The start of football season always brings hope of something anew.
It’s the rite of passage for fan bases all over the country.
It’s been a yearly beacon of light for a lost generation of Dallas Cowboys fans who have been in the wilderness of despair for the past 20 years and have no personal experience of the franchise’s championship lineage.
Those five Super Bowl titles might as well be Greek mythology to any Cowboys fan born after 1995 and talk from parents and elders about those dynasty teams of the 1990s is akin to the stories about having to walk 20 miles to school and back in a foot of snow.
It is with this backdrop that the Cowboys begin the 2015 season Sunday against the New York Giants at AT&T Stadium and the reason why Cowboys fans are excited.
Following a breakthrough 2014 season in which the Cowboys won the NFC East title with a 12-4 record before succumbing to the Green Bay Packers on a disputed catch in the divisional playoffs, there is a new and seemingly legitimate buzz in the air.
The Cowboys head into this season widely recognized as a Super Bowl contender, validating hopes inside and outside the organization that they can become champions for the first time since 1995.
Considering last season’s success, the key additions made through the draft and free agency on defense and quarterback Tony Romo’s healthiest off-season in three years, executive vice president Stephen Jones said the excitement is warranted.
“I’m excited about every year,” Jones said. “Obviously, I feel better about this season than I have lately about some of our other teams. It’s certainly showing signs that it can be [our best team since the 1990s]. We executed an off-season plan. Now we have to see if that execution leads us to be a better football team.
“We weren’t good enough last year to win a championship and the ultimate goal is to go out there and win a championship. Don’t just assume you can pick up where you left off last year. We have to prove ourselves and go to work. It all starts Sunday night.”
For coach Jason Garrett, the work began in the off-season by preaching that this is a new season and a new team in the 56th year of the franchise.
“We start from ground zero and that’s a point we try to make for our football team right from the start,” Garrett said. “I think they understood that way back in April and probably before that, that 2014 is done with and we need to focus on being the best version of the Dallas Cowboys we can in 2015. It starts with the work that we do every day. We have a narrow focus. We focus on today, try to put good days on top of each other in preparation for our game each week.”
It’s a message worth heeding considering the Cowboys’ history of following a successful season with a disappointing one.
The past four seasons the Cowboys won 10 or more games, they followed by not winning more than nine games the next season, including the past three teams, when they didn’t make the playoffs in 2004, 2008 and 2010.
And then there is the little matter of the cyclical nature of the tough NFC East. The Cowboys haven’t won back-to-back division titles since 1995-1996. That was also the last time the Cowboys posted double-digit wins in consecutive seasons.
Again, it’s not just the Cowboys. The past 10 NFC East champions have failed to repeat with each of the four teams trading titles the past four years. The Giants won in 2011, the Washington Redskins in 2012, the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013 and the Cowboys in 2014.
“I think expectations are a lot higher than what they’ve been in the past,” tight end Jason Witten said. “You look at our team, there is a lot of good stuff that happened last year and a lot of those pieces are still here. You can build on that foundation, but I think Jason has done a great job since Day One of saying it’s a new year. I think any team that has success puts last year behind them and moves forward. That’s for every team.
“We have a lot of areas we can do better, we know that. That creates a lot of excitement for your team within. It’s OK to be excited. You just have to understand how you have to play to win.”
The Cowboys are parroting Garrett’s message in the locker room about starting anew.
But there is also no hiding the excitement they feel about being on the brink of something special.
Defensive end Jeremy Mincey is the lone member of the team who has played in the Super Bowl. He was with Denver when they lost to the Seattle Seahawks following the 2013 season.
“Yeah, the opportunity is there,” Mincey said. “Just knowing your time is now. We ain’t got time to wait. When you’ve got the opportunity, you got to take advantage of it.
“I generally feel good about the team and the guys we’ve got in this locker room, but I try to hold off on the excitement because I know what is at stake and I know how serious this is for me and older vets like Witten and Romo who have been around. It means a lot more to us than the younger guys because they don’t quite get the importance of winning a Super Bowl, fulfilling a legacy and leaving one behind as a player.”
No one feels that more than Romo.
While many are basing their excitement for 2015 on the success the Cowboys had last year, it was only another year of disappointment and failure for Romo, despite having the best and most efficient season of his career.
“I just figure if you haven’t won the Super Bowl, you didn’t win it the year before, then you probably didn’t finish the season the way you wanted to,” Romo said. “For us, there’s a bitter taste, it doesn’t feel like, ‘hey, that’s a happy-go-lucky kind of moment.’ It just feels like you let one slip away and I feel like our team is very anxious to get back out on the football field.”
Dallas has the NFL’s best all-time opening-day win percentage: