The Short-Lived Cowboys Playoff Experience
It's been a week since the heartbreak. I've had some time to heal. So I have some words about the Cowboys season and my experience in Dallas at my first playoff game. Let me start by introducing myself…
Hello, my name (nickname) is Brannin; Cowboys fan for 24 years. So obviously, I was very excited about this season. This was probably the most exciting season for me as a Cowboys fan. Ever. 2014 was pretty fun too, as was 2007... but this season just felt different. I am also a huge Ohio State football fan. So when the Cowboys drafted Ezekiel Elliott (One of my top 5 favorite Buckeyes of All-Time), I was ECSTATIC and knew this season would be special; that excitement didn't last too long because our starting QB was injured (AGAIN!!) before he could even take a snap Week 1.
I knew the team could still get wins without Romo, but NO WAY did I think they could have the type of season they had with Dak Prescott at QB and a shaky defense. But Dak exceeded expectations, Zeke was Zeke, and the Cowboys got back to the formula that made them successful in 2014.
In November, I took somewhat a leap of faith. After a dramatic win over the Steelers to extend the Cowboys winning streak to 8 in a row and an 8-1 record, I knew this team was for real. So, being caught in the moment I booked a plane ticket to Dallas for the 2nd weekend in January (when the Divisional playoff round is played). I looked at our schedule and said to myself there was NO WAY we don't at least get the #2 seed in the NFC. I've never been to a Playoff game but I knew the Playoffs were in our near future, and I was going to be there.
Luckily, we kept the pace and ended up with the #1 seed and home-field advantage in the NFC. So my purchase of the flight in November before we even clinched a playoff berth didn't backfire. Next, I bought tickets to the game. So despite not knowing whom we would play, I knew I was going to be in the building.
As the final week of the season ended and all the Wild-Card matchups were revealed, we knew the Cowboys would either play the Lions, Giants, or Packers. Personally, I wanted the Giants. They're a division rival, they swept us during this season, and last time we played them in the Divisional Round they ended our season en route to a Super Bowl win. So seeing them in the playoffs again and getting a win would've felt great. On the other hand, I wanted the Packers. I saw the Packers as our biggest threat because of that cyborg they have at QB and they were on a 6 game win streak. So I felt playing them and beating them would be huge for our chances to getting to a Super Bowl. And obviously it would feel good to get payback because of what happened in the 2014-2015 playoffs in Green Bay (Don't ask me if Dez caught it). And the Lions...just no.; no thanks!
Well, as everyone knows the Lions lost to the Seahawks and the Packers beat the Giants. So the matchup was set, Cowboys vs. Packers, January 15th, bags packed, and OFF TO DALLAS.
The energy in the entire DFW area was CRAZY soon as we touched down. Everyone knew this Cowboys team had an opportunity to do something special. Saturday we went to rallies at The Star (The Cowboys new practice facility) and AT&T Stadium. Cowboy fans everywhere. Confident. Excited. Anxious. Everyone was hype and ready for Sunday!
Sunday gets here and the energy before the game was just as crazy; probably crazier. We got there early to tailgate and it was PACKED. Everyone just drinking, listening to music, and talking about the season and what the Cowboys needed to do to win the game; regular tailgate stuff. Got in the stadium about 2 hours before kickoff and the energy was nothing like I've ever felt before. And I've been to A LOT of games. Hype videos on the big screen. Trap music blasting. The team and the fans were ready.
I knew before the ball was even kicked off that I wasn't going to sit down this entire game. And I was going to be LOUD. Fast forward to kick-off. I am HYPE. Getting my section hype. LETS GO. Didn't look very promising early on because A-Rod and lack of pressure by the Cowboys D-line; Packers up 7-3. Then 14-3. Then 21-3. It was bad. The energy in that stadium went from 100 down to 2. That's one thing I will say I hate about Cowboys home games, the crowd is so easily discouraged. Just because we're down 21-3 doesn't mean you don't have to stand up and be loud anymore. Team still needs us, now more than ever. Game isn't over. Stand back up and get loud and make things difficult for the Packers offense. Eventually, the crowd got back into it and so did the Cowboys. Packers were up 21-13 at halftime. I was feeling confident because while the Packers were playing well, I felt the reason the Cowboys were losing was their own doing. Shooting themselves in the foot as usual. But we overcame adversity all season so I had no reason not to believe now.
2nd Half starts…the Packers didn't waste much time; about 4 minutes into the 3rd Quarter, TD Packers. 28-13. NOW was time to be worried. Not discouraged. But worried. But I still believed. It's a two-possession game. Lets make some plays and chip away at this deficit, and that they did.
That 4th Quarter was the most stressed I've been in a LONG time. When the Cowboys tied the game up I was still so stressed I couldn't even be loud anymore. Emmitt Smith was being shown on the big screen getting hype. Crowd was the loudest it's been all day. I was just excited, anxious and emotional. I was telling the people around me "It's happening. We're about to do it.” I also said, "I wish we didn't leave this much time for A-Rod; with two timeouts.” I was still worried but believed our defense would do enough to get us into OT. 22 seconds left, 1st and 10 Packers, Jeff Heath lays a HUGE hit on A-Rod. Sack! (How in the HELL didn't he fumble that!?). 18 seconds left, 2nd and 20 Packers, Incomplete! Crowd is going CRAZY. One more stop! 3rd and 20. A-Rod rolls out, throws it up, Jared Cook catches it on the sideline right on the edge of FG range. I'm standing there thinking to myself no way he caught that. He HAD to be out of bounds. Had to. No way this is how this season is going to end. Replays being shown on the big screen and I'm just in denial. I knew he caught it but was telling myself that the refs were going to screw it up because who really knows what a catch is these days? It was a catch. Packers FG unit comes out and I just started praying. Didn't even want to watch. My seats were in the end zone where the kick was heading. I saw the football hit the net but couldn't tell if it went in. All I saw was the Packers running onto the field and I just dropped to my seat. And just sat there. And sat there; just numb. Utter disbelief. I literally sat there for almost an hour after the game and would've been longer if security didn't ask me to leave. We were right there. That close. 3rd and 20....3rd...and 20! After security said we had to leave, we head to the car to head back to our place. POURING rain. How fitting? While on the way, we all started getting alerts on our phones that it was a tornado warning and flash flood warning. But we were already on the road. I check my Twitter to see they weren't letting anyone leave the stadium. I wish that were the case 25 minutes ago because I would've still been in my seat wondering how the hell we gave up that pass on 3rd and 20! But we got back home safe and that pretty much ended our trip because we had a 7am flight the next morning.
So, besides the obvious heartbreak of losing a game like that, the trip was fun. I obviously caught a lot of jokes about flying out there to see my team lose a heartbreaker. But if I could do it all over again knowing we would lose? I would. No regrets. I'm not just a Cowboys fan when we're winning. We haven't won a Super Bowl since I was 5 years old. I've been through MUCH worst as a fan. It was just tough that I was front and center to witness it at my first playoff game. The Cowboys were the first sports team I ever loved. I was 3 years old when I became a fan. Out of all the teams I'm a fan of, the Cowboys are like my first-born; my baby. And always will be. Despite the devastating end to a great season, I'm still excited about this team and our future. So if the Cowboys are fortunate enough to make the playoffs again next season... guess who will be right back in the building cheering? You guessed it. This guy.