The Cowboys lost Sunday and didn’t make the playoffs.
They needed one win to get in, and instead got blown out in the sort of game where if they’d played 100 games, the outcome wouldn’t have changed. The sort of game that makes you wonder if all the Dallas players owed their bookies money, or if Wade Phillips forfeited Saturday and somebody forgot to tell the team that that meant they didn’t need to actually play the game out.
In other words, it was ugly.
For a lot of people in the state, the NFL season is over, and it’s time for offseason evaluations. Tony Romo can’t win the big games. Phillips isn’t head coach material. Jerry Jones needs to stop trying to be the next Al Davis and focus on team chemistry. Whatever.
I have a friend who predicted before the season started that the Cowboys and Indianapolis Colts would be playing in the Super Bowl. ‘Round week nine or so, I was ribbing him pretty good for his picks.
“They’re going to play in the Super Bowl, huh? I thought you had to make the playoffs to get to the championship. Did they change the rules or something?”
But he stuck to his predictions, and come week 17, I was looking pretty dumb. The Colts had their playoff spot locked up and looked as good as any team in the league, and the Cowboys, as my friend was fond of telling me, were “just a five-game win streak away from another Super Bowl ring.”
Didn’t happen. So much for his prophetic powers, eh?
“It’s so unfair to judge things by their results instead of the process!”
That’s not his complaint, it’s mine, in things as small as football predictions and as large as wars, which is a pretty big leap, but they share the malady of infecting evaluations with hindsight.
A pretty common example is fourth-down conversion attempts. In just about every situation, a coach that makes it is smart, and the coach that doesn’t is stupid, should have gone for a field goal, punted, called something different.
Gambling, buying stock, making pronouncements about the future price of oil – you can look very stupid depending on how things turn out, even if you made a very well-reasoned decision beforehand. Meanwhile, someone who goes from their gut and gets it right looks positively brilliant.
David Axelrod, Karl Rove, James Carville and Lee Atwater are all political geniuses and relatively well known for it. A few hundred votes in Florida are all the difference between cutthroat, Rovian politics being considered ineffective and you having to look Bob Shrum up on Wikipedia to understand this sentence.
It’s arguable whether President Truman was justified in dropping the atomic bombs on Japan, but what’s inarguable is that in 1945 Truman would have been unforgivably foolish to make any other choice. Facing what he did, knowing what he did, who at that time could have done any different? The choice wouldn’t be any worse if the A-bombs had killed millions of Japanese, though it would be a greater tragedy.
Results can’t doom or vindicate, only illustrate.
A decision based on faith, coincidence, chance, stubbornness or expectations that “always has” means “always will” is a bad one, no matter how it turns out.
And yet results are pretty much all we have to go on, so we’re stuck with them.
Romo has played badly in big games. Phillips hasn’t been an “elite” head coach. And the only constant during the past decade of Cowboy futility has been Jerry Jones.
If they win next year, none of that will matter. But who, looking at them now, can expect it?