Like anyone from Dallas, the Cowboys .500 record is cause for abject sorrow on my part. It makes me uneasy; I lash out at friends and co-workers with no provocation; I wake up sobbing at night, clutching a picture of the '95 Cowboys in one hand, and a half-empty bottle of whiskey in the other. Make no mistake, the optimism of mid-September is unaffected by any rationale, any thought that the Cowboys just might not be very good. It's in my blood.
Hence the sting of mediocrity come mid-October, as Dallas dropped yet another winnable game, this time to the Denver Broncos, once again sending the team to a .500 record, an incontrovertible state of sports-mediocrity; at least, I thought that's what it meant.
Ken Hamlin refuses to label this edition of the Cowboys as mediocre, which is good; it's also a stance that's kind of indefensible.
"Who says we're mediocre?" Hamlin said on Monday. "Who says it though? The media? I don't concern myself with media--being 2-2 doesn't mean you're mediocre."
I like the sentiment; but for outsiders, there's little getting around the semantics of the situation. Merriam-Webster defines mediocrity, in this context, as "moderate ability or value;" M-W defines "moderate" as "tending toward the mean or average amount or dimension."
Mean, or average; kind of like a .500 record. Not good, not bad; just, well, mediocre.
"I can go back in the past and we can sit here and go through teams who were 1-3, 2-2, or whatever at this point in time and still went to the Super Bowl," Hamlin continued. "Just because the media says we're mediocre, I don't concern myself with that. If I wasn't convinced, I'd snatch my name off that locker and go home."
Again, this is a stance that is crucial to the Cowboys, within the context of the locker room, if they hope for anything better than an 8-8, playoff-less season. And, as Hamlin infers, it would be ridiculous to think that anyone in the locker room would concede such a point. But we are without the benefit of self-belief, and team spirit and all the other lessons we learned from Remember The Titans. (As a point of comparison, the Titans were anything but mediocre.)
But one would be hard-pressed (Cowboys fan or not) to offer a convincing argument of Dallas being any more than mediocre; the team probably has above-average talent, and they have a visibility that would point to anything but a middle-of-the-road football team.
These things do not an above-average football team make, though, necessarily; this is particularly true of one that has not yet beaten a team with a win, and sits tied for fourth in the East with the chaotic and struggling Redskins.
Make no mistake: The Cowboys are mediocre, and they will be until they prove definitively that they're more than that.