Thursday, August 11, 2011

Main Game Of Mid-America

Why is it that any team that has the monicker “America’s Team” must be hated by at least half of the sport-following populace?

Think of the last couple of teams to wear that sobriquet: the Yankees and the Cowboys. The Yankees got there on the strength of a fan base consisting of two-thirds of the inhabitants of the greater NYC metro area and a national subculture of largely obnoxious frontrunners. I have yet to see a Yankee fan miss a chance to declare his genetic superiority to the people around him in as many one-syllable words as he can cram into 30 seconds. Of course, non-Yankee fans return the favor by treating the Yankees and their fans with a warmth not seen since the French turned on their German occupiers following the liberation of Paris.

(Pity the hapless Cub fans in all this. They’re so out of their league. Give them tickets to a UFC match and they’d bring a teddy bear.)

The Cowboys started calling themselves “America’s Team” apropos of nothing and it caught on. The only recent case of chutzpah that comes close was when Kanye West starting calling himself “a singer.”

Like a lot of teams, the Cowboys were the team of a subset of America, that pungent mixture of truck owners with functional gun racks and truck owners with ornamental gun racks, but if that subset actually equaled America you’d best reserve your tickets for Michelle Bachmann’s inauguration.

There’s no question that both teams’ claims as America’s favorite stemmed from their owners. Jerry Jones is H. Ross Perot reinvented as a total egomaniac after being awarded George W. Bush’s brain on waivers, and George Steinbrenner made Donald Trump look like Wavy Gravy. He was shaped like a packing crate and handled sensitive negotiations like a longshoreman.

I have a friend whose favorite teams are the Cowboys and Yankees (and, yes, he went to college at The U). He is insufferable, but not primarily because his favorite teams are the Cowboys and Yankees and he went to college at The U. He’s insufferable because his checks bounce. When he pays with hard money all is forgiven.

The reason I’m screeding like this is that I’ve been thinking about the matchup between the all-time Cowboys and Chiefs.

The Cowboys should win. There’s no question that the Cowboys should win. They have four real live wide receivers, and their running backs are superb. Neither Roger Staubach nor Troy Aikman are QBs that could throw the fear of God into anyone, much less a stalwart Kansas City defense, but they’re game managers with weapons and a line.

But every non-linear cell in my body is fighting that idea that the Cowboys should win because these are the Cowboys, The Team Known As America’s Team, and with all my heart I want the TTKAAT to go down in flames.

Not this time, unfortunately.

It’s a quality thing. There is no way you can look at the Cowboys’ starting offensive line – Rayfield Wright (a HOFer), Larry Allen (a HOFer-to-be), Flozell Adams (a strong maybe), and John Niland and Ralph Neely (HOF oughta-bes) – and figure that the Chiefs’ defensive front, good as it is, has much of a chance.

Or maybe they do. Buck Buchanan is a HOFer, Jerry Mays is just a tick behind, and Art Still and Neil Smith are in the discussion. Curley Culp, Dan Saleamua, and Bill Maas can play some, too. And having three HOF linebackers filling the gaps doesn’t hurt. Only the Giants and Bears have that luxury.

Things don’t change when the situation flip-flops. The Chiefs’ line lacks HOFers now, but Will Shields is a lock, Willie Roaf is a probable, and if Brian Waters keeps going like he’s gone he’ll get there. That leaves Ed Budde and Jim Tyrer, and they’re the Chiefs’ versions of Neely and Niland, really strong oughta-bes. They go up against top-tier HOFers in Bob Lilly and Too Tall Jones, a mid-level guy in Randy White, and a near-miss in Jethro Pugh. Harvey Martin, Jim Jeffcoat, George Andrie, and Larry Cole rotate in.

The ‘Boys’ D-line is stronger than the Chiefs’ but the linebackers aren’t quite as good. Call it a wash. Same with the secondary.

So if the lines, linebackers and D-backs match up, the quality issues are in ... oh, yeah. The running backs and wide receivers.

The Chiefs roll out No. 65 all-time in all-purpose yards (Priest Holmes), No. 90 in rushing (Larry Johnson), and Nos. 178 and 172 all-time in receiving (Otis Taylor and Henry Marshall). The Cowboys counter with Nos. 1 and 8 all-time in rushing yards (Emmitt Smith and Tony Dorsett), No. 29 all-time in receptions (Michael Irvin), and No. 30 all-time in receiving TDs (Bob Hayes), with No. 5 in career receptions (Terrell Owens) on the bench, complaining about his playing time.

Even having the best tight end ever can’t make up for that.

I know I’m getting all conventional on you, and I apologize. There are many ways the Chiefs could win, but the Cowboys have more ways. If the kicking game pins the ‘Boys deep and the Chiefs’ D-line somehow slows down the Cowboys’ running game, the QBs simply go over the top to some of the best deep threats ever. If Johnny Robinson and the gang shut down the passing game, TD and Dancin’ E can run it forever.

Enough of the prelims. So how does the game go?

The ‘Boys get the ball at their 20 and run it out to midfield. The Chiefs get the ball at their 22 and run it out to the 27. The ‘Boys get the ball back at their 39 and run it down to the Chiefs’ 37, and miss a field goal. The Chiefs run it out to the 43 and kick it down to the 30. The ‘Boys push it out to the 44 and kick it down to the 23. And this goes on for a while until the ‘Boys finally move it down far enough for Rafael Septien to kick a field goal.

Late in the second quarter the Chiefs finally cross midfield and use a Priest Holmes screen and a Tony Gonzalez seam route to work the ball down to the 28, where the drive stalls but Jan Stenerud is true. Three-all.

At this point, the wheels fall off of the Chiefs’ war wagon. Eschewing the two-minute drill in favor of the home run, Aikman calls an audible, Bob Hayes slips behind Emmitt Thomas, and he outruns the pack to the end zone. The halftime gun sounds with the Cowboys ahead 10-3.

After the Chiefs go three-and-out to start the second half, the ‘Boys strike again. This time it’s Aikman to Witten for 15, to Irvin for 22 and finally to Drew Pearson in the corner of the end zone from 29. The extra point makes it 17-3.

The Chiefs answer with another nothing drive, and Dallas gets right back to it, mixing sweeps and square-outs until they get inside the 20. The drive stalls, and Septien boots a 29-yard field goal to stretch the lead to 20-3.

And that’s the ball game, for all intents and purposes.

The Chiefs pull Len Dawson in favor of Trent Green, who drops back to pass, assays the field, and says to himself, “Hey – I don’t have any wide receivers,” just before being buried under a mountain of Too Tall Jones and Jethro Pugh. He crumples like a wet paper towel and Randy White recovers the remains. The result is another field goal, and more playing time for Len Dawson.

Dawson eventually gets the dink-and-dunk game going enough to score a TD against a prevent defense, but in the end it’s Super Bowl I all over again. The Cowboys prevail 26-10.

The numbers are not all that great for either side: 163 yards rushing for the Cowboys against 82 for the Chiefs. 268 yards passing for the ‘Boys against 223 for the Chiefs. Emmitt gets 91, TD 61. Hayes catches three for 70, Irvin five for 71. Priest Holmes has a nice all-around day – 57 yards rushing, 89 yards receiving – but Larry Johnson does nothing, and the wideouts stink.

The Cowboys will have their judgment day, as God is my witness. But it ain’t today.

So as Jerry Jones dances on the star in the middle of Texas Stadium like the Thunderbirds version of Jerry Jones dancing on the star in the middle of Texas Stadium, repeat to yourself: It’s okay to hate the Cowboys. It’s okay to hate the Cowboys. It’s okay to hate the Cowboys.

It’s just really hard to deny them.

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