It happened again.
The Cowboys scored just after the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter against the Green Bay Packers, taking a late lead against the team after trailing. The team celebrated—but fans just sucked in a deep breath, well-aware of what Aaron Rodgers could do with a minute-and-change left on the clock and the ball in his hands. And, sure enough, the Packers quarterback marched his team down the field like the Cowboys defense wasn’t even there, moving the team into position to win the game. And then they did. With fourteen seconds left on the clock, the score was 35-31, and the Cowboys were losers once again.
The specifics were slightly different from what happened in January, when the two teams faced off in the playoffs, but they were only off by a little. In both instances, the Cowboys managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, and Aaron Rodgers once more pumped his fist in victory while stunned fans wandered the halls of AT&T Stadium like the great monument to sport was a mausoleum for their hopes and dreams.
The Cowboys and the Packers have only played 28 times in the two teams’ history. Overall, the matchup has been close: the Cowboys have won thirteen of those matchups, and the Packers have won fifteen. But in recent years, the contests between the two teams have been more frequent. Since the 2009 season, the two teams have met eight times (though not every year—two of those matchups occurred during the postseason), and in all but one of those encounters, the Cowboys slinked off the field defeated.
It wasn’t always this way. In the ’90s, the Cowboys owned the matchup with the Packers. They were 9-1 through the Aikman/Favre era (though current Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett, who served as Aikman’s backup, quarterbacked two of those victories), and the two teams spent the 2000s evenly matched, splitting the four contests 2-2.
But lately, with the exception only of last year’s regular season meeting, the Cowboys can’t catch a break against Green Bay. Since Aaron Rodgers took over for Brett Favre, they’ve lost games in which they were quarterbacked by Tony Romo. They’ve lost games in which they were led by Dak Prescott. They’ve lost when John Kitna took the snaps, or when Matt Cassell did. (They even lost in 2013 when Rodgers was out and Matt Flynn was under center!)
Historically, the intra-division rivalries with the other NFC East teams have been where Cowboys fans have directed their ire. But over the past decade, no NFC East team has been truly dominant over the Cowboys. Even in the dire 4-12 season in 2015, three of the four wins the Cowboys achieved were against the rest of the division. Cowboys fans may have been taught to hate the teams in Philadelphia, New York, and Washington—but they’ve learned to hate the team from Green Bay.
At this point, there’s no team in the NFL that can trigger the same sort of despair among the Cowboys faithful than the Green Bay Packers. Witness the reaction from Cowboys fans on Twitter in the final moments of yesterday’s game:
Leave it to the Cowboys playing the Packers, to make me feel like I’m on the verge of a fucking heart attack.
— Superman03 (@gsalinas312) October 8, 2017
These Cowboys vs Packers games are going to give me a heart attack #WeDemBoyz
— Mr _ Johnston (@Mr_Johnston82) October 8, 2017
Ask your doctor if your heart is healthy enough for Cowboys vs Packers games
— Michael Odom (@Modom14) October 8, 2017
I'm gonna have a heart attack from this packers cowboys game
— ant (@antoinswan3) October 8, 2017
Cause of stress: Cowboys vs Packers
— Felicia Avila (@Fisha_price) October 8, 2017
These Packers and Cowboys games are stress tests
— danny deck (@hdrewblackburn) October 8, 2017
No Cowboys fan felt safe after the team scored to take the lead with over a minute remaining in the game. And for good reason. Not only had a very similar situation played out in the playoffs in January, but so many of the losses to the Packers in recent years had been heartbreakers. There was the 2015 playoff matchup, where #DezCaughtIt—except he didn’t, and the team lost. There was the 2013 regular season meeting, where the Cowboys blew a 26-3 lead to lose the game 37-36. In some ways, a 28-7 thumping like the team received in 2015, when a hapless Matt Cassell-led Cowboys team got steamrolled, is almost preferable to the litany of heartbreakers.
All of which is to say that while fans of Washington, Philly, and New York may well consider the Cowboys their arch-rival, the Cowboys faithful fear the team from Wisconsin more than any of their traditional rivals. Driving with a New York Giants or a Philadelphia Eagles bumper sticker on your car in the Dallas metroplex might get your car keyed in the parking lot, but it’s the green and yellow that truly inspires fear and loathing among the team’s diehards. (There’s rivalry inequity at play here: the Bears and the Vikings also consider the Packers to be their arch-rival, while Packers fans probably most loathe the Seattle Seahawks.)
Ultimately, the Cowboys have a monkey on their back, and it wears a green jersey with the #12 on it. Unless and until the Cowboys are able to stop Aaron Rodgers from pulling off miracle first down after miracle first down, it’s likely to stay that way. The Cowboys, at 2-3, have a long road to the playoffs before them—but if fans are looking past the NFC East and focusing on a rematch with Green Bay in January, it’s hard to blame them. In the meantime, now seems like a good opportunity to invest in Xanax.