On an unseasonably warm day, the smell of charcoal and beer wafting through the air, I slow my midnight-green Honda to a stop in a faraway parking lot. I step out, inhale deeply, and begin the trek toward a grim reality, one I never believed possible. I despise the Cowboys. Growing up a Philadelphia Eagles fan will do that to a boy. Today, however, I've come in peace--not as a writer, not with objectivity, but as a fan of the game. Today--and it pains me to write this, so much so that my fingers are locking up--I've come to root for, not to rebuke, the Boys.
(Hold on a second, I need to find a bag in case I boot up my lunch.)
The reason, of course, is that the visitors for this penultimate home game are a far more sinister lot. Led by owner Daniel Snyder, the Washington Redskins are a vile outfit, an organization of mercenaries who tried to buy a postseason berth and, when things went badly, fired their coach with just three games left in the regular season. But that's Danny Boy: His lack of compassion and excessive whining somehow make Jerry Jones look innocent, even (choke) good. Then there's Deion Sanders, who regardless of all his recently found piety still manages to talk shit and dress like a drunken circus performer. I hated him when he played here. If it's possible, I think I hate him more now. Beyond that, a loss today would, in all likelihood, banish Snyder's Savages from the playoff hunt. How delicious.
So it would seem that the lesser of two evils, at least on this day, is Dallas.
2:02 p.m.: As I enter through Gate 1, a nice woman hands me a souvenir: a white Cowboys do-rag that says "True to Texas." I'm one of "them" now. My stomach hurts.
3:17 p.m.: As always, during kick-off, the song "Who Let the Dogs Out?" plays on the loudspeakers. I'm not sure who did, but I'd like to meet him so I can smash his testicles with a spiked mallet. Did I mention I dislike that song?
3:26 p.m.: Wayne McGarity fields a punt at the Dallas 42, runs across the field, and shoots down the sideline for a huge return. Eventually, it results in three points for the Pokes, who are on the board first. Internally (there's no cheering allowed on press row) I'm excited. Then it hits me: I'm excited...about the Cowboys. Now I know how Luke felt when he was tempted by the Dark Side.
4 p.m.: Jeff George, Washington's quarterback, is sacked. It's one of five Sunday, and he hits the turf violently. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy. "We didn't expect to come out flat like that," George would say later. "That was a big game for us, and we didn't come out fighting." Translation: My offensive line played like tiny girls. The malcontent cries almost as much as his owner.
4:04 p.m.: James McKnight straight-up punks Deion for a 46-yard catch down the left sideline. Deion falls while trying to defend the play and looks foolish. I laugh. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, and the fat bastard showed early this year.
4:06 p.m.: The big reception is essentially negated when Anthony Wright--who's subbing for an injured (surprise!) Troy Aikman--is sacked twice on ensuing plays. In comes Tim Seder, who bones a 47-yard field goal attempt. Not for the first time, I wonder what the hell I was thinking joining up with the pathetic Cowboys. Damn.
4:07 p.m.: Damn.
4:21 p.m.: Washington running back Stephen Davis gets the 'Skins on the board with a one-yard TD plunge. The fans here are pissed. I smile.
4:21.01 p.m.: Oops. My bad. Chalk that grin up to reflex.
4:35 p.m.: The Cowboys redeem themselves, hitting the locker room with a 12-7 halftime edge. I was hoping Snyder and Jones would regale us by brandishing sabers in a bloody duel to the death on the 50-yard line. Instead, some holiday extravaganza is the intermission entertainment. The duel thingy would have been cooler.
4:56 p.m.: Emmitt Smith goes on a little jaunt that puts him over 15,000 yards for his career, making him just the third back in NFL history to surpass that plateau, entering a statistical hierarchy previously reserved for Walter Payton and Barry Sanders. He will finish the day with 150 yards rushing, his most prolific performance in more than two years. Everyone is excited. "Fifteen thousand yards," Smith will say after the win, "that's a serious number."
Whoopee. I'm so thrilled about all of this.
5:23 p.m.: Dallas is on the move. Again. The Cowboys, thanks to the mandated end-around (at least one per game, right?), drive the length of the field. Seder adds a field goal. I'm happy to report, it looks as if justice is going to prevail. Washington will miss the playoffs. Snyder must be in the fetal position right about now, sucking his thumb and mumbling something about Never-Never Land. Things are working out nicely.
5:42 p.m.: Spoke too soon. Somehow, a gaggle of middle-aged women, obviously not working media, managed to score press passes and are cheering, loudly, for the Cowboys. Their voices are shrill and have that North Texas twang. The sound burns my ears like sulfuric acid.
If this continues, my head may explode.
5:58 p.m.: After Redskins guard Jay Leeuwenburg and Cowboys d-lineman Alonzo "where's my medication?" Spellman re-enact Ali-Frazier I, Jason Tucker goes 17 yards on a reverse that puts Dallas up for good. The crowd is raucous.
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6:22 p.m.: The Pokes' locker room is jubilant. Smiles and warm words abound. Winning will do that, particularly for a team that has struggled so mightily this season. "It's one game, and we're out of the playoffs," head coach Dave Campo says with that goofy look. "So how excited can I get? Pretty excited, because I'm sick and tired of losing." Me? I'm just sick.
7:06 p.m.: I've just finished whoring myself to the Cowboys. I know it was for the greater good, but I feel somewhat like Judas. In the City of Brotherly Love, they stone people where they stand for such blasphemy. As I head for home, I feel dirty and wonder, "At what price, victory?"
I try to cheer myself up. Try to tell myself that it wasn't that bad, that it was a mere one-night stand. "You're good," I say aloud, with little confidence, tears welling in my eyes, "and sometimes good people do bad things."
Then I promise to respect myself in the morning.