On the Enduring Mediocrity of the Dallas Cowboys

On January 28, 1996, your Dallas Cowboys beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-17 in Super Bowl XXX.  Since that day, this so-called "America's Team" of missed opportunities, lost seasons, and unearned hype has never advanced past the Divisional round of the NFL playoffs.  Not once.

There are 31 other teams in the NFL, many of whom since January 1996 have experienced considerable (and consistent) post-season success while all the while the Cowboys shuffled along on reputation alone, often entering seasons with high Super Bowl expectations - often pushed by the snake-oil salesmanship of Jerry Jones, the only General Manager in the NFL who will never be fired by his Owner boss no matter how crappy his team performs - that fans foolishly fell for time and time again. We're like Charlie Brown goaded by Jerry-as-Lucy into kicking that ball just one more time, hearing assurances that this time it's going to be different, only to have it yanked away yet again.  The Dallas Cowboys have languished under a variety of head coach misfires: no-name, clueless folks like Chan Gailey and Dave Campo; supposed geniuses who consistently showed a lack of necessary fire and grit like Jason Garrett and Wade Phillips; and one Hall of Fame coach in Bill Parcells who did the best with what he had but (understandably) finally just gave up.  Some of those seasons were disasters, a few were surprisingly successful, but all ended with playoff flameouts and ultimately squandered the talents of Pro Bowl players like Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray, Jason Witten, Dez Bryant, and Demarcus Ware.

On the eve of what we hope will be the unceremonious ejection of Jason Garrett, who should have been fired years ago, let's look at the other teams that have found ways since 1996 to string together wins and devise game plans good enough to beat other good teams consistently enough to advance in the playoffs and contend for Super Bowl titles.

Let's first remember the teams who have won the Super Bowl and hoisted the shiny Lombardi Trophy. Since January 1996...

The Baltimore Ravens have won two Super Bowls*
The Denver Broncos have won three (and lost one) Super Bowls
The Green Bay Packers have won two Super Bowls*
The Indianapolis Colts have won one (and lost one) Super Bowl
The Los Angeles Rams have won one (and lost two) Super Bowls
The New Orleans Saints have won one Super Bowl*
The New England Patriots - as we all know - have won six (and lost three) Super Bowls*
The New York Giants have won two (and lost one) Super Bowls
The Philadelphia Eagles have won one (and lost one) Super Bowls*
The Pittsburgh Steelers have won two (and lost one) Super Bowls
The Seattle Seahawks have won one (and lost two) Super Bowls*
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have won one Super Bowl

Wow.  That's a long list (parity!) with zero mention of Dallas.  These twelve teams out of 32 represents 38% of all NFL teams.

Now let's look at the teams that made it to the Super Bowl (which means they won their conference) since 1996 but didn't win...

The Arizona Cardinals lost one Super Bowl
The Atlanta Falcons lost two Super Bowls
The Carolina Panthers lost two Super Bowls
The Chicago Bears lost one Super Bowl
The Oakland Raiders lost one Super Bowl
The San Francisco 49ers lost one Super Bowl*
The Tennessee Titans lost one Super Bowl*

Now if you add the 12 winners with these 7 losers, you end up with 19 NFL teams that got all the way through the playoffs to appear in a Super Bowl.  Nineteen teams that each had a chance at football glory.  Now we're up to 60% of all of the 32 teams.  

Still no Dallas Cowboys.

Okay, so let's look at the teams that - since 1996 - got to their conference title game but lost.  These are the franchises that were just one win away (or, even worse, one play away) from the Super Bowl.

The Jacksonville Jaguars lost the 2017 AFC title game
The Kansas City Chiefs lost the 2018 AFC title game*
The Minnesota Vikings lost the 2017 NFC title game*
The New York Jets lost the 2010 AFC title game

At this point we are up to 23 NFL teams that - since 1996 - have all advanced to at least their conference title game, if not the Super Bowl.  That's 72% of the NFL.  Still no Cowboys.  At this point, the law of averages should give the Cowboys help, but chance has nothing on poor decision-making of the Cowboy front office.

In fact, at this point in this study all we're left with is a collection of consistently going-nowhere NFL franchises that since 1996 either lost in the Wild Card round or in the Divisional round.  These teams never got close to the conference title games, much less the Super Bowl.  It is amid these dead-end teams that we finally find the supposedly proud, legendary, fierce Dallas Cowboys.

Below is a rundown of when these teams most recently made a playoff appearances.

The Buffalo Bills lost a Wild Card game in 2017*
The Cincinnati Bengals lost a Wild Card game in 2015
The Cleveland Browns lost a Wild Card game in 2002
The Dallas Cowboys lost a Divisional game in 2018
The Detroit Lions lost a Wild Card game in 2016
The Houston Texans lost a Wild Card game in 2018*
The Los Angeles Chargers lost a Divisional game in 2018
The Miami Dolphins lost a Wild Card game in 2016
The Washington Redskins lost a Wild Card game in 2015

What unwelcome company.  But this is where Cowboys fans find themselves.

Do we think a new coach will help change the fortunes of the Dallas Cowboys?  We hope so, but we doubt it.  It's more than just the curious game day intransigence of Garrett - it's the culture of the organization, which means it's the culture of Jones and the way he makes decisions based on PR rather than Xs and Os (he pushed hard to draft Johnny Manziel in the first round!), the way he undermines his coaches at every turn (always with the postgame interviews! why?) thereby spoiling discipline, the way he spends more time on big picture NFL and Cowboy strategies that he can't possibly focus on the day-to-day needs of the club, the way he so hypes and spins the Cowboys that players can't help but develop big egos and baseless entitlement, the way he stubbornly clings to bad ideas and decisions at the risk of admitting his own errors.  Anyone who tunes into Dallas sports radio can see the problems.  Until Jerry is gone, the Cowboys will not succeed.

* These teams - unlike the Dallas Cowboys - made the 2019-20 playoffs so their place in this list could change.


Knee-jerk review: "Knives Out"

1. Really, really good.
2. If you want to know what it looks like when an actor truly relishes a role and can't hide how much fun he's having, take a look at Daniel Craig here playing Southern-fried Detective Benoit Blanc.  (What a name!)
3. Memorable characters, clever pretzel plotting, hilarious moments.  Writer-director Rian Johnson, so unfairly attacked for The Last Jedi, proves without a doubt that he has chops.  (If you haven't seen it, take a look also at his time travel thriller Looper.)
4. We don't claim to be Agatha Christie experts, but this movie is steeped in Christie-an tropes (wealthy patriarch - played by Christopher Plummer - dies unexpectedly; all of his upper-crust relatives have a motive; the suspects all gathered for questioning in a drawing room by a quirky detective; a death that isn't nearly as simple as it first seems).
5. But Johnson wisely turns some of those Agatha Christie expectations on their head, such as suggesting Blanc maybe isn't as brilliant as his New Yorker profile makes it look or by delivering a death that is inexplicably equal parts premeditated murder and tragic mistake.
6. "What is this, CSI KFC?"
7. It's a standout cast, but Toni Collette is particularly entertaining as Plummer's greedy daughter-in-law, a passive-aggressive lifestyle influencer.  We think she's doing a Gwyneth Paltrow impression.
8. The central location - Plummer's sprawling Gothic mansion - is practically a character unto itself.  As a bestselling Christie-like author, Plummer's character has filled his house with all kinds of strange knick-knacks, not the least of which is a giant wall decoration of knives in all shapes and sizes.
9. Captain America himself, Chris Evans, does a fun heel turn.
10. It's a donut inside a donut, you see.  Hilarious.
11. Ana de Armas carries the movie as the kind nurse to Plummer's patriarch, but we had a hard time zeroing in how this whole experience was affecting her.  Typically, the events of the movie somehow change the hero, teach a lesson, and correct some character flaw.  There is a nice moment early on when Ana's meek Marta seems to steel herself to embrace the fight ahead, but that's pretty subtle.  This may just be one of those movies that's more about plot than some big transformation of character; the good characters prove they're incorruptible, the evil characters prove they're irredeemable.
12. Don't miss it.


Knee-jerk review: "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker"

1. As hard as we tried to go in with zero preconceptions, we did see a few early reviews.  Most of them were negative, so we bought our ticket with pretty low expectations.  It's easy to Google any number of "Why The Rise of Skywalker sucks" articles.
2. Let the record reflect that we were pleasantly surprised.
3. The first half is indeed a jumble, packed too full of plot and fun-but-needless set pieces.  The final hour, however, is mostly satisfying so long as you can swallow some of the movie's bigger twists without getting too hung up on plausibility.
4. The biggest one involves this giant secret fleet of enemy ships hidden in some extra-hidden pocket of the universe, all of them led by the return of the Emperor - last seen plummeting to his apparent death down an energy shaft on the second Death Star at the end of the Return of the Jedi.
5. On one hand, with this big of a turn, it would have been nice (as many have pointed out online) if the last two movies - The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi - had planted the seeds of the Emperor's return so it wasn't such a completely random, out-of-left-field twist.  This new trilogy famously - or infamously - didn't develop a master story plan upfront so they were sort of making it up as they went.
6. That said, let us remind you that George Lucas was also sort of making it up as he went along back in the 1970s.  As Obi-Wan told Luke in his Tatooine hut, Darth Vader was unambiguously not the same person as Luke's dead hero father in A New Hope and that Hoth Base kiss demonstrated that Luke and Leia were clearly not envisioned as secret siblings in The Empire Strikes Back.  Like it or not, this is a thing for Star Wars movies: offering up twists-for-twists' sakes that come of nowhere.
7. The fan backlash to the subversive The Last Jedi was equal parts pathetic and amusing, especially given how everyone complained (rightfully so) that The Force Awakens offered nothing new.
8. J.J. Abrams is not on our short list of great directors, but he usually delivers a few great moments (like that kick-ass lightsaber fight among the crashing waves) and this may be his most satisfying movie overall.  He still can't help his obsession with puzzles (a "Sith Wayfinder" gizmo? seriously?) but at least he mostly sticks the landing.
9. The final scene - as you may have heard - is a strong one. They always say end with a big moment that audiences will walk out of the theater talking about.
10.  This whole bit where the Emperor insists that if you kill him, he wins always seemed like an impossible scenario.  How are the heroes supposed to defeat the villain if righteous, vengeful murder won't work and only somehow gives him more power?  The solution here worked for us.
11. A great surprise guest appearance. We had something dusty in our eye.
12. The chemistry between Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver remains a central reason this new trilogy works as well as it does.
13. While we don't necessarily agree that this movie wholly rejects and undoes the events of The Last Jedi to appease those vocal fans who hated that movie so much, we also can't help but notice this movie doesn't exactly build on The Last Jedi either.

UPDATE: Upon further review, we foolishly overlooked the central tenet of The Last Jedi - that anyone can wield the Force, not just a few special families, which is why the kid with the broom at the end of The Last Jedi was so unusual.  The reveal about Rey's family in The Rise of Skywalker completely undermines that notion - it's a fun twist and it works well for her character, but it ignores the whole point of the kid with the broom.  Also, The Last Jedi worked hard to suggest that the myth of Luke Skywalker could be more powerful than Luke himself in inspiring hope and sparking a larger rebellion across the galaxy.  Cut to The Rise of Skywalker and the realization that our ragtag Resistance is still just as ragtag as when we last saw them.  Seems like the myth of Luke didn't really pan out the way The Last Jedi suggested - no one's stepped up to join the fight.  The more we think about it, the more irritating these choices are.  Did Abrams and Disney really bend to the demands of the vocal minority that whined and pouted about The Last Jedi?  Pathetic.

14. Sidelining the Rose character and leaving her completely out of the action seems particularly cruel.  Especially since she was set up as a possible romantic interest for Finn and in The Last Jedi and now in this movie Finn gets another, new girlfriend.
15. Funny how in this universe data transfer requires big bulky cables.  Apparently there is no wireless networking in a galaxy far, far away.
16. It's good to see Billy Dee Williams, of course, but Lando is completely superfluous.  That he's hanging out on some random planet our heroes happen to visit is pretty silly.  Also weird that the movie suggests Lando is the long-lost father to some random new character.
17. Also completely contrived and forced: the identity of the rebel mole inside the First Order.  This may be the one moment where we rolled our eyes.  We didn't buy it. 
18. Loved the twist with the forbidden Sith language and C3P0, but the cheesy inscribed Sith dagger business belongs in an Indiana Jones movie.  It's a ripoff of the Staff of Ra.
19. We've read online that a good number of plot points and backstory for this movie can only be found in comic books and other supplemental material.  If that's true, then we call foul.  Movies need to stand on their own without audiences needing to go to other media to fill in narrative gaps.
20. Dig Rey's new yellow lightsaber.
21. Is there anyone who sees this movie that might not know about the tragic death of Carrie Fisher?  The Leia scenes work as well as they can, we suppose, but we completely agree with the online comment we saw that said her scenes feel like the Steve Martin movie Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid where Martin was spliced into old movies and his dialogue awkwardly written to work with whatever old footage they were using. It looks like a conversation between him and the older footage, but it never feels exactly natural.
22. Weird that we never get to hear the broadcast that the Emperor sends out to the galaxy announcing his return. UPDATE: we have since learned the message was available to hear on Fortnite. Pardon us while we puke.
23. We mostly didn't mind the frequent last-minute rescues and reversals.  Remember, this is all based in part on those cheesy old Flash Gordon serials of Lucas' youth where the hero was snatched from the jaws of certain death by some pretty cheesy plot contrivances.
24. If you're looking to nitpick and watch the movie with your arms crossed, you're not going to like it.  This is a movie made by committee to maximize box office dollars, rather than the product of a singular creative vision in search of a truly meaningful narrative.
25. Even so, if you go in with an open mind, you'll have a good time.