Spagnola: No Fond 2015 Memories Worth Toasting As New Year Mercifully Rolls In

IRVING, Texas – No Auld Lang Syne sentiments for the Dallas Cowboys, not this year.

         They just as soon totally forget times gone by for 2015, arguably one of the most disappointing seasons in the franchise's 56-year history if we consider the great expectations the season began with, and for good reason.

         This was a team on the rise, one coming off a sparkling 12-4 season in 2014, winners of the NFC East and finally a playoff game, only the third since winning Super Bowl XXX 20 long years ago, and were a whisker away from landing in the NFC title game against a team they already had beaten once that year. For a change having the nerve to utter Su . . . Su . . . Super Bowl was not being overly arrogant of their followers.

         But alas, as the calendar now turns to 2016, guaran-darn-tee you there definitely is no sentimental meaning to the lyrics should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind, and there is no one, I mean no one, tipping a cup of kindness in fond remembrance of this 2015 season being laid to bed thank goodness noon Sunday at AT&T Stadium against the Washington Redskins.

         This would be more like slugging down several cups of kindness to relieve the pain, hoping to forget the nightmare that has been this season, one that very well will go down as the franchise's third worst in the 38-year history of the 16-game season if the Cowboys do not defeat the Redskins on Sunday for a second time this year.

 As for the whys and just who to point the finger at for this collapse, there are many, with a highly cluttered Most Wanted board, though common sense for this season gone awry would easily explain if not being overwhelmed by the rage of disappointment.

Now give the Cowboys' brass credit, from Jerry Jones to Stephen Jones to Jason Garrett, to most every player on the team, they have not thrown down excuses for their failures. They have fallen on their swords, to a man saying, hey, my bad, we should have been better. A noble gesture indeed.

This seems, with fans and media howling up a storm, no time to be pragmatic over the failures of 2015. No one is in the mood to hear it, the very reason not a single tear of fondness was being shed on New Year's Eve over the memory of 2015.

Oh no, more like thank the high heavens this mess is over, just put that sucker in a trash compactor and send it to the forgettable dump.

But when we get right down to it, there is a deep-seeded sole reason for the mess of 2015:

Tony Romo will miss his 12th start Sunday against the NFC East champion Washington Redskins (8-7), which for most, just seeing their presence at AT&T, likely flaunting their success, is worse than the burning sensation of acid reflux.

That means Romo, Pro Bowl quarterback Tony Romo, will have started just four games this season, four now, the Cowboys forced to rely on an assortment of backups, the choices turning out to worse than biting unwittingly into one of those assorted chocolates in a holiday box of candy.

And of those four starts, Romo only finished two. This the guy who threw 34 touchdown passes for the Cowboys in 2014, the guy who had that playoff victory over Green Bay teed up momentarily at Lambeau's two-yard line before a toxic mix of technology and lack of common sense rebuffed what had appeared to be his heroic efforts.

Take a moment then to think about this: Romo's 12 missed starts will be the most by a Cowboys starting quarterback because of injury since 1972 – 44 seasons ago – and will represent the second most in the club's illustrious history trimmed with some of the very best quarterback play one franchise could ever envision – Don Meredith, Craig Morton, Roger Staubach, Danny White, Troy Aikman and now Romo. That illustriousness would encompass three Ring of Honor members, two Pro Football Hall of Fame members, eight Super Bowl appearances, five Super Bowl victories, two NFL Championship-game appearances, 14 NFC title game appearances, with Romo's postscript yet to be determined.

Yes, in 1972, Staubach, after finally winning the starting QB battle over Morton during that 1971 Super Bowl-winning season, suffered a separated shoulder the third preseason game of that year. He would miss all 14 starts before reappearing in the in the playoffs, head coach Tom Landry hoping to find a savior in relief of Morton, who started all 14 games and the first playoff game. So Landry went to Staubach in relief to win the first playoff game that season, but that was it, Staubach then starting and losing the NFC title game to Washington.

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So remember, 12 missed starts, only Staubach ever missing more.

What happened with Romo and the Cowboys this year brings back memories of the 1986 season. White was the starter. Young Steve Pelluer, the team's fifth-round pick in 1984, was the backup, the Cowboys having traded Gary Hogeboom away. The Cowboys got off to a 6-2 start. One of the losses was 37-35 to Atlanta.

The other, 29-14 at Denver on Oct. 5 to a young John Elway, White didn't start. He strained his hip flexor in practice the Thursday before the game, falling while running down on punt coverage, a drill Landry used to keep his quarterbacks in shape. Pelluer would start his first NFL game, previously having thrown just two passes to that point of Game 5 that year.

 Pelluer was intercepted three times. Sacked five times, one of those for a safety. The Cowboys thus netted 225 yards passing, just 41 yards rushing, totaling 266 – numbers reminiscent of this year's Romo-less offensive struggles.

But the Cowboys managed to reach the halfway point at 6-2, tied with the Giants, who they already had beaten 31-28 in the season opener, for the NFC East lead. The Cowboys, with that first-year combination of Tony Dorsett and Herschel Walker at running back and White at quarterback, had the No. 2 total offense at the halfway point, averaging 374 yards a game, a high number back in those days. They were leading the league in scoring, averaging 28.25 points a game, that, too, huge in Paul Hackett's first year as offensive coordinator.

Why in the first four games, prior to White's injury, the Cowboys were averaging 32 points a game.

Game 9 was against the Giants, in the Meadowlands. The winner would claim first place. The game was scoreless, just more than 5:00 left in the first quarter. The Cowboys were facing a first-and-19 from their own 35. And then it happened, the game – the season – came crashing down.

The Giants dialed up a blitz. The Cowboys offensive line missed a blocking assignment. And here comes blitzing linebacker Carl Banks, free as a bird. He obliterated White. Broke his right, throwing wrist. White was done, for the season, and as it turned out, essentially for his career since he never again regained the flexibility needed to throw the football over his final two seasons following surgery.

In came Pelluer . . . for good that season. The Cowboys would lose to the Giants that day, 17-14, even though Pelluer threw for 339 yards and one touchdown to Mike Renfro. He would be sacked five times. The Cowboys complicated matters by getting flagged nine times for 103 yards.

That was the beginning of the end of the season for the Cowboys. They would only win one more game with Pelluer at quarterback. That robust scoring average from the first half of the season, 28.25 a game, dropped precipitously to only 15 points over the final eight games. The most they would score is 24 to beat San Diego, their lone win of the second half as they scored no more than 14 points in six of those final eight games.

The Giants, they would never lose again, going on to finish 14-2 and win Super Bowl XXI, the first for Bill Parcells.

The Cowboys, no way could they overcome the loss of White. And this was with future Hall of Fame coach Landry in charge, with future Hall of Fame running back Dorsett sharing snaps with Walker. With future Hall of Famer Randy White on the defense, along with Ed "Too Tall" Jones and Everson Walls and Bill Bates and John Dutton and Jim Jeffcoat.

So here the Cowboys go, one last time this 2015 season, mercifully this final game actually being played in 2016, the 12th and final time Romo will miss a start this season.

They certainly hope this calendar year.

Because these 2015 auld times are just as soon forgotten.

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