In Sunday night’s game against the New York Giants, the Dallas Cowboys did just about everything they could to help the Giants beat them in the season opener in Arlington, Texas. The Giants, apparently strategically eyeing a higher slot in next year’s draft, made sure that that did not happen. Even when the Cowboys had no time outs left. Even when the Giants had the ball on the one yard line with just over a minute-and-a-half to go in the game and a three-point lead. No, when Eli Manning threw the ball away to stop the clock (instead of calling a running play or when he saw he had no receivers, simply taking a sack and watching about forty seconds run off the clock) and the Giants settled for a field-goal, leaving a minute and 34 seconds to go on the clock, the Giants made it Dallas’ game to lose.
As ESPN recapped the game September 13, Dallas had tried their best to do just that — lose. Two interceptions and a fumble, all converted into points (17) for the visiting NFC East Division rivals, the New York Giants. But the Cowboys, now trailing by six, got the ball once more. And with 17 seconds to go, quarterback Tony Romo took the snap low, picked it up off the ground, looked up and passed the ball to his tight end Jason Whitten for a touchdown with only 7 seconds remaining in the game.
Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning would later take blame for not taking the sack. Head coach Tom Coughlin said the blame rested with him in calling for a pass play in the third-and-goal situation in the first place. The defense said they should have stopped the Cowboys, so it was their fault. Well, to those watching the game, it certainly looked like a team effort. The losing of it, that is…
In the subsequent on-the-field post-game interview on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football,” Romo said, “You gotta believe” (per The Guardian) after making reference to a similar fumbled snap from 2007. He noted that Cowboys fans would remember that. (And they do: It’s the snap that Romo fumbled as a holder for a sure three-point game-ending and -winning field goal in that season’s playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks. Because of the fumble, Romo jumped up and made a dash toward the end zone, where Seahawks defenders brought him down short of the goal line. Yes, ask a Cowboys fan if they remember that.)
Tony Romo has taken quite a bit of heat from the hometown Dallas media and the Cowboys fans in general over the years as the starting quarterback, despite remaining one of the NFL’s top-rated quarterbacks. (In fact, he was tops last season and still lost the MVP to Aaron Rodgers of Green Bay.) The drive he engineered Sunday night was the 24th game-winning comeback drive of his career, a Dallas franchise record. But since the Cowboys have only won three post-season games in the past two decades, and despite the team posting a 12-4 record last season, fans are wary of believing in a Romo they’ve seen lose big games (including two of three consecutive seasons where the Cowboys finished 8-8 — prior to last season — and they had a chance to get into the playoffs — and didn’t).
Still, the Cowboys look as if they could be contenders this season. And everyone knows that all you have to do is get to the playoffs to get that shot at the next Super Bowl ring. A Wild Card team has won the Super Bowl six times in its 49-year history (technically, since 1970, when the Wild Card was instituted), so…
But should Cowboys fans start believing in Tony Romo and the team. With the loss of star running back DeMarco Murray to the Philadelphia Eagles (and their backs combining for a total of 81 yards in 22 carries Sunday), the team could face a difficult time with a one-dimensional offense. And with the loss of top receiver Dez Bryant (out with a broken metatarsal for at least six weeks), that one dimension could face its own set of problems.
Still, it is a good start for the Dallas fans. Many of the experts are predicting the Cowboys to match or come close to their 12-4 record of last season. So the fans might not be true believers just yet, but if Tony Romo can lead them to a few key victories in the coming weeks (they face the Eagles — predicted to win the NFC East Division — this weekend, then face a gauntlet of tough teams to get to midseason starting with Game 5: both Super Bowl teams and the Giants and Eagles again), the fans just might come around. Regardless, there’s always hope (as there is with every fan of every team at the beginning of a new season). But if Romo wants them to believe, he and the Cowboys are going to have to do a bit more than pull off a last-second win in a game against a clearly outmatched opponent. Given two decades of end-of-season disappointments, confidence and faith in the NFL’s most storied franchise has devolved into a wait-and-see outlook.
At the end of the day, Cowboys fans are like any other fans. It doesn’t take much to get them to make the leap from hope to faith. All they really need is something, like a consistently winning team, to believe in.