ARLINGTON -- Daniel Desroches, a business executive from Toronto, has been a rabid fan of the Dallas Cowboys since the 1970s, when he received a helmet autographed by Randy White, Ed "Too Tall" Jones, and other stars of that vintage. He occasionally traveled south to attend games at the old stadium in Irving, but he made his first trip to the new palace a couple of Sundays ago, where his adopted team confronted the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants.
He was stunned by the gaudy, futuristic grandeur of Cowboys Stadium, the $1.2 billion shrine to America's most bankable team. He was fascinated by the larger-than-life, hi-def television screen atop the field. He was mesmerized by the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders on that hi-def screen.
As kickoff approached, the enthusiasm of nearly 95,000 fans built to a frenzy as Welcome to the Jungle blared from the sound system. The hair stood on Desroches' arms. He came close to religious rapture. "I was losing my mind," he conceded later.
Interception. Interception. Interception. Fumble. Fumble. Early in the second quarter, it was 23-0 Giants, and Desroches and his Canadian buddies had become so disgusted, they were thinking about ditching the game at halftime.
The feeling was hauntingly familiar for Cowboys fans -- the double-barreled gut punch of bitter disappointment and unmet expectations. Desroches watched the latter part of the first half from the top of the first deck, edging closer to the exit, and that was where I asked him what seemed like a logical question: At what point, after years of mediocrity and heartbreak, would he bag the Cowboys and find a sporting passion closer to home?
He didn't hesitate. Never.
"You can't switch teams," he said.
John Castillo, a season-ticket holder who drives three hours from San Angelo for each home game, agreed.
"They've got their hooks into us," said the owner of two bars and a glass shop. He estimates that he spends $25,000 a year for tickets, travel and assorted team tchotchkes. "It does suck, coming up here and not winning. But you always have to have hope."
And so it goes with Cowboys fans, from the high-rollers to the blue-collar types. In spite of Jerry Jones, in spite of the post-season drought, in spite of the turnovers and high prices in Arlington, they all confessed to being forever true to "America's Team."
That devotion is particularly striking in light of the fact that the Cowboys, five-time Super Bowl champs, have won only one playoff game since 1996 (the 2009 wild card game against Philadelphia).
And still, fans flock to the big stadium, forfeiting their leverage, because Jones and Co. know they'll buy tickets, no matter what. Even if those tickets are among the most expensive in the National Football League.
According to the Fan Cost Index, the Cowboys rank first in total FCI, which measures the average cost for four people to attend a game at $634.78. That's about $200 more than the NFL average, including in Atlanta, where the Cowboys lost to the the undefeated Falcons last Sunday night. Non-premium tickets average $110.20 each, which ranks fifth in the league. Parking, $75, is far and away the most expensive.
Adrian Maxwell, a plumber from East Texas, spends his money to see three to four games a year. He slumped in his seat, positively morose, after Romo's third interception against the Giants. "It's depressing," he said. "It feels like a lost cause sometimes."
"You have to be a true fan," he said. "I would never stop coming."
Desroches and his pals decided to stay, and the Cowboys actually took a second half. "At least it's interesting," he said.
But then, in the final seconds, they lost 29-24, by the margin of Dez Bryant's knuckle -- which came down out of bounds on what could have been the winning touchdown.
The game was a perfect and painful metaphor: Abject ineptitude, followed by brilliance, followed by epic disappointment for the hopelessly devoted pilgrims who just keep coming, no matter how many times their team goes ...