When two words can inspire emotion and passion it is special. “Play Ball,” “Happy Birthday” and “Love Ya” are examples of two-word phrases that make me smile and bring me joy.
Now for an example that may not be so obvious or universal: Training Camp.
To me, those two words are rich with subtext and implication. To me, training camp means, “The Dallas Cowboys are set to embark on another season, which, of course, means that they have a chance to capture the affection of football fans everywhere, and they have a chance to win another Super Bowl.”
Those two words don’t have that same meaning every year. In fact, this is the first time since the ‘90s that those two words have made my brain construct a 37-word word run-on sentence.
But that is where we are with this team. The Cowboys are good, they are ready – and they are built to live up to the usually lofty expectations of a fan base that is absolutely spoiled by the success of previous generations of America’s Team.
That is not to say this will be easy. The NFL loves parity and does not like dynasties, so the league is very good at making it very difficult for teams to have back-to-back great seasons.
Last year, the Cowboys played a last-place schedule; recall that Tony Romo was hurt in 2015, and the Cowboys limped to a 4-12 record. That ensured an easier schedule in 2016, and the Cowboys took advantage even though Tony got hurt again.
But after Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott lead them to a 13-3 record last year, the Cowboys will play a first-place schedule this season, and that will make repeating as NFC East Champs a tall order. However, it’s not as tough as some years in the past. The strength-of-schedule numbers indicate that the Cowboys have the 10th-toughest schedule in the league, and divisional rivals New York and Washington have what appear to be even tougher rows to hoe than Dallas.
The team from Washington has the seventh-toughest schedule, the Giants are No. 8, and the Philadelphia Eagles are actually tied with the Cowboys at No. 10.
The best news for this team is that it is returning a bunch of players that still don’t even know what they don’t know. Dak and Zeke and several others don’t even know that they will be playing a tougher schedule this year. Well, they know it, cognitively, but they don’t know what that will look like, and from the comments they have made in the off-season, they don’t care.
As Dak walked the red carpet of a national sports awards show last month, he was asked who would win the NFC East. He responded quickly and confidently: “We’re the Dallas Cowboys,” he said. “We’re gonna win the NFC East.” It is the kind of bravado that is rare in sports today, yet somehow, after what Dak did last year, I believe him.
So, maybe this year those two words, “Training Camp,” will be the beginning of a season that ends with four iconic words in Dallas football lore:
“How bout them Cowboys!”
Sports columnist John Rhadigan is an anchor for the Fox Sports Southwest television network.