The Catch That Wasn’t

Author: Justin Rath (HS Senior)

A packed stadium watches eagerly, beads of sweat running down thousands of faces, as Tony Romo drops back into the pocket on fourth down, with the Dallas Cowboys’ season on the line. A quick look to the right, then back to the left, Romo poises to throw the ball to his best receiver, Dez Bryant. He rears his arm back and throws what might be the defining pass of his helter-skelter football career. Not the tightest spiral that has ever been thrown, the loosely thrown ball sits in the air for what seems like hours to the millions of viewers, and as it reaches Bryant’s hands, the anticipation only grows. Bryant goes air-borne and secures both hands on the ball while a helpless corner back guarding Bryant, Sam Shields, can only hope for a miracle. As Bryant descends, he tucks the ball against his right shoulder pad in hopes that he can not only make the catch, but score a touchdown as well. The star receiver lands on the ground, takes a few steps, and makes a heroic lunge for the end zone. The referee signals a catch, but the outstretched arms of the six foot two inch receiver was not enough to reach the end zone; nevertheless, Bryant had put his team in an ideal position inside the one yard line. The Cowboys line up to run another play until head referee, Gene Steratore, calls for the play to be reviewed. The crew hustles to the replay booth, spends a few minutes reviewing the play, and then comes to a decision. Steratore walks out slowly as an anxious stadium awaits a call that will decide the fates of both teams. He fixes his microphone and begins to announce the dreaded words that Cowboys fans did not want to hear; put shortly, Dez Bryant did not catch the ball.

Was it catch? Was the rule in place valid enough to overturn the call? Or was it “the crime of the century” as sports analyst Skip Bayless put it. Who is being asked, might be a better question. A stubborn yet newly satisfied Detroit Lions’ fan would beam about justice being served as they too were faced with a controversial game changing call the previous week against the Dallas Cowboys. An exuberant Green Bay Packers’ fan would respond with a demonstrative yes stating the call was completely just because the referees did their job by sticking to the rule book, while a lamenting Cowboys’ fan will argue back saying the rule was too vague because the term “football move” is unclear to not only the public, but to every player in the NFL as well. Cowboys’ enthusiasts would argue that quite simply, the term “football move” has no definition, as it is part of the definition of what a “catch” is. Moreover, if the term were to have a solid definition to it, Cowboys fans would vouch that a receiver who catches a ball, takes three steps, lunges for the end zone, and hits the ground before slightly bobbling the ball but ultimately maintaining possession, would fit the presumed definition of the ambiguous term. Cowboys’ fans turn towards their team’s renowned receiver, Dez Bryant, as even he stated post game, after watching the replay himself that he believed he had caught the ball. Tears streamed from the receiver’s eyes when talking about the play, but what exactly brought these tears about? Did Bryant deep down know that his “catch” was in fact not a catch, and that if he had held on to the ball throughout the process, he and his team would be the team preparing to play a game in seven days, or were the receiver’s tears genuinely because he felt like his team’s season was taken away by a blown call. This is one of many questions that will never be answered, but it does bring about a fair question for Cowboys’ fans, why?

“Why what?” a Cowboys’ fan would confusingly reply. “Why and what is the real reason for the anger that has taken place during this post-catch era.” A shallow, ubiquitous answer from the anger-filled majority of Cowboys’ fans would be that it was clearly a catch; he took three steps after he caught the ball, and the refs clearly blew the game. While that answer may have some validity to it, it is only scratching the surface to why Cowboys’ fans, four months after the infamous play took place, still have the sour taste lingering in their mouths. This common response has filled not only the Dallas area, but has been present all across the country for America’s team who once again, even after breaking the barrier of getting past the first round, continues to come up short, year after year. The anger, contrary to what most Cowboys’ fans will say, may not be because of a supposed blown call; it may not even be relevant to the game that took place in mid-January. This long-lasting bitterness, that has consumed the preponderance of Cowboys nation, may in fact have been building up for nine years, when the Tony Romo era commenced.

“Disconcerting”, a description most Cowboys’ fans will agree with when asked what it has been like to root for the team over the past decade. A decade of complete, utter failure it has been for a franchise that expects to win consistently. A decade that began when Tony Romo, in his first season as a Dallas Cowboy, fumbled the ball to lose the game for his team in what looked like a potentially promising playoff run. Any Cowboys’ fan will say that the play from nine years ago is still in the back of his or her mind as every year since has seen the Dallas Cowboys going no further than the second round and winning a total of two playoff games. A franchise that has been superb throughout its history has won less playoff games in the last nine years than it had won in eight different previous seasons individually. This year’s enduring animosity within Jerry nation seems to be nine year’s worth of anger that has continually built up and was finally released when Dez, bluntly put, dropped the ball. Coming so close to a catch, that almost every Cowboys’ fan in America convinced him or herself that Bryant caught the ball, and when again put forth with a result that did not appease, the fans lost it, and the infamous “it was a catch” phrase was thrown out there. Bryant’s comments did not help when he came out and told the world he thought it was a catch, giving fans reason to keep griping about a call that would never change. For him, it could have been self-denial that he, the great Dez Bryant, the best of the wide receivers in the NFL, and the face of the league, dropped a ball he knew he should have held on to. A man, just as most would have responded, did not want the blame of yet another short-lived Cowboys’ season to be hoisted completely on him. He had seen what it is like in Cowboys nation when one player is completely blamed for the loss as he is teammates and good friends with Tony Romo. Bryant knows of the long off season that would have come about had he put the blame completely on him, and human nature told him to run from that road and to play the blame game, as most people would have done as well. For the fans, had Bryant come out and said he dropped the ball, not much would have changed besides the fact that their anger would have been mixed with more of a feeling of helplessness. Of the previous eight seasons, the majority of them have been served up with a typical “Tony Romo screw up” and fans have had Romo to blame. This year, the man who usually messes up, surprisingly is the one to deliver a perfect pass in a crucial moment to one of the best receivers in the world, and if the fans were faced with the devastating fact that Bryant himself admitted he simply could not get the job done when the game was on the line, fans would be faced with the cold hard truth that no one was capable of getting it done if the top receiver in the league could not come through for their Dallas Cowboys franchise.

A good cover up it is for Cowboys’ fans to say they are still mad because the referees blew the call or the rule was unjust or any outlandish excuse that has been thrown out. Yet it seems that the fans have experienced one “déjà vu” too many and after seeing another promising season come to an abrupt close, the fans had no other choice but to cry out in disgust not only for a few days or a few weeks, but for an ongoing few months. It was the cherry on top to a disappointing run that Cowboys’ fans could no longer keep quiet about. Denial might be the best way to put it. No way, after the repeated let downs, could something this drastic tear away the hopes and dreams for some who have been waiting a long time for nothing. It almost seems inevitable that each season for the Cowboys will come up short regardless of the talent on its roster as the future seems quite bleak for the Tony Romo era. For Cowboys’ fans, the question still reigns and many ponder about what the past nine years would have been like had Romo not fumbled the football; the only reasonable conclusion that can be maintained is if Romo had not fumbled that football nine years ago, Dez Bryant would not have had the opportunity to drop that ball.

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