Say this for the Cowboys’s last-second loss against the Detroit Lions, which saw the team give up an eighty-yard touchdown drive to a team with no timeouts and 42 seconds left on the clock—you can’t blame it squarely on Tony Romo. You can, however, blame it on pretty much everybody who was on the Cowboys sideline, especially if you’re wide receiver Dez Bryant.
Bryant, whose prodigious talents as a receiver have always been tempered by what people in the league euphemistically refer to as “character concerns,” blew up at his teammates throughout the game. At least two of those explosions—one directed at receivers coach Derek Dooley (which led directly to a confrontation with Tony Romo), and one aimed at tight end Jason Witten—were captured on camera. The latter of the two blow-ups ended with injured defensive end Demarcus Ware, one of the few humans who can make the six-foot-two, 222-pound Bryant look small, getting in the intemperate receiver’s face and seemingly calming him down.
(GIFs via CBS)
It made for fun headline-writing for columnists, at least: CBS Sports’s Greg Doyel ran with “Dez Bryant had the most absurd tantrum since … his, from earlier,” while Business Insider went with the SEO-keyword rich, “Cowboys Wide Receiver Dez Bryant Berates Coach, Yells At Tony Romo In Epic Sideline Meltdown.” Over at Deadspin, meanwhile, Tommy Craggs lamented the way that announcer Brian Billick, who referred to Bryant’s “spoiled child routine,” attempted to place Lions’ standout receiver Calvin Johnson in stark contrast to Bryant:
Billick spent a lot of time mooning over “class act” Calvin Johnson, using him as a cudgel on “spoiled child” Dez Bryant and dragooning the both of them into a Goofus & Gallant diptych.
Still, it’s fair to wonder if “spoiled child” is the right way to describe Bryant and his outbursts. The stereotypical “diva” receiver is a player who complains that he doesn’t get the ball enough and who values his own production over that of the team. That wasn’t the issue on Sunday for Bryant, who had two hugely impressive touchdown receptions. The first, an incredible one-handed grab at the end of the first half, put the Cowboys up for a lead they wouldn’t relinquish until the final seconds of the game.
The second, a fifty-yard catch-and-run late in the fourth quarter that appeared to all but seal the game for the Cowboys, showed off Bryant’s impressive speed, as he outran three members of the Lions’ secondary to make it into the end zone after a short reception.
(GIFs via Business Insider)
After the game, Bryant and his teammates said that the outbursts weren’t self-centered, but that he was concerned and frustrated for the team. Romo, perhaps feeling a bit looser after a heartbreaking Cowboys loss in which he wasn’t the goat, defended Bryant to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon:
“He’s never complained to me about getting the ball,” Romo said. “He knows that the ball’s going where it’s supposed to. He knows that.
“When you guys sometimes see emotions from Dez, it’s just trying to ‘rah, rah’ more than it is being a ‘me’ guy. That’s not who Dez is. I think that would be completely out of character for him if there was ever a ‘me’ situation.”
Bryant himself defended his reactions to the game situations to MacMahon, as well:
“I’m the nicest person off the field. When I’m on the field, even when I look angry, it’s still all good passion. It’s all good passion. I feel like that’s what we need. I’m going to remain the same way. I feel like I love this game. I love it. In order to win, you’ve got to be passionate about this game. You have to be. You’ve got to let that dog come out and just put it all out there on the line.”
This’ll all probably fit nicely into the narrative that’s been built around Bryant—the “spoiled brat routine” that Brian Billick accused him of—but for a team that’s been defined in part, over the past several years, by a lack of passion among its fans, seeing a guy who really, really wants to win can’t be all that terrible.
(GIF via Fansided)