Behind Enemy Lines

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The New England Patriots have become the dynasty of all dynasties.  There are no longer words to describe the level of success they have maintained for almost two decades now.  Before them, a window for a dynasty was basically 5 years.  The Patriots shattered that window.  For most here in New England, that has made their sports life nothing short of amazing for 20 years.  However, it has been a living hell for a few others.  I am one of the others.


23 years.  23 years of losing.  23 years of agony.  23 years of frustration, disappointment, and anger.  23 years since the Dallas Cowboys have held the Lombardi Trophy high above their heads.  The gaudy, yet amazing championship hat, still sits in pristine condition in my closest and still gets worn when I need a reminder of a better time.


Sports are a weird thing.  Really.  It's amazing how much passion and love you can have for something that you cannot control, and makes you feel so low.  Yet, 23 years have gone by and I am still here.  I am still right here in Massachusetts living 45 minutes from Gillette Stadium.  Right in the heart of "Pats Nation."

The Good

I have been called it all.  A fair-weather fan.  A bandwagoner.  A typical 90s kid.  A hater.  You name it, I have heard it.  But here is the thing.  Does a fair weather fan hang onto a team through 23 years of losing?  Does a bandwagon fan stay on a wagon whose wheels fall off every season?  Do they have their heart rate peek at 200 BPM every Sunday just to have their day end in complete despair?  They don't.

I have been a Dallas Cowboys fan since birth.  Since my father slapped a Cowboys hat on my head when I was 4 days old.  I am a Cowboys fan simply because my father is one.  It is something that brings us together and I cherish that.  My dad is my best friend.  THAT is why I am a Dallas Cowboys fan.


The early years, much like a lot of millennials here in New England, were great.  I do not remember the first Bills Super Bowl, but I remember bits and pieces of the second.  I remember Super Bowl 30 against the Steelers like it was yesterday.  Sitting on the floor as close to the TV as my mother allowed.  High fiving my dad and gloating in front of my New York Giants loving Grandfather.  Then Larry Brown caught that errant Neil O'Donnell throw for his second interception of the game setting up Emmitt Smith for a game clinching touchdown, sealing the Cowboys third Super Bowl victory in 4 years.  I ran through the house screaming and jumped into my Dad's arms.  I was the biggest littlest Dallas Cowboys fan on planet earth and I will NEVER forget that moment.  Mainly because the Cowboys have never reached that pinnacle since.

The Bad

As quickly as the Cowboys climbed the mountain, they fell off.  The Jimmy Johnson departure before the Barry Switzer lead Super Bowl team in 96 was the first slide.  Then injuries began to pile up.  I still have the vision of Michael Irvin lying motionless on the turf field at the old Vet in Philadelphia.  A neck injury that would end his career.  The hits on Aikman began to add up and take their toll.  Most people think Aikman hung it up because of concussions, but it was actually his back that made him walk away.  Emmitt Smith's time was up and he headed to Arizona for a couple seasons of padding his all time rushing record.  The coaches came and went.  Switzer, Gailey, Campo, Parcells, Phillips, and now Garrett.  The quarterbacks came and went.  Randall Cunningham, Anthony Wright, Ryan Leaf, Clint Stoerner, Chad Hutchinson, Vinny T, Drew Henson, and Drew Bledsoe.  It was ugly.  Real ugly.

It was at this time the Patriots started to become who they are today.

A Dynasty is Born

These were low times for me.  The perfect times to jump off of my "bandwagon" and get on a new one with all my friends.  Friends that were rocking nothing but Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers Starter jackets.  Yet somehow, I was the bandwagon fan... Never mind, that's not important right?

The Cowboys had been awful for a handful of years.  Bob Kraft handed the keys to a guy who coached the Jets for a day.  Belichick calls the shots and struck gold on a scrawny 6th round pick who dawned maze and blue.  Tom Brady came in as a guy just trying to make the team, which he did, and backed up fan favorite Drew Bledsoe.  That was until one hit.  One hit that ironically took place on my birthday (September 23rd) of all days back in 2001.  Mo Lewis leveled Bledsoe so hard he ended up in Massachusetts General Hospital with internal bleeding.  What transpired next, no one, and I mean no one, could ever predict.


We all know how that 2001/2002 season ended.  Up until that Vinatieri kick went through the uprights, I never truly had any ill will towards the New England Patriots.  Hell, why should I have?  They had been awful my entire life besides that one SB run that Desmond Howard ran away with.  The very next season the Patriots were out of the playoffs.  Didn't make it.  It was a one off clearly.  This Tom Brady guy caught lightning in a bottle and rode a top defense to a title.  You got one, good for you.  It was time for the Patriots to fall back into the shadows of the league.  Then 2004 happened.  Then 2005 happened.  WHAT'S HAPPENING?!

My hatred was born.  That is what was happening.  Every news channel, every person, every radio station, every other word out of someone's mouth was about the Patriots.  I was treading water in a sea of red and blue.  The New England Patriots were officially a dynasty.  All I was left hanging onto was the fact the Cowboys still had two more.  Two more....

A Lull

That two more hung on for quite some time.  The Patriots spent 10 years still running through the AFC, but ultimately falling short of the bigger goal of being Super Bowl Champions.  Through these years the Cowboys were relevant again thanks to an undrafted Free Agent quarterback, Antonio Ramiro Romo.  I was one of the fans who truly appreciated what Dallas had in Romo and knew that the Cowboys were not 8-8 or 9-7 in spite of Tony Romo, Tony Romo got them to 8-8 and 9-7 in spite of the team around him.  Unfortunately he played the majority of his years with poor coaching and historically bad defenses.  This lead to the continuation of constant heart wrenching losses.



Patriots are back (or never actually left)

While I continued to watch the Cowboys' seasons end short of a Super Bowl victory, the Patriots fans were doing the same.  It was the only thing that kept me sane.  Even though it was to the hated Giants, watching the Patriots perfect season end with a loss was incredibly satisfying.  Watching them run up the score week after week in 2011 just to have it all crash down again was amazing.  They were so close, but just could not get back to the top, and I lived for their failure.

Then Pete Carroll happened.  This was where the only narrative I have left to hang onto was born.  Brady is lucky.  Run the ball Pete.  Just run the ball.  If Seattle runs that football, the talk is of Brady's two interception performance.  Instead, simply from Malcom Butler making the play of his life, Brady was handed the MVP Trophy and the Patriots now had four titles.  The Cowboys were hanging on with one more by the skin of their teeth.

In 2016, Romo sustained a preseason back injury that lead to Dak Prescott being forced into the starter's role.  As the Cowboys continued to win, it was clear Romo was not getting his job back.  I LOVED how well Dallas was playing, but seeing Tony on the sidelines cut me deep.  Real deep.

As Dak kept the job, and I questioned if that was the right move every week, the Cowboys kept winning until they locked up the number one seed.  Then my heart broke again to the Green Bay Packers.  Still fresh in my mind, just a couple years earlier, the Cowboys were ROBBED up in Green Bay when Dez didn't caught the ball.  This time, Dak lead a roaring comeback against the Aaron Rodgers lead Packers, just to have him pull a rabbit out of his hat just in time for Mason Crosby to hit a 56 yard field goal.  I was furious.  I was sad.  I cried.  I was unsure if I could do this anymore.  It was clear I was saying goodbye to Tony Romo and to the Cowboys season. 

Then Atlanta happened.  Just run the ball.  Just run the ball guys!  After Atlanta went up 25, they ran the football a total of 6 times.  SIX!  Never more should run plays have been called than at the 4:47 mark of the fourth quarter.  It is at this point Julio Jones makes his sideline catch setting up Atlanta with a first and 10 from the Patriots 22.  Run the ball.  Run the ball four times, exhaust the Patriots remaining timeouts, kick the field goal, and go up 11 with roughly 4 minutes left.  Barring an onside kick recovery after a potential Patriots touchdown, the game is over.  The game is absolutely over.  Instead, the Falcons elected to run it only once, call three passes, and end up punting the ball back to Brady and the Patriots.  The rest is history.  The Patriots have their fifth and icing on the cake for me.

Hypocrisy

Tony Romo took a ton a flak.  As mentioned earlier, he also played with historically bad defenses, less than subpar coaches, and a putrid offensive line for the better half of his career.  He was never appreciated as much as he should have been.  I was one that did.  I loved Tony Romo and love him today as a broadcaster.  He put that franchise on his back, which probably lead to all the back problems!  I will always defend him.

As the Patriots continued to dominate the AFC and reel in rings, the amount of heat I took from Patriots fans about Tony Romo and the Cowboys was endless.  That hate, from you, Patriots Nation, is what spurs my hate.

One game where the hate poured in sticks out in my mind very clearly.  2013 when Peyton Manning and Denver came to town.  The Cowboys ultimately lost 51-48.  FIFTY ONE POINTS their defense gave up.  Romo threw for 506 yards , five touchdowns and one interception, and finished with a 140 passer rating.  But because that interception came with 2:04 left on the clock, fans, including tons of Patriots fans, put the loss on Tony.  Even though Romo got stepped on as he threw, effecting the pass.  And do not tell me otherwise, because I lived through it.  Then last year, Brady throws for 505, 3 touchdowns, and no picks and finishes with a 115.4 passer rating and fumbles late to seal the Patriots fate in the Super Bowl.  Romo's numbers in that one game are clearly better.  Yet all Patriots fans shouted from the Berkshires that "HE CAN'T WIN IT ALL ON HIS OWN.  HE CAN'T PLAY DEFENSE TOO!"  Hypocrisy at its finest.

Hatred

Hate is strong word.  I teach my daughters not to use that word.  But since they cannot read yet, I am going to say it.  I HATE Tom Brady and I HATE the New England Patriots.  They make football not fun.  As if I needed anything else besides being a Cowboys fan to make football not be fun.  I hate the fans.  Yes I said it.  You reading this.  You the Patriot fan.  I hate.  I know you love and embrace this hate and that's fine.  You are entitled and insufferable.  You all think YOU are part of the team.  You think YOU are why they win.  But what makes me hate you the most is something I will never understand.  This goes back to my previous statement of the amount of heat I consistently took about Dallas and Romo.  Why is Dallas, a team you play once every 4 years, always on your mind?  The Dallas Cowboys have zero effect on the New England Patriots.  Yet, constant chatter.  Constantly being told how Romo was a choker.  How I only root for them because of what they did when I was 6 years old.  How Romo being injured was somehow funny to people. 

How am I not supposed to hate you back?  I think it would be a lot easier if I did not live in the heart of Patriots Nation.  But I do.  And that just makes it impossible for me to not have ill will to everything positive the Patriots do.

GOAT

"Brady is the GOAT" is my biggest gripe.  You cannot have a single civil conversation with any Patriots fan without that line being thrown at you.  Why do you need Brady to be the GOAT so bad?  What makes you all so insecure that you have to scream it at everyone?  What special award does he get if he is deemed that?  Nothing.  Rodgers is more athletic.  Marino was ahead of his time.  Manning was precise.  If there are two minutes left in a game, I will take Brady.  Brady is clutch.  Brady is two things.  Lucky and clutch. 

But the eras in the NFL differ so much, you can never truly call anyone the GOAT.  Wins are all that matter?  That is absurd.  Brad Johnson and Trent Dilfer have rings, but Dan Marino and Tony Romo do not.  It is the ultimate team sport and more people need to realize that.

I will say this about Tom Brady.  If you give him an inch, he takes a mile.  You make one mistake, it will cost you.  You give him the slightest chance to come back, he will.  That is what makes Tom Brady great. 

On Sunday night, Brady did not play great until OT.  He played good, but not great.  It was a game won by a strong defensive start and a powerful running game.  The Patriots defense held the Chiefs to less than 40 yards in the first half.  Extremely impressive.  But again, Brady got a second chance, and that's all he needed. 

Brady actually lost the game. It was over.  Somehow he managed to overthrow 6'6" Rob Gronkowski for an interception.  There was less than a minute left and New England only had 2 timeouts remaining.  After 49 years the Chiefs were finally going to the Super Bowl.  But Dee Ford's hand was lined up in the neutral zone.  It was absolutely the right call and I will not dispute that.  But, Ford had zero effect on the play or the throw as he was double teamed and never got close to Brady.  Brady got lucky.  Brady got a second chance.  Brady is clutch and in that moment I think we all knew the game was over, and it was.  If Ford does not line up in the neutral zone, Brady ends the game with 1 touchdown, 3 interceptions, and a 63.2 passer rating.  Far from GOAT status.


So Here we Are

We are now two weeks away from ANOTHER Patriots Super Bowl.  I am almost immune to it at this point.  What they have done and continue to do will never be matched.  They are the greatest dynasty ever.  I fully expect the Patriots to march into Atlanta and beat the Rams by double digits and walk away with their sixth title and finally overtake Dallas.  I have nothing left to hold onto.  I have been telling myself for a decade that this has to be over soon, and yet the nightmare rolls on.

Last year, it pains me to admit this, but I wanted the Patriots to win the Super Bowl.  There is only one team I hate more than them and that is the Philadelphia Eagles.  The one time I needed Tom Terrific, I was let down.  Maybe it is me.  Maybe it is whoever I root for.  Maybe I need to root for the Patriots on February 3rd?

Naaaaaaaaaaah.


Lastly, if somehow this, by some miracle, ever reaches Drew Bledsoe's eyes, why didn't you just get out of bounds man? Just get out of bounds and all of this may never happen. Just get out of bounds....

Patriots 34. Rams 23.


Follow Ryan on Twitter and ask your Fantasy Questions @BesseBoy. 

Questions, comments, or ideas for the weekly podcast? Use @BostonSportsSYN.

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Boston Sports Syndicate: Behind Enemy Lines
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