There was a small, shallow, dirty creek about a mile away from my apartment when I was growing up that served as a makeshift playground for my friends and me during the span of a few months.
In my lifetime, I have driven, biked, or walked by it more times than I could possibly count, and yet I really only have three vivid and distinct memories of the creek.
The first was when my friends and I found a huge yellow rope swing that sailed across the creek bed. We spent countless hours on that very swing over the course of several summer weeks, until one day we showed up to find that a concerned parent had cut it down (and ruined our fun).
The second was when my mother was driving my brother and I home from dinner, and I got fed up with her “slow” driving, insisting that I could run faster than the car.
After accepting my challenge and leaving me in her dust, she mercifully let me back into the car about 30 yards down the street, defeated and humbled.
The final memory is, on the surface, the most peculiar. But, looking back on it now, it might also be the most significant to me.
On an early February afternoon in 1994, I was again in the car and my family was listening to the radio. As we were driving by the creek, the radio host introduced me to a brand new acronym that I had never heard before:
“B.I.L.L.S.—Boy I Love Losing Super Bowls”
This is my first true memory of being a Cowboys fan.
I still clearly remember sitting in the car and thinking how absolutely hysterical it was that the poor Buffalo Bills had been to four straight Super Bowls without winning one, and my Cowboys had just won their second in a row.
I was proud. I was cocky. I was smug...I was a Dallas Cowboys football fan.
However, while I have rooted for the home team Cowboys for as long as I can remember, it was not until I became a true fan of the NFL that I completely understood the magnitude of this great franchise and how important they really are to me.
After all, I was 11 years old the last time the Cowboys won a Super Bowl and 12 the last time they won a playoff game. At that time, I could not comprehend the greatness of that early '90s dynasty or appreciate how long it might be, if ever, before my team would experience that kind of success again.
While the Cowboys have always been my favorite team, my second favorite has always been the underdog, whoever that might be on any given day. Who doesn't love it when David slays Goliath, Rocky knocks out Mr. T, and the nerd gets the cheerleader?
It was when I left home for school in the fall of 2002 that the perfect storm of “sports fandom” hit me.
Not only was I now living in a dormitory surrounded by hundreds of teenage guys who loved football and the Cowboys as much as me, but for the first time since I was a toddler, my two “favorite” teams—the Cowboys and “the underdog”—were now one and the same.
Yes, coming off two straight 5-11 seasons in 2000 and 2001, the Dallas Cowboys were officially and undeniably underdogs.
I was no longer spoiled with a great team that could be easily taken for granted. Instead, I had to take my lumps and watch my team go through their lows just like every other fan of every other franchise.
Strangely enough, I cherished this.
I got more personally invested in the team as I watched them grow, and I tried to grow in my knowledge of the sport at the same time. I was determined to be the best fan I could be while things were bad, because I knew it would only make the good times sweeter.
I started watching more football than ever, and not just Cowboys football. Whether it was college or professional , my weekends (and Monday nights, of course) became completely devoted to watching and learning the game of football, oftentimes to the detriment of my school work.
The more I watched, the more obsessed I became.
When I was not watching the game, I was reading about it. I wanted to know what the experts, players, coaches, and other fans thought about my team. Were they going to finally be good again this year? Will they be better next year?
I learned the names of their up-and-coming players, and I watched them as they continued to get better. I learned about the older players I never had the privilege of watching, and dreamed of the days when my current Cowboys team would mirror their predecessors.
The NFL and the Cowboys were no longer just a sport and team that I casually followed on Sunday afternoons. They became a passion of mine, and I fell head over heels in love with Dallas Cowboys football.
I am still waiting for the day when this team rises back from the ashes and reclaims its spot as one of the NFL’s elite. Until then, however, I will have to be content to think, talk, and write about them.
The Dallas Cowboys. America’s Team. My Team.