Thu, 21 Jan 2021

Writer's Blocks: In Search Of Some Normalcy

Dallas Cowboys
04 Dec 2020, 19:24 GMT+10

David Helman

FRISCO, Texas - Somebody help me make sense of all this.

I legitimately don't know what's happening anymore. I assume it's Thursday, because that's when my weekly column usually runs. But you wouldn't know it from any of the context clues.

The Cowboys aren't practicing. Their upcoming opponent literally just played a game. This Cowboys-Ravens matchup is still a full five days away.

It fits the narrative of 2020 pretty well. Everything is weird and bad and I don't know what to do about it. So I guess I'm just going to write through it.

We're into the home stretch of a season we'll never forget, for better or for worse. Maybe we can find some silver linings.

In the relentless world of the NFL, it's all too easy to move on to the next thing - the next story, the next opponent, the next season. You name it.

But it'd be entirely unfair to brush past what the Cowboys have been through this last week, though. With everything surrounding this team and this season, it already feels like a decade ago that we learned of Markus Paul's tragic death. In reality, it has hardly been a week since the Cowboys' head strength and conditioning coordinator passed away.

In the midst of their preparations for Baltimore, the Cowboys paused today to take part in Paul's memorial service, which was scheduled for Thursday morning.

I don't think you can underestimate the toll that takes on a team. Perhaps it goes without saying, but these guys spend 85% of their time with each other from the time training camp opens until the season comes to a close.

A team's bond with its strength staff is unique, too. Everyone within a team ecosystem knows each other, but the bond might not be as strong. Defensive players likely don't spend much time with the quarterbacks coach, and quarterbacks may not spend much time with the defensive line coaches - etc., etc., etc.

The strength staff, though? They work closely with everyone. Through the quiet months of the offseason, into OTAs, all the way through training camp and the season, the strength staff is literally always in the building. They come up with the fitness plans, they help guys meet their goals, they work with injured players on their rehab - all of it.

It can't be easy to lose that relationship overnight, especially given how widely-beloved Markus Paul was within the organization. It also can't be easy to compartmentalize it and try to move forward with the season, even while that grief lingers.

Leighton Vander Esch summarized it better than I ever could:

"When you lose a brother of your team and coaching staff, a father figure to a lot of the guys, that takes a toll on you," he said. "I know it's still taking a toll on a lot of us. He's an amazing dude and I'm going to miss him in here every single day. I'm just going to continue to keep praying for his family and praying for him and just knowing that he's in a good place now."

Many people are going to move on, because there are games to play and matchups to dissect. It is what it is, but it's not fair to the memory of Markus. It's definitely not fair to the people who have to piece things together without him. Many of those people are highly-paid professional football players, but they are people first. It's tough but important to remember that. I wish it was happening under different circumstances than a global pandemic, but the history geek in me is pretty excited that this game is happening on a Tuesday.

Cowboys-Ravens is poised to become just the third NFL game to happen on a Tuesday in the last 70 years. It happened in 2010, when the league postponed Eagles-Vikings because of a blizzard, and it happened a view weeks ago when Bills-Titans had to be moved because of a separate COVID outbreak.

If the game goes ahead as scheduled, the Cowboys will have officially played on all seven days of the week - which is just interesting to me and my dorky sensibilities. The vast majority of that math is easy to do.

Obviously, playing on Sunday and Monday is an integral part of the NFL experience. Saturday games have also been a normal occurrence for decades, especially once the calendar turns to December and college football wraps its season. The Cowboys last played a regular season game on Saturday in 2015, when they lost to the New York Jets in one of the worst games I can remember watching. Matt Cassel got flagged for intentional grounding on a pass that was intercepted by Darrelle Revis, which is all you need to remember.

Thursday is obvious. The Cowboys have played on Thanksgiving regularly since 1966 and annually since 1978. They've also played seven other Thursday games on non-holidays, as the league has made Thursday night a league showcase in recent years. That leaves Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday.

The Cowboys had the rare opportunity for a Wednesday game as recently as 2012. Their season-opening game against the New York Giants, originally slated for Thursday, was moved forward so as not to conflict with a speech President Barack Obama was giving at the Democratic National Convention.

There have been two Friday games. The most recent came in 1999, when Dallas traveled to play New Orleans in a nationally televised Christmas Eve game. Prior to that, they hosted Philadelphia on a Friday night at the Cotton Bowl on Sept. 30, 1960.

Near as I can tell, that game happened on a Friday because the Dallas Texans - who would later become the Kansas City Chiefs - had first rights to the Cotton Bowl, and they were set to host the New York Titans two days later on Oct. 2.

Phew, it got pretty dork there for a second. My apologies.

The point being: all that's left is Tuesday. And barring any further twists and turns, we'll get to see it happen in a few days at M&T Bank Stadium. It's not my job to wade into the debate on #TeamTank versus #TeamDivisionChamps

The Cowboys have five games remaining, and those will decide whether they have a lofty draft pick or a home playoff game. It doesn't really matter what I prefer to happen, because they're the ones playing the games. All we can do is sit back and see what happens.

With that said, I'm beyond excited to be launching another season of "The Draft Show," starting tomorrow, Dec. 4.

It's pretty obvious from listening to y'all that draft coverage is what you're after. This has been an impossible season, and I don't blame anyone for wanting to try again with (hopefully) better luck in 2021. It's hard to drum up a ton of enthusiasm for a team that doesn't have its QB1 or 75% of its offensive line.

So, we'll see what the Cowboys manage to do in the next month. Maybe they'll finish strong, maybe they won't. Either way, there's nothing wrong with gearing up for the future, and that's what we're going to do.

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