By Jason Keidel
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Even accidentally, the Dallas Cowboys are a moving novella, perfect for fictional towns like Port Charles or Genoa City, for Telemundo or Univision, the soap operatic team of the year, decade and century.
Despite their dubious record since the dynasty they built — then fired the man who built it — Cowboys fans still see the squad through the warped, retrograde prism of the 1970s and 1990s.
The Cowboys perfectly, though accidentally, timed their two dynasties to spawn two generations of frothing fans. Kids of my vintage, who first learned to love sports in the ’70s, latched onto the Cowboys through their parents and performance. Then they had kids 20 years later, and breeded them on Dallas virtues. Instead of Staubach, they had Aikman, who was even better than the iconic Naval officer and Heisman winner.
Instead of Tony Dorsett, another icon and Heisman winner, they had Emmitt Smith, even better than his Hall of Fame predecessor. Instead of Drew Pearson, they had loquacious wideout Michael Irvin, yet another upgrade.
And it’s all gone to hell since. Depending on the week, the Cowboys are around or exactly .500 since Barry Switzer backed into their third Super Bowl in 1995.
So naturally, they find their franchise quarterback at Eastern Illinois, that hotbed of signal-callers. Then they blow a playoff game with a botched field goal in Bill Parcells’ final season.
Since then they’ve had two sublime seasons, both of which end in heartbreak. First they lose to the hated Giants in 2007, who went on to defeat the undefeated Patriots in the Super Bowl.
Then they roll into the playoffs three years ago, only to lose at Lambeau to the Packers on a play and call that will be among the most controversial in NFL history. (Dez Bryant indeed caught that ball. And this is coming from a Steelers fan, wholly and eternally predisposed to hating the Cowboys.)
Then Romo gets hurt. Again. And again. Through no fault of his own — an odd assertion considering the Cowboys’ affinity for self-mutilation — Romo has spent more time wearing a headset than a helmet. And, at his delicate age, it’s officially time to ponder his future. Sadly, Romo could go down as the best quarterback in NFL history not to play in a conference title game.
Frankly, it should be time to cut bait with the team and town darling. While the Cowboys are always embroiled in some malfeasance, Romo keeps his PR nostrils way above water. He has no rap sheet, posse or complaints. He’s a good guy, a good citizen and an even better football player. It’s just not in the cards for his career. Romo will not get better as a player, and the injuries will only increase as he ages.
While Romo nurses a broken bone in his back — far from the first time he’s had back issues — the Cowboys turn to a sudden media darling to save the young season.
Dak Prescott has suddenly surged into the trendiest QB in the league. The former Mississippi State signal-caller and fourth-round pick has lit up the preseason, which is almost an oxymoron, as preseason glory is the most ephemeral of all.
Last year, the Philadelphia Eagles looked like the 1984 49ers. They ran through defenses like bulls down the alleys of Pamplona. It was the perfect confluence of timing and talent. Chip Kelly had finally found the NFL algorithm. And the NFL was about to pay for it. Then they tanked, jettisoned their best player (DeMarco Murray) and canned Kelly.
So while they toil during Romo’s convalescence, the Cowboys are too anxious to settle simply on Prescott. So, naturally, they acquire Mark Sanchez. He of Butt Fumble fame. Sanchez had success branded across his body. He was slick, smart, handsome and led the Jets to two consecutive AFC title games.
Then Sanchez, like the Jets, was torn apart like cotton candy. The Butt Fumble was just a sad metaphor for a sad ending in the Big Apple. It’s hard to recall anyone who ascended so quickly and fell so swiftly. The Mets, another snakebitten professional franchise from New York City, is wondering if they have the pitching iteration of Sanchez in the form of Matt Harvey. Harvey had an even cooler handle than Sanchez — the Dark Knight of Gotham.
Dallas, as is often the case, is tone-deaf in talent evaluation. As if the miserable ending with the Jets weren’t enough, Sanchez was given a chance to flourish under the pass-happy genius of Kelly in Philadelphia. And blew it. He couldn’t outperform Nick Foles or Sam Bradford or Thad Lewis.
Then Sanchez was given the keys to the most pristine football machine on earth. He was auditioning for the Denver Broncos, who just whipped the seemingly unstoppable Carolina Panthers in the Super Bowl.
And while Peyton Manning was the starting quarterback, he was a Manning in name, not game, only. Sanchez was asked to do little more than Manning did last year — just don’t blow the game and let the nuclear defense do its thing.
So what was Sanchez’s competition this summer? Trevor Siemian — who has taken one snap in his NFL career — and rookie Paxton Lynch. Word is the Broncos are sweet on Lynch, but are not ready to toss him in with the lions.
So a man with Sanchez’s NFL bona fides — including a 4-2 playoff record — could not last long enough to open the season as the starting quarterback. The Broncos are the definition of desperation. After losing Manning to retirement, they were shocked by the defection of Brock Osweiler, the presumed successor when Manning left.
So they played musical chairs with the most important position on the best team in the world. There’s such a dearth of decent quarterbacks that not even a machine like Denver can snap its fingers and bag a blue-chipper.
And all that was asked of Sanchez was to carefully drive the Ferrari and keep it from being keyed in the parking lot. And he couldn’t do it. The Broncos were so appalled by his performance they didn’t even keep him on the roster. So he finds the Cowboys. Or the Cowboys found him.
Just like that. Sanchez imploded. No number of tattoos on Rex or his wife, or GQ photo shoots, or PR ploys can cloak Sanchez’s penchant for implosion.
No one can relate to the Sanchez paradox better than New Yorkers, who thought they had a poor man’s Joe Namath six years ago, only to find he was way more Browning Nagle than Broadway Joe.
Sanchez had Gotham by the privates. He was no longer Mark Sanchez, promising prospect from USC, glamour boy with proper cheekbones and teen idol contours. He was now “Sanchise,” a slick mutation of his name.
How long ago does that feel? Sanchez now gets his nth chance to change his name, game and reputation.
“Mark has been a quarterback in this league,” was the best bromide his new boss, Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett, could summon. “He’s had success in this league. He was good in college.”
So the Sanchise is back to Sanchez, on America’s Team. The former QB of the NYJ is now with the most popular team in the NFL, in the USA.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel