I was 9. We visited, frequently, the house of a friend of my mother — she had a son, around the same age, and we became friends. Or were forced to be. Either way, we spent a proper amount of time around each other.
Up until that point, I wasn’t very well acquainted with the world of sports. My mother hauled me out of soccer when I was 6 (with the irrational fear that I would shatter my kneecaps (????????), and that was the last time any semblance of sport entered my 108 month-old life. Until then, Mario and Darkwing Duck were my shit.
We played video games, which I was no stranger to, but this kid was particularly into a game called “Madden ’93”. Professional Football. The NFL. The Dallas Cowboys. What?
I played, somewhat begrudgingly, as any 9 year-old with able fingers and a general disdain for hanging out with or around grown-ups would do.
I didn’t understand anything. Play-action? Draw? Deep Outs? Quick Slant? What the ***? Whatever, it was a game and it was better than watching my sister eat biscuits in my mother’s lap.
Time and time again we would visit, and the only game this kid had interest in playing was Madden. So, being that it was his turf, I played. And I learned. I grasped the concept of touchdowns, downs, turnovers, the difference between run and pass plays. I understood, living in Dallas, who to root for/scramble to pick in the “Select a Team” screen. Soon, I was hooked. Even sooner, I began to map what I absorbed from the video game to real life.
I started watching every Dallas Cowboy game I could. The players I had played with in the game were real, tangible characters — unlike Mario or Darkwing Duck. #22 was Emmitt Smith, I came to learn. #8, was the illustrious Troy Aikman. #88, “The Playmaker”, Michael Irvin. #21, “Primetime”, “Neon Deion”, Deion Sanders.
That year, the Cowboys played in the SuperBowl. I now look back at this as fate (my wife would likely insert the word “cruel” before “fate”). If the Cowboys had sucked that year, it’s plausible to think I would have moved on to a different interest. Maybe Chess. Or Pokemon. Yoyo. I don’t know.
But they kept winning. They beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XXX, and had my loyalty forever. This was America’s Team, as I had come to learn and recognize, and they had proved it — in my first year as a football fan.
I was spoiled. I thought they would win every year, and invested every ounce of my being into supporting the team that opened my eyes to the world of Football. They delivered, on a silver platter, my first taste of what it was to be a champion. Neil O’Donnell was their bitch, and they were my team.
Since then, I haven’t missed a game I didn’t have the opportunity to watch. If there was a TV and it was Sunday or Monday (by the way, **** Thursday, Roger Goodell) during the NFL season, I watched the Cowboys. I watched, with tears, Aikman, Emmitt and Irvin’s careers come to an end.
I watched this team through Randall Cunningham, Troy Hambrick, Joey Galloway, Chad Hutchinson, Drew Henson, Ryan Leaf, Quincy Carter, Clint Stoerner, Chan Gailey, Vinny Testaverde, Billy Davis, David LaFleur, Larry Allen, Dave Campo, Bill Parcells, Flozell Adams, George Teague, et. al. I watched it all, for better or for worse.
My love for the Cowboys soon turned into adulation and pride for the city. Soon, I was watching the Rangers, Stars and Mavericks whenever I could. I stayed up until 2AM to watch the Stars win the Stanley Cup in 1999. I watched the Rangers fall in back-to-back years to the hated New York Yankees, and supported a laughing-stock of a team through the early 2000’s. I watched Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash as N(BAbies).
The 4th Out is a culmination of the knowledge and love I have for sport — particularly the 4 teams I followed with relentless passion, in the city I grew to admire. I’ve always had opinions, and have an overwhelmingly unrealistic belief that I could probably run any of these teams better than they’ve been run.
I’m a Romo-supporter, a Jon Daniels’ believer, and a Nowitzness. I believe Mike Modano was a magnificent, galloping horse on ice and that Alex Rodriguez is a colossal douchebag. I hate Tom Hicks, love Mark Cuban, and can’t stand Jerry Jones. Nolan Ryan is a legend, Rusty Greer’s career ended too soon, and I really wish Raef LaFrentz never happened.
These are my thoughts. You’ve been warned.