It is the offseasons that stick with me.
As football beat writers have the paid privilege to point out, the NFL has done everything in its considerable power to transform a seventeen week season into a year-round entertainment cycle. With the NFL draft bullying basketball and hockey playoff games in the ratings or making sure there are plenty of reporters embedded at golf courses to speculate about weight-gain vs polo-billow, the shield hangs out on the offseason airwaves like that private eye who is always breaking into your house to have a chat and fidget with the whiskey decanter. And while a lot of the content generated consists of lists about which tight end would make the best shark and updates about how tired we are of Deflategate, there are some real gems that shine all the more brightly amongst the paste jewelry.
The first season of All or Nothing reminds us why the cut and thrust of in-game action is so enthralling and why we might care to follow the personal narratives of the players after they pass through the tunnel. An enormous portion of other offseason coverage seems perversely bent on obscuring those two things. It’s as if you dropped your phone in the toilet, mid-call, and you start wondering if the conversation is worth it. If Patrick Peterson is on the line, you fish it out. I won’t spend any more time extolling the show’s virtues, since it has been extensively reviewed, and the head coach’s headgear speaks for itself. But I have been reflecting on the sentiment that Arians likes to repeat about letting the sensation of defeat linger for a bit. About the way that watching the confetti fall on the other team takes up permanent residence in the old stomach pit.
From the moment that I didn’t catch my first pass, it has always been pretty safe to say that I would never know that kind of gut-mortgage, no matter how much a Cowboys loss poisons my week/adult life. For me, it is the offseason defeats that settle into my bones. In the offseason, I am just as useful to my particular franchise as I am during the fourth quarter of any given game. Which is to say, not useful at all. But for some reason, it doesn’t feel like that. In an utterly absurd way, poring over blog posts in the offseason makes me feel like I am more in sync with the front office’s efforts at research and player acquisition. As for the players who need to focus on rehabbing old injuries and just staying out of trouble, I can sympathize with that as well.
But here’s the problem with that false hands-on sensation. It’s a little like checking for shattered window panes on a dark night with a storm brewing. Once you realize that “best shape of his career” and “always around the ball in practice” is a standard label, the only real news is painful discovery that something is broken and you aren’t sure if the landlord is going to be able to replace it. I am not trying to suggest that the players (with the full dignity accorded to the human person) are as one-dimensional as window panes. Just that an offseason setback isn’t like the disappointment of a lost game, with another game to follow. It is getting cut in the dark and then anxiously listening to the weather report. And that’s the kind of thing that sticks with you.
The Cowboys already comfortably lead the league in suspensions over the last three years. Our most pressing needs (back-up quarterback and defensive line) have gotten even more pressing. The only consolation is that whatever Rod Marinelli does with the players that Will McClay finds in August and September is some form of magic. And the moment Tony Romo starts scrambling around in the backfield, I get the sense that anything is possible.
Can’t wait for kickoff.