is probably why offensive linemen have usually been my favorites. They get no glory, nor want any. They're doing their job when someone else is having the success that gets them commercial endorsements. They exist to make the lives of others better.
O-linemen and fullbacks. Keith Smith on this team isn't the most talented player, not the most gifted athlete. He just sticks his nose in and blocks for someone else and covers kicks and plays linebacker on the scout team. You would know most linemen because of their size. You cannot begin to measure their heart.
The win in San Francisco Sunday may be the one that puts the Cowboys' season back on track. What will you remember? Zeke's player of the week stats? Dak's three touchdown passes? Another sack for Tank? Those were great. Anyone see Kavon Frazier separate the punt returner from the ball one minute into the game to set up the first touchdown and set the tone? Kavon Frazier, unsung hero of the game. I see you, Kavon.
Let's pay more attention to the unsung heroes in our lives. We need the stars. We thrive on the stars. We enjoy the stars.
The unsung heroes are the ones we don't miss until we do. They are the glue, the ones who hold it together and want no credit. Get well soon, Dan. Chris and L.P.: We see you.