I have a confession. As much as it hurt to have yet another season end with a Cowboys playoff loss in the wild-card round, a small part of me felt relief, too. I can enjoy the rest of the playoffs, I thought. I could just watch football for entertainment, without worrying about how whatever game I was watching would affect the Cowboys. No lingering concern about bad potential matchups. No overanalyzing everything Cowboy players did between games, like going to watch the Mavericks play unmasked, and then worrying about someone potentially missing a playoff game because of COVID. No staying up past my usual bedtime to finish the weekly column.
With no cheering interest, I had no reason not to want complete, unbelievable chaos. And luckily for those of us fans without a playoff team, that has probably been the defining characteristic of this NFL postseason. How else can you explain that THE CINCINNATI FU***NG BENGALS ARE IN THE SUPER BOWL?!
Now, maybe this just means that about three-and-a-half weeks since it ended, I’ve started making peace with another disappointing finish to the Cowboys’ season. Or maybe this is personal growth, a positive step toward eventually having a healthier relationship with this team. I don’t know. What I do know is that, since the Cowboys aren’t playing in the Super Bowl, I’ll be able to enjoy the game much more than if they were playing in it.
I wish they were playing, there’s no doubt about that. But I don’t believe that seeing the Cowboys play for a championship would be more fun than it’d be worrisome for me. I’d for sure watch alone because there are few things about watching sports as bad as Super Bowl parties. The dumb comments and questions from people who clearly watch football once a year. The uninvited guest whose very presence makes things awkward. I suspect that awfulness exponentially increases if your favorite team is playing, and you’re surrounded by this atmosphere. Luckily for me—as part of my plan to live a healthier life in 2022, I’m trying to remain optimistic—the closest Dallas got to the Super Bowl is The D.O.C.’s connection to Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre, who will be part of the halftime show, and that AT&T Stadium was the backup host site if the pandemic got really out of hand (I’m not even sure what that means).
All of which is to say: I’ll enjoy the Super Bowl as much as possible. I’ll be able to enjoy the commercials and keep a mental tally of which were dumb and which were somewhat funny. I can even walk away from the television, if I want, do something else, and not worry if I miss a few plays. I’ll be able to watch the game, check Twitter, maybe even try to tweet something funny about the game or commercials or the halftime show. And even if I’d prefer for the Bengals to win, I won’t lose any sleep if they lose given my total lack of emotional connection to the team.
Most important, I’ll be able to just sit down and eat whatever we decide for that day. The menu isn’t set yet, but it’ll be something standard. Maybe chicken wings. Almost certainly chips and guacamole. And if the weather is so nice that it feels like the Texas winter storm happened months ago instead of just over a week, I might grill burgers while smoking a cigar. Could be something else. Something that, had the Cowboys been playing, I’d be too nervous to eat.
I’ll watch and eat and enjoy. But I won’t be able to help imagining what it’ll be like if the Cowboys ever return to the Super Bowl. The historically hapless Bengals getting there makes me feel like the Cowboys winning one is that much more attainable. Similarly, Matthew Stafford, a borderline top-10 quarterback who just turned 34, being good enough to guide a team to a Super Bowl should make all Cowboy fans hopeful.
Because, despite my arguments to the contrary, I’d still rather see the Cowboys play to win it all even if it would wreck my emotions for a couple of weeks leading up to the game and certainly for much longer after if they lost. It’d be one of those things where it’d take me some time to realize that making it to the Super Bowl, even if they lost, is far, far away from an unsuccessful season. That’s what I want. All I want. The football gods can have whatever relief I’ve felt these last few weeks. I’d be fine not enjoying the chicken wings and chips with guacamole. I’d be alright just watching alone while family and that uninvited guest got together elsewhere.
Give me the misery and anxiety. It would be infinitely better than what I have now: contenting myself with watching the team’s best players perform stunts at the meaningless Pro Bowl, like Trevon Diggs’ circus catch or Micah Parsons outrunning players 50 pounds lighter than him. I’d rather be a mess this week than forcing some hope that, if the playoff woes continue, the recently retired Sean Payton will show up to coach the Cowboys. Or diving into a few of the way-too-early mock drafts to see who the Cowboys maybe, possibly, could pick two and a half months from now (Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean already has me salivating, and I wouldn’t complain about a new kicker, either.) Being a fan is hard. Having nothing to cheer for is so much worse.