The Cowboys Really Are America's Team

In the almost unbearable breadth of its offerings on the subjects of napping puppies, curious baby sloths and farting iguanas, YouTube is something more than a miracle — the vast triviality of all those acres of lush, stunning webshit is too wicked, too beautiful to have originated upstairs. There’s a kind of freaky groupthink to the YouTube-memes that boil up, tornado-like, from YouTube’s flat and desolate interior, but there’s something great about those, too, and compromises are to be expected when you’re talking about something that functions as an illustrated psychic septic system for the entire Internet. The comments section — home to the most dead-certain and dread-inducing almost-humans ever to pass judgment on whether or not a 30-second video is or isn’t “a gay retard” — is a Category Five barfstorm more or less without exception, of course, and most of what’s there to see on the site is astonishingly useless. But when it comes to YouTube’s basement, or the part of it right above phone-cammed high school fights and Four Loko chug-vids, you have to turn to the first-person webcam stuff.

I’ve watched literal hours of YouTube footage on beavers — they’re very industrious and forward-thinking; I find them admirable — but I can’t watch more than 30-odd seconds of the direct-to-camera videos that make up somewhere between 30 and 140 percent of YouTube’s content. One in particular is on my mind as I sit down to write this, although I’ve blocked a lot of it from my memory. Still, I remember mirthless, mocking, painfully fake laughter — it was the first thing the guy did. I remember a big face, smooth and smirking and mortadella-pink and belonging to a pudgy somebody between the ages of 15 and 40, and then it rocks back in some sick desk chair and this mocking laughter comes out of it. I remember, I think, a Jason Witten jersey. There was definitely a Cowboys hat. And this was, definitely — so very definitely — a Cowboys fan. And since he was laughing at everyone watching his video — the first thing he did was lord some weird thing over his audience! — we can figure that it was probably Week 4, some years ago. It’s hard to say when, but it’s also not important.

It’s not important because it could’ve been recorded at any time during the eight or so years, but also because its awfulness was so fearsomely perfect and totally terrible and timeless and transcendent and if you are not there with me yet I should say that I fucking hate it, and hate that it’s in my head. But there, behind my eyelids and staring into a webcam in some wall-to-walled bedroom — fully dipped in logo wear like a sixth grader on the Friday before a big game, pink and hammish and gutting out that painfully fake laugh — is pretty much the ur-Cowboy Fan. The alpha and the omega of the NFL’s least-loved fan base, but also just some goony butthead — I am not using that colloquially, he looked like a giant pink butt-cheek — chuckling into a webcam over a victory that no one remembers and that, as near as I could tell, didn’t even seem to please him that much. I want to find this video and plug it in. But I also really do not. Anyway, it’s not really necessary that you see it. If you follow the NFL, you already know what this person looks like — you may have another face or painful laugh in your mind, but you have one. And if you don’t follow the NFL, you’ve seen this guy, too — on CNN or at work or ruining your happy hour from down the bar. You know this person, and I highly doubt that you like him very much. He’s a Cowboys fan, and he’s a specific and recognizable kind of American male, and wow do you ever not want to talk to this guy — he’s got wing breath like whoa, for one thing, and there is a bottomless sinkhole of self-doubt and fear underneath all that loud-voiced braggadocio. Do not let him get drunk.

I don’t know that there’s any way to prove that Cowboys fans are America’s most disliked sports fans. They may not even be the most unpopular NFL fans — Jets fans can be almost impossibly loutish, Eagles fans will straight-up vomit at you if they think you’re within range, and Raiders fans dress like they’re in Gwar, are almost certainly concealing some sort of homemade sword. What sets Cowboys fans apart, at least in my imagination, is also what makes that man-tadella in the YouTube video so tough to take — a sense that, somewhere along the line, the fan existence on display there is somehow both more loathsomely needy and less pleasurable than the usual sports-fan transference transaction. That awful, awful chuckling — an unmistakable attempt at gloaty laughing-at — is tough to take not just because that’s kind of a dick way to start a communication, but because it feels so brittle and false and desperate. It’d be poignant if it weren’t for, you know, everything I just described above.

The Cowboys have one win in six games, and will play much of the rest of the season without quarterback Tony Romo, who broke his collarbone against the Giants on Monday Night. They’re among the top teams in the NFL in offense (fifth in total offense) and defense (10th in yards-allowed), and have suffered some terrible luck thus far and are one of a few NFL teams — the Chargers, who are 2–5 and rank first in the NFL in both categories, jump out as another — currently far underperforming their actual, um, performance. The Cowboys roster is as talented as ever, and the players on it as implausibly, brayingly brash as if they were cruising towards an undefeated season. There might be something affecting about this particular bit of deluded athlete vainglory, if it weren’t manifesting in confused bluster from the same guys who author elaborate on-field celebrations after making middling plays in lopsided losses. The sort of pump-it-up-when-you-don’t-even-mean-it defiance that can look almost admirable when it’s coming from a hopeless case like the Buffalo Bills.

But it’s Dallas, and it’s the Cowboys, and so it’s different. Head coach Wade Phillips, who resembles a cheerful old baby when the team is going well and appears to be a nice enough man, looks heartsick at his press conferences. The team is now and for the near future in the hands of affable, ridiculous backup quarterback Jon Kitna, a confident, born-again 38-year-old pick-chucker who has claimed to have concussions healed instantaneously by divine intervention and who has the tiny, depthless eyes of a stuffed animal. Columnists are calling for mass firings, which of course is what columnists do. The team can’t win at its billion-dollar home stadium, which more and more has the feel of a haunted space casino by the end of games. It’s not a good scene, in short.

The Cowboys are talented enough — and Phillips’s interesting defensive scheming protean and creative enough — to be fun to watch when everything’s working right, but the team is fundamentally a preening, steroidal bully with a weak chin. That the team hasn’t been a serious postseason threat since Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer presided over rosters that, if Jeff Pearlman’s book on the Cowboys 1990s dynasty is to be believed, were essentially unusually violent years-long episodes of “Oz” barely matters, really. It certainly doesn’t matter to me, and it seems not to have punctured the grandiosity of a fan base that has apparently modeled itself on Jones, a noxious oilman whose self-importance astounds even by noxious-oilman standards. Thus the more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger fan-tweets announcing that BoysFan17 has come to the regrettable conclusion that Coach Phillips “must step down.” Thus Jones’s peremptory, dead-serious quotes to the media refusing to comment further on the team’s future plans, delivered with the solemnity and don’t-have-time-for-this peevishness of a prosecutor at a war crimes tribunal.

But while there’s something bleakly comic about the fact that the Cowboys and their fans are the last ones to get this particular joke, there’s something more deeply bleak about it all that casts a faint chill over even those of us who enjoy a good Cowboys loss. Propelled by inherited and incautiously worn pride, heroically misplaced priorities and an inability or unwillingness to look themselves in the eye, the Cowboys and their more stereotypical fans have found themselves in a position that’s uncomfortably familiar to anyone paying attention to things other than YouTube in 2010. That is: bellies full, pockets flush, but somehow and suddenly also profoundly, painfully powerless to do anything about anything, and unwilling or unable to admit that anything’s amiss. As their on-paper mastery leads to defeat after defeat, as their owner rattles vainly around his personal monument to phallocratic plu-Texan excess — the new Cowboys Stadium cost $1.2 billion, roughly $325 million of it public funds; a Cowboys Stadium pizza costs $60 — and as the team continues to rejoice in its confounding and stubborn mediocrity, the Cowboys start to look a lot like… well, America’s Team. But America circa-now, the hacked-off and incoherent and aggrieved-to-the-bone America that rages its willfully un-understood impotence from every screen, everywhere. It’s not anything worth laughing at, really, but it does at least give a sense of why that man-ham’s YouTube chuckles rang so sickly false. He’s not in on the joke, but he’s not unaware of it.

And the picks… it’d be funny if after all that I picked the Cowboys to win, I guess. I think they will win, actually, but I don’t see Jon Kitna quarterbacking any team to a comfortable win over any other team. Dude’s like Brett Favre, with the stubbly vanity replaced by devout, clean-shaven self-belief and the interceptions doubled in frequency and intensity. I had a good week last week, but am notably less confident about this week’s picks. It’s been two weeks since I really watched a game, so I’m picking on my own crummy instincts at this point. As ever, the coin flips are by Garey G. Ris, and the lines are by

Week 7 (And Overall): David Roth: 10–4 (46–52–6); Al Toonie The Lucky Canadian Two-Dollar Coin: 7–7 (46–51–5)

Sunday, October 31
• Washington at Detroit (-2.5), 1:00 pm — DR: Washington; ATTLCTDC: Detroit
• Buffalo at Kansas City (-7.5), 1:00 pm — DR: Buffalo; ATTLCTDC: Buffalo
• Denver at San Francisco (-1), 1:00 pm — DR: Denver; ATTLCTDC: Denver
• Miami at Cincinnati (-1.5), 1:00 pm — DR: Miami; ATTLCTDC: Miami
• Green Bay at New York Jets (-6), 1:00 pm — DR: New Jersey J;ATTLCTDC: Green Bay
• Carolina at St. Louis (-3), 1:00 pm — DR: St. Louis; ATTLCTDC: St. Louis
• Jacksonville at Dallas (-6.5), 1:00 pm — DR: Jacksonville; ATTLCTDC: Dallas
• Tennessee at San Diego (-3.5), 4:05pm — DR: Tennessee; ATTLCTDC: San Diego
• Tampa Bay at Arizona (-3), 4:15 pm — DR: Tampa Bay; ATTLCTDC: Arizona
• Minnesota at New England (-6), 4:15 pm — DR: New England; ATTLCTDC: New England
• Seattle at Oakland (-2.5), 4:15 pm — DR: Oakland; ATTLCTDC: Seattle
• Pittsburgh at New Orleans (PICK), 8:20 pm — Weird note on this one: for the picks we do at the Wall Street Journal’s Daily Fix page, my co-writer and I put our predictions up against something called AccuScore, which simulates each game 10,000 times and projects a score. AccuScore has this game ending in a 23.6 to 23.6 tie. DR: Pittsburgh; ATTLCTDC: New Orleans

Monday, November 1
• Houston at Indianapolis (-5.5), 8:30 pm — DR: Indianapolis; ATTLCTDC: Houston

David Roth co-writes the Wall Street Journal’s Daily Fix, contributes to the sports blog Can’t Stop the Bleeding and has his own little website. And he tweets!

Photo by suzismini, from Flickr.