The Dallas Cowboys have carefully cultivated a perception that they are a Kardashian — popular for being popular. The difference between the two is that, while nothing seems to collapse on a Kardashian, the Cowboys always do.
Since about 2006, they have methodically cultivated this perception and, in doing so, crushed the hopes of so many.
No NFL team has done more in the first 11 weeks to change a widely accepted perception that this team is designed to disappoint, and that this time — this time — it really is going to be different.
With a mixture of dread, disbelief and admiration, these Cowboys have proved every single critic incorrect, and altered the belief they are nothing more than pretenders. Admit it — you have bought in.
We have arrived at the critical point we do every fall where the Cowboys can further change their perception by closing out what they have so ably started. Win and make the playoffs, and a gag/choke/overrated label that has adorned their outfits as much as the blue star will fade.
Blow this chance at the postseason, and whatever perceptions we previously held will only be validated, and every fan again will be crushed. This team only gets a pass if Tony Romo gets hurt, and then that will be on the GM who handed him the extension.
“The biggest emphasis for this team is to finish,” linebacker Bruce Carter said Wednesday. “We got off to a great start and we played some good teams. We have to make sure we finish strong. Our record could easily be 7-9, or whatever.”
Wait, what? Who said anything about 7-9? The team is 7-3 right now. If this team finishes 7-9, everybody gets fired, cut or traded.
If it were any team other than the Cowboys, we would all feel safe, comfortable and secure knowing this team will make the playoffs. But there are too many scars from previous Decembers for everybody not to at least consider a collapse is at least possible.
We have witnessed too many Stephen King horror shows too many times not to at least consider the possibility that it will happen again.
Between 2008-13 — four out of six seasons — the Cowboys went into the regular-season finale needing a win against a division team to make the playoffs. Incredibly, they are 0-for-4 in those games. That’s hard to do.
Those things leave a mark, and create perception.
The man himself — Antonio Ramiro Romo (that’s his actual name) — does believe this time and this team are different.
“I think just experience. You can tell we do certain things a little bit better,” Romo said Wednesday. “A little bit higher level, throughout the football team. We are not completely dependent on any one area, defense, offense or special teams. We have a collective group that gives us a chance to win. That gives you a chance each game you play to go out and win.”
The standings, the statistics and the eyeball test all say Romo is right. This team is different.
Despite the differences, there is no impartial observer or diehard fan alive who is not at least a little bit nervous this thing can blow up at any second. We have seen it too many times under a wide variety of circumstances not to be afraid.
In ’08, the Cowboys were talented and 8-4 yet managed to turn that into 9-7 and miss the playoffs. In ’11, the Cowboys were good enough to turn 7-4 into 8-8 and no playoffs. In ’12 and ’13, the Cowboys clung to a game within .500 pretty much throughout and missed the playoffs.
(In the spirit of honoring Uncle Wade Phillips, the Cowboys were 8-3 in 2009 and managed to turn that into an actual postseason appearance.)
All of these gags leave a mark, and ultimately change the way you see a team. They are again at that point in the season with a chance of not only making the playoffs but creating a different perception of how so many of us view them.
How we see the Cowboys now is through those previous seasons but, so far in 2014, they have done everything possible to create a different vision as something other than a Kardashian waiting to fail.
Follow Mac Engel on The Big Mac Blog at star-telegram.com/sports/.