Nearly six years ago, on November 7, 2010, the Dallas Cowboys limped into Lambeau with a 1-6 record. Romo had broken his left clavicle in a loss to the Giants two weeks before. Enter Jon Kitna. They lost their sixth game the next week to the Jags, 35-17, with 14 of those points coming after the game had been decided. And now they had to go to Green Bay. Morale was low. The ship captained by Wade Phillips was listing badly.
As a Cowboys fan in Illinois, I don't attend many games. Their record has never stopped me from traveling to see them, though. I drove to Kansas City in 1989 to watch them lose one of the fifteen games they lost that season. So, when I got the chance at a ticket to Lambeau, I took it. I love old stadiums (that's the Cubs fan in me, I suppose) and looked forward to the experience. My only hope for my team was that they would be competitive and not a complete embarrassment. They weren't an embarrassment – it went beyond that. They quit.
Lambeau did not disappoint. The stadium is a legitimate bucket-lister. The fans were fantastic. I wore an Aikman jersey and sat in a sea of green and gold. I got a few friendly jibes during the game, but all were given with smiles that said, “If I see you after the game, I'll buy ya a beer.” The Cowboys, on the other hand, were a disgrace that day. The Packers led 28-7 at halftime and 35-7 in the third. On the Packers' final offensive touchdown, even I could see from the stands that the players had checked out. They didn't even attempt to tackle. The Packers returned both a fumble and an interception for touchdowns and the Cowboys looked like they couldn't have cared less.
Even having gone through the 1-15 season and the train wreck that was the period between Aikman and Romo, this was the first time in my life that I was ashamed to be a Cowboys fan. This was not the team of Tom Landry and Roger Staubach. This was not the team that defined excellence with 20 consecutive winning seasons and five Super Bowl wins. This wasn't even the salary-cap-hamstrung Cowboys of the Dave Campo era. This was an impostor.
As we walked to our car after the game, some Packer fans were following us and one joked to his friend, loud enough to ensure I heard his joke, “Hey, who was that high school that we beat tonight?” I startled them when I wheeled around and pointed at the comedian. But, when I replied, “Hey! Don't insult high school football – at least they TRY,” we all shared a laugh. It was that for me, or cry. And this team wasn't worth the tears. I sure as hell didn't think they were worth the time and money I had spent driving 350 miles to watch that abomination. But my view on that changed the very next day.
Thankfully, Jerry broke a 51-year Cowboys tradition of not firing a head coach mid-season. Wade was gone. After the hardass approach of Parcells (who I do not view with the same rose-colored lens as many Cowboys fans, but that's another blog for another time), Wade and his Pillsbury Dough Boy, I'm-Your-Pal approach paid off with an inaugural 13-3 season – and the infamous playoff “win” he labeled the first-round bye. After that, it was a week-by-week descent as players lost respect for his soft approach and soon the crew was running the ship. One of the best days of my Cowboys fandom was the day Wade was shown the door.
Say what you will about Jason Garrett. He has received A LOT of criticism from fans and media, for everything from clock management to play-calling to his robotic and boring press conferences. A lot of the criticism is warranted. However, if the buck stops at him when times are bad, then credit has to go to him when things are going well, too. One thing you can't criticize is his steady demeanor and consistent message. You may want to see him get in players' faces when they mess up. You may want to see him tell a kicker to go to the “asthma field”. You may want him to throw his players under the bus in a post-game press conference. As far as all of that goes, you're never going to get those things. What you will get is consistency. You will get a daily, persistent pursuit of excellence. His message never takes a day off.
He comes by that attitude honestly. When HBO was filming “Hard Knocks” in 2008, they did a little profile of Jason's dad, Jim Garrett, a long-time Cowboys scout. He was 80 years old. They showed him getting out of bed in the morning to go run his daily mile. He ran one every day. For over 25 years. On camera, an interviewer asked him, “Is there ever a day you wake up and think, ‘I really don't want to run a mile today'?” His answer: “Every day.” But, he did it. He did it until he physically couldn't. I get that feeling with Jason. What you see is what you will get every day.
This team has obviously bought in to the message. They have for six seasons now. Yes, until this recent run, they have been the very definition of average. But, the pursuit is always there. They have never quit. I may get frustrated, even angry, at this team when they don't perform the way I wish they would. But, I will never be embarrassed of a team that doesn't quit, no matter the score or record. Seeing that once in my lifetime was more than enough.
Once again, this team rolled into venerable Lambeau Field this past Sunday without Tony Romo. Without Dez. Without Scandrick. With an offensive line taped together. Looking back at the game, it's easy to see the final score and forget that this wasn't a blowout. Right up to the two-minute warning of the first half, the Packers were only a play or two from making this a very different game. I don't care how much their offense has struggled this season or even up to that point in the game. I've seen way too much of Rodgers to think he wasn't capable of stringing together a couple of quick TD drives, especially when we took the ball away in the red zone, only to give it right back. But, this Cowboys team didn't quit. With no timeouts, the Packers threatening to turn momentum and still only four points down, one minute left in the half, and pinned on their own 3-yard-line, all they did was go 97 yards in 5 plays, taking a mere 34 seconds, and changing the direction of the game for good.
Prescott, Elliott, Williams, Witten, Beasley, this surprising defense, all of them…they are the ones that have to execute and they have. They certainly deserve credit. But, some of the credit also has to go to Garrett and this coaching staff for creating and cultivating the atmosphere that enables and inspires those players to execute. There is no quit in this team and you can thank Jason Garrett for that.