"If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation." – Don Draper in Mad Men
As the Dallas Cowboys return to training camp in San Antonio this weekend, the conversation has indeed changed.
The Cowboys late in the 2009 season looked much like the recent history of this franchise, a worthwhile contender that will falter in the last month of the season and either miss the playoffs entirely or enter the playoffs with zero momentum and serve as cannon fodder to whatever team they matchup with in the first round.
A 6-1 stretch in the middle of the season was followed up with a 31-24 loss at the hands of the Giants and then a demoralizing 20-17 home loss to the Chargers. The Cowboys entered the Big Easy looking like McKenzie from The Real World: New Orleans after a night at the bar, only needing one more shot to black out and forget that any of it happened.
Then, in the city of weird, something even odder happened. The Cowboys won. In December. Against a previously unbeaten New Orleans squad. And the Saints had to score two late touchdowns to even make it look respectable. The Cowboys followed up that with a 17-0 thrashing of the Redskins, and also shutout the Philadelphia Eagles in the last game of the season to claim the NFC East crown, only their second division title in eleven years.
The next week the Cowboys won their first playoff game since 1996 with a 34-14 beating of the same Eagles before running into the buzzsaw that was the Minnesota Vikings in the divisional round.
But, for the first time in a long time, the conversation this off-season wasn’t about the Cowboys failure on the field, or if Tony Romo is the long term solution at quarterback, or which malcontent they can add to the roster now, instead it was, can the Cowboys be the first team to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium?
The Cowboys had finally changed the conversation.
That blissful feeling won’t last long, however. The Cowboys, as a franchise that has won five Super Bowls, should never be satisfied with a 34-3 loss in their last game of the season, and the Dallas media will be quick to remind everyone in the locker room of that this weekend. And they are absolutely correct.
Much like the brand new Sterling, Cooper & Draper advertising firm on Mad Men, which was also born out of adversity in the month of December, the Cowboys must start anew and while they can build on what their reputation, the step up from division winner to Super Bowl champion (or a firm in a hotel room to established agency) is a monumental one.
The offense has added Dez Bryant, who by all accounts has come to play and has left any hint of immaturity at the door. Defensively, the Cowboys hope to build upon the league’s sixth best defense with an infusion of youth in the secondary and the addition by subtraction move of trading Bobby Carpenter to St. Louis.
The Cowboys’ lawnmower in the copy room might be the schedule. Road trips to Minnesota, Green Bay, Indianapolis, Arizona and Philadelphia means that five of their eight road games will be against teams that made the playoffs last year, and two more (Houston and the New York Giants) feature a team that almost made the playoffs last year and another that is a perennial contender.
The home schedule isn’t much easier, with those defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints visiting the Death Star as well as Vince Young and the Tennessee Titans. The Bears have the talent to make the playoffs if Jay Cutler loses his colorblindness, and the NFC East foes are always geared up to ruin Jerry Jones’ cocktails in his suite.
The future only knows whether Tony Romo can be this team’s Don Draper (and not by drinking in Cabo while still on the job) and lead it to the promise land, or if he will instead be the Harry Crane and bumble his way through another opportunity.
The talent is there to keep the Lombardi Trophy at home, but at some point the dialogue has to end and you have to get out on the field and do it.
Luckily for us, the work begins Saturday on the turf of the Alamodome.
Where there are no lawnmowers.
P.S. Season Four of Mad Men begins Sunday night on AMC.