When did the Dallas Cowboys’ season officially end? You could certainly point to several moments in the their dreadful 44-6 drubbing at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, the team’s most lopsided loss in 20 years, but the moment I knew their season was done came shortly before kickoff when Fox Sports announcer Joe Buck came on the air and announced that Tampa Bay and Chicago had lost and the game that was about to kickoff was "now a playoff game."
Any Cowboys fan who didn’t cringe at hearing that hasn’t been watching this team very closely over the past 12 years. There aren’t many things you can take to the bank in today’s ever-changing landscape of the NFL, which has seen nine different Super Bowl winners over the past 12 years (there were only eight different winners over the previous 25 years), but the one constant since 1997 is that the Cowboys will always fade in December and always lose in the playoffs. The Cowboys haven’t had a winning record in December since 1996 and haven’t won a playoff game since then either.
To put it in historical context, the last time the Cowboys won a playoff game Bill Clinton had yet to have "relations" with Monica Lewinsky, Titanic was still a full year away from launching the careers of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslett and Seal was lighting up the airwaves with "Kiss From A Rose." If that still doesn’t seem like forever ago, consider that in 1996 gas prices ranged from 78 cents to $1.60 per gallon.
For a team with the unmatched resources, history and national fanbase the Cowboys boast, this current streak of playoff failure isn’t just embarrassing, it’s inconceivable. Never before have the Cowboys been in such an extended playoff drought. It only took them seven years to win their first playoff game after going winless as an expansion franchise in 1960. Even the dark days of the late 1980s lasted only nine years before the Cowboys started winning again in January. Not only have they gone 12 years without a playoff win, they’ve lost their last five post-season games; both are easily team records. As is their current nine-game losing streak in season finales.
The Detroit Lions, who just finished up the league’s first 0-16 season and haven’t won a playoff game since beating the Cowboys in 1991, are the only other team in the NFC to have not won a playoff game longer than Dallas.
Notre Dame’s 14-year bowl win drought, which saw the Irish lose nine straight post-season games, used to be the most embarrassing streak in sports in terms of a storied team’s fall from grace. But with Notre Dame’s 49-21 rout of Hawaii in the Hawaii Bowl last week, the Cowboys’ current streak, highlighted by their record drubbing in Philadelphia, easily makes their streak the most embarrassing. At least similarly storied franchises such as the Yankees, Red Sox, Lakers, Celtics and Red Wings have all won championships (not to mention dozens of playoff games) since 1997.
When you’re the Clippers -- who, by the way, have seven more playoff wins than the Cowboys during this drought -- you expect to lose. It’s the only history you’ve ever known. But for the Cowboys, this is formally uncharted territory that is quickly becoming the norm for the most valuable sports franchise in America (at least according to Forbes) as it heads into a brand new billion-dollar stadium. While the Cowboys have often been mocked for their presumptuous nickname, considering the depression the country is in after years of irresponsible spending and mismanagement, maybe the term “America’s Team” has never reflected the current state of the team better.