ARLINGTON (105.3 THE FAN) -- The narratives are so often repeated now that they go beyond "cliché.'' They've created grooves so deep in the Dallas Cowboys' long-playing record that the needle stabs through the wax.
Romo is a choker! Jerry is a meddler! Dez is a prima donna! Bad play-calling! Fire Garrett!
Those accusations don't sting as badly because of Dallas' 27-23 win Sunday over the 1-7 Vikings at AT&T Stadium. Quarterback Tony Romo tossed an interception in the final five minutes but rebounded by leading the Cowboys on game-winning 90-yard drive capped by his TD toss to Dwayne Harris.
Owner Jerry Jones had mentioned the possibility of spending the entire afternoon on the sideline but only hung out there during the pregame to hobnob with singer Selena Gomez and some guy from the TV show "Pawn Stars.''
Receiver Dez Bryant removed his helmet in a demonstrative fashion and later swore he didn't know that was against the rules.
Dallas ran only nine times for 37 yards, but as running back DeMarco Murray noted, "Yeah, yeah, but we won.''
And "Fire Garrett''? Well, his team is 5-4 overall and in first place in the NFC East. So doing that at this moment would be … awkward.
But there is one narrative, one criticism, that does sting, as mindless as it is: "The Dallas Cowboys lack leadership.''
That theme was central to not one, not two, but three TV network pregame shows on Sunday. Now, astute Cowboys followers have figured out how this works: Mention this team, in any context, and ratings and revenue roll in. That explains why on this Sunday morning one network screamed "THIS JUST IN!'' and reported that Murray would be playing – something established at Valley Ranch all the way back to last Tuesday. It explains why another network brayed that Bryant would likely sign a contract extension next summer with Dallas – something that is a matter of Cowboys policy and fact and has been written about repeatedly in this space for the last six months.
When in doubt, mention the Cowboys.
And when in doubt about in what context to mention the Cowboys, return, always, to the Narrative Playbook.
From Sterling Sharpe on the NFL Network: "They need more leadership to help this football team stop being average."
From Michael Strahan on Fox: "You need to have somebody in a position of leadership … I don't get that sense.''
From Ray Lewis on ESPN: "When you think about the Cowboys, you think about a bunch of individuals. There's never been a true, true leader to help that team."
I don't know what was playing on, like, "The Game Show Network'' on Sunday morning. But I'm left to assume Wink Martindale was there bleating something about "Cowboys leadership.''
The beauty of the accusation is that it is harsh and clear when it is said … but vague and blurry when it comes to proving or disproving it. There is no demand on Sharpe, Strahan and Lewis (and Wink!) to establish how or where they gathered their information, or whether they gathered information at all.
The only demand is that they mention the Cowboys … slip into the narrative groove … and smile for the cameras.
Are they right? Or is leadership a thing that is only measured by wins?
Last year, these same Vikings were touted for their leadership as they surprised their way to a 10-6 record and the playoffs. Coach Leslie Frazier was a leader with his calm demeanor. Assistant Mike Singletary was a leader with his passion. Superstars Adrian Peterson on offense and Jared Allen on defense were leaders, too.
Now Minnesota is 1-7. Did their leadership skills suddenly evaporate?
Are people like Jason Witten, DeMarcus Ware, Sean Lee, Tony Romo, Brian Waters, Brandon Carr and Jason Hatcher really not leaders of men? Is there truly a way to judge that through a TV screen?
You will note that when the Cowboys win with good defensive line play, we all drag out the presence on the staff of Vietnam veteran Rod Marinelli. When the D-line does not play well, is that because Marinelli dropped the leadership ball? Oh, and when he was 0-16 as a head coach in Detroit a few years ago … did he forget to pack his leadership suitcase?
I always wonder whether an accuser, swinging this particular narrative around like a cat o' nine tales, would ever crack the whip in the face of the accused. Who would dare inform, say, Jason Hatcher, that he lacks the intelligence, will and heart to lead?
I asked him that question.
"If you're not around it, you don't see it,'' Hatcher told me. "I don't care what the critics say. We do our jobs.''
And, in turn, the critics do theirs, going 'round and 'round on the narrative ride, every Cowboys loss providing fodder and every win providing respite … until the next loss.
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