Oh, the pain Dallas Cowboys fans feel the Monday after this Super Bowl.
Gone is the opportunity to continually taunt Philadelphia Eagles fans over their lack of Super Bowl wins. Yes, the Cowboys can point to five championships, but those are ancient history. The Eagles, with their thrilling 41-33 victory in Super Bowl LII against the New England Patriots, have bragging rights for at least the next 12 months and likely longer.
The pain runs deep because Philadelphia’s winning touchdown looked similar to a non-catch that ended the Cowboys’ chances to stop their Super Bowl drought in 2014.
On Zach Ertz’s 11-yard touchdown catch with 2:21 remaining, the Philadelphia tight end took two steps and dived for the end zone, with the ball hitting the ground after crossing the goal line.
Every scoring play is reviewed, and this one took a longer time than expected.
“I didn’t even think there was anything to review,” Ertz said. “I knew that you kind of had to after every touchdown, but I didn’t know there was a reason behind it, that it was going to be that close, that they had to go over and spend what seemed like an eternity over there.”
That Gene Steratore was the referee should not have been lost on Cowboys fans. He was the referee in Oakland in Week 15, pulling a piece of paper out to measure a Dallas first down. He was also the referee in the playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers in the 2014 season.
Late in the fourth quarter and facing fourth down, Tony Romo sent a pass down the sideline to Dez Bryant that would have given the Cowboys a first down at the 1. Bryant leaped over Sam Shields for the pass, wrestled the ball away, took two steps and dived for the goal line. The ball popped in the air, but Bryant took control of it again in the end zone.
The initial signal was a catch for a first down, but Packers coach Mike McCarthy challenged the play. After a similar eternity, Steratore overturned the call on the field, and the Cowboys never got the ball back, seeing their season end in controversial fashion.
In Super Bowl LII, Steratore was talking with Al Riveron, the director of officiating. In the 2014 playoffs, he was talking with Dean Blandino.
What was a catch Sunday was not a catch in the 2014 playoffs.
To this day, Bryant believes he caught the ball. The Cowboys believe he caught the ball. Their fans, to their last breath, believe Bryant caught the ball. Just last week, the obituary of Dallas fan Robert Clyde Drew of Wichita Falls, Texas, made reference to Bryant’s catch. Bryant shared the obit on his Instagram account.
As Steratore confirmed Ertz’s touchdown catch Sunday, thousands — if not millions — of Cowboys fans had to wonder why he did not do the same for Bryant’s catch.
Had the call been overturned, Philadelphia likely would have settled for a field goal attempt and taken a 35-33 lead. The Patriots’ strategy would have been different, knowing a field goal would win the game in the final two minutes. Instead, needing a touchdown they had to be more aggressive, and Brandon Graham was able to force a fumble on the only sack of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, leading to an Eagles’ field goal and eight-point lead.
There are no what-ifs for the Eagles — just a Super Bowl victory.
The Cowboys have plenty of what-ifs from 2014. Had they scored the go-ahead touchdown against the Packers, there is no telling whether they could have stopped Aaron Rodgers. But they would have liked to have had the opportunity to see what happened.
Had the Cowboys won, they would have played the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game at Century Link Field, where they had won the previous October. A win would have been difficult but not impossible.
Who knows — maybe the Cowboys would have gone on to win, appear in Super Bowl XLIX and beat the Patriots too.
Romo’s narrative could have been changed forever. Jason Garrett’s ability would not be questioned as much. And Jerry Jones could finally find peace in success without Jimmy Johnson.
But now Nick Foles’ narrative is changed forever, Doug Pederson is a genius and Howie Roseman is a guru.