The Incredible Lightness of Failure

Wade Phillips speaks on his job prospects:


"I'm not into all of that," Phillips said. "I don't even know who we play next. I was focused on this game."

I think the sight of a head coach claiming--even in mock jest--that he does not know his upcoming opponent, is exactly the sort of thing that usually raises the blood temperature of the fans of a failing team. But I saw that quote and meekly laughed to myself. The Dallas Cowboys are in the midst of, arguably, the worst season in their entire history, and while their failure pained me deeply for the first four games, I have, of late, found a new freedom in futility and incompetence. 

I can't speak for other sports fans, but much of the agony of following a team comes from the distance between expectations and reality. Pain comes when you're rooting for a team which you think has some chance to go all the way, and then loses to a better team. Agony comes when that team is blown out by a better team. But torture comes when that team outgains a purportedly lesser team, and then shoots itself in the foot whenever possible.

When the Cowboys would lose in the mid-90s it would ruin my entire week. I lived in D.C. then, and I wouldn't even be able to pick up the paper--much less the sports section--on those weeks. Never did I suffer so much over something that presented so little tangible gain. When the Cowboys lost to the Vikings last year, I was in a bad mood until Wednesday. But when they were blow out yesterday, an eerie calm took over.

There is something really awesome about expecting nothing out of yourself, or your team. The best comparison I can muster are my days as 298 pound man. I was fat and knew it, and that was fine. I ate what I wanted, whenever I wanted, and wherever I wanted. And then I had to make my life difficult, by getting conscious. Whereas before failure was a certainty, a reality, now I was in limbo. Now I had expectations.

This is the mystic beauty implicit in these woeful Cowboys--they free me of expectations. For the first time in almost two decades, I am freed to take interest in the rest of the league. I can actually take some real joy from watching Michael Vick, Peyton Hillis or Adrian Peterson. And if they lose? Oh well. It was just a fling anyway.

Perhaps this is what it feels like to live in Detroit.

UPDATE: And Wade Phillips is fired, according to Dallas talk radio.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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