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From: Ta-Nehisi Coates
To: Josh Levin, Tom Scocca
Tom, I don't know whether to laugh or go all homer-ish at your charge that Romo is the "secular version of Tim Tebow." Of course, I can't really go all homer-ish because I'm—drum-roll please—Baltimore. But I found my favorite team in the early '80s, with a Philly-native father who was an Eagles fan, with the Colts departing at midnight, and several of my friends converting to the Redskins. My theory is that I was, all at once, nursing a rivalry with my father, a career as a Emersonian nonconformist, and a liberal multiculturalist offended by Washington's mascot. This is what I tell people. But more likely I liked the big blue star.
My reason for indulging this bit of memoir is as follows: If anything, your argument that Romo is the secular Tim Tebow is actually understated. The Cowboys, themselves, are perpetual secular Tim Tebows. What you have is a team with enough history to create a narrative and expectations, a self-congratulatory nom de plume as "America's Team," and a record of sticking right in that 5-11 to 11-5 range where you never really win shit, but prognosticators still take you seriously. The result is that you always get your share of national prime-time slots, and that place is justified by all the rabid fans who remember your glory days, and all the rabid haters fueled by your ever-overrated status, who can't wait to see a "lunch-bucket" team like Pittsburgh or Philly kick the shit out of you for "real" football fans the world over.
But it really doesn't matter whether people hate you or love you. Ratings are ratings. I've written about this some before, but this is actually an excellent business plan. I believe Jerry Jones wants to win. But I also believe that he wins, even when he loses, in a way no fan ever can. And whereas Tim Tebow will someday either ride off to glory or be exposed, the Cowboys are an ever-regenerating Tim Tebow. As long as they don't go 1-15 for five years straight, Jones can always roll out his Cowboys to play the ultimate credible jobber—Leaping Lanny Poffo as a franchise. (Though Demarcus Ware is the truth.)
Jerry Jones will always win. I didn't realize this until the first game in Jones's new Cowboys Stadium, where announcers spent as much time talking about the stadium as they did about football. It became clear that the idea of the Cowboys had actually exceeded the football-playing of the Cowboys.
The question then becomes, what is the responsibility of the fan? There are a lot of Cowboys fans who came on in the early '90s. I actually came on in the days of Drew Pearson, Tony Hill, Danny White, Eugene Lockhart, and Dennis Thurman. I remember 3-13. I remember 1-15. I was actually depressed about Herschel Walker getting traded. (Who could know?) When it's clear the fan's interests are somewhat different than ownership's, what is the recourse? In football, especially, there is a strong prohibition against divorce. We're supposed to be lifers. I'm strongly considering courting heresy.
Ta-Nehisi Coates is a senior editor at The Atlantic and the author of The Beautiful Struggle. Recently he's been seen sheepishly admitting to his progressive friends that, yes, he did watch the Mayweather fight.