By Jason Keidel
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There was a time in American athletics when success was measured in victory. To paraphrase Don Shula when asked about his team’s stats, the iconic coach said, “The only stat that matters is up on that scoreboard.”
Simple. But we aren’t simple anymore.
There’s a rising pop culture motif in sports, which are now watched by a bulging phalanx of followers who aren’t fans, the tapas bar crowd that views big games because it’s trendy, to be part of a game with rules they don’t understand. (What does pass interference mean? I forgot!) We, the sports junkies, don’t want them, and don’t need Shania Twain or Pink to serenade us before kickoff. We find football tasty enough without the cheesecake.
Winning has been obscured by tweeting (and other distractions), the line blurred between stardom and achievement. Tony Romo is emblematic of this, a hybrid celebrity hailed for dating Jessica Simpson and taking strange jaunts to Mexico before a playoff game – which they lost, of course. He’s part player and part Page Six, while on the field he has been a crapshoot.
The talking heads mourned over Romo’s broken clavicle, precluding him from giving the Dallas Cowboys what they’ve come to expect of him: more losing. What’s the controversy? Jon Kitna can go 1-6 just as easily.
A nimbus still surrounds any quarterback for the Cowboys, much like playing centerfield for the Yankees, based on the play of their predecessors. But Cowboys fans should learn on a quick curve that Romo is no Roger Staubach, and he’s certainly not Troy Aikman, who, despite his spot in the Hall of Fame, is vastly underrated when discussing all-time quarterbacks.
The Cowboys have retained the spiritual sobriquet of “America’s Team” when there is no evidence that they are – unless you consider one playoff win since Aikman retired oddly dynastic.
As Wade Philips bungles a fine roster built by Bill Parcells, he finds himself this year’s rendition of “Dead Man Walking.” Owner Jerry Jones won’t fire him now because the move would be cosmetic. There are too many variables in football to assume that Jon Gruden (or equivalent) could parachute into Cowboys Stadium and repair a team that is hopelessly broken.
Yet the light still beams brightest on Romo and Brett Favre, who are cells of a larger disease that infects the world of fashion: it’s better to look good than to be good.
Romo and Favre have combined for nearly thirty years of pro ball, yet they have produced one world title. Favre, the quintessential compiler who may have sent a picture of his privates to a former female employee of the Jets, is leaving the game in shame. But pundits laud him as “good television,” someone you must watch because “you never know what you’re gonna get!”
Actually, we do. We’ve gotten twenty years of football and one Super Bowl ring, and myriad comebacks in the fourth quarter because he botched the first three. The sheer force of his numbers gets him into Canton but not into any debate about the greatest quarterback in history.
Meanwhile, the jaded Cowboys Nation, still in the millions, consists of two generations: one weaned on Tom Landry and the other on Michael Irvin. They cling to the club because of the past and the fleeting hope that Jerry Jones – by dint of his will and wallet – can restore the blue star in a Lone Star State that looks very lonely.
But with each proceeding, receding season it becomes clearer that Jimmy Johnson built the dynasty of the 1990s and that Parcells may have been on his way to another before Jones decided to sign Terrell Owens, the Anti-Tuna.
There’s more doom than doomsday in their defense: blown assignments and missed tackles inside that gaudy castle, moves captured by a titanic hi-def screen over a field of failed dreams. They are led by a woeful coach whom their fans wish were a bum – Bum, of course, Wade’s father and the fine former coach of the old Houston Oilers. America’s Team now has the record, color, and odor of the Detroit Lions.
How ‘bout them Rangers?
Feel free to email me: Jakster1@mac.com