The parity that cursed the Cowboys of the 1990s is blessing them now.
The 2012 Cowboys are a mediocre team — but in today's NFL, mediocrity is allowed to compete for championships.
That wasn't the case when Jimmy Johnson coached this team. Those were the pre-salary-cap days. The Cowboys of 1992-93 ranked in the NFL's top 10 in offense, defense and special teams. They were the youngest, fastest, deepest, healthiest team in the NFL.
Then the salary cap hit in 1994, and the Cowboys have never been the same. You couldn't afford to pay all of your players under the new system, so the superstars stayed and the best supporting cast in football quietly drifted away from Valley Ranch.
Larry Brown, Tony Casillas, Kenny Gant, John Gesek, Kevin Gogan, Alvin Harper, Russell Maryland, Ken Norton, Mark Stepnoski and James Washington all started Super Bowls for Johnson, and all bolted in free agency.
Fellow pre-salary-cap superpowers Buffalo, San Francisco and Washington followed the Cowboys down that same path of roster destruction in the 1990s.
The last semblance of a dynasty in the NFL was the Patriots with a young Tom Brady at the helm. They won three Super Bowls in a span of four years at the start of the 2000 decade. But that was eight years ago, and Brady is now 35.
There are no longer any great teams in the NFL. Flawed teams are claiming Lombardi trophies. Six franchises have won Super Bowls in the last seven years. So here the Cowboys sit at 8-6, still with a chance to capture division, conference and Super Bowl championships. Go figure.
The Cowboys can't run the ball. They play average defense. They turn the ball over too much on offense. They have been ravaged by injuries. They also commit way too many penalties.
Does this look like a championship team? The Cowboys have already lost three times at home and have led at halftime in only three of their 14 games. It's been all uphill since Felix Jones fumbled the opening kickoff on the second weekend in Seattle.
But the Cowboys remain in contention. And that's why I've always been a fan of parity — every team has a chance every season. Longtime NFL doormats Arizona, New Orleans, St. Louis, Seattle and Tampa Bay finally reached Super Bowls as a result of the new system.
If the game is indeed about the fans — as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell continually tells us it is — then every fan base deserves a belief its team can contend each season.
The 2012 Cowboys haven't risen up to the championship standard set by the Broncos, Giants, Patriots and Steelers — teams that have won multiple Super Bowls in the salary-cap era. Parity has brought all the great teams back to the pack, giving franchises such as the Cowboys, Bengals, Colts, Falcons, Redskins and 49ers renewed hope.
As long as you have a franchise quarterback, you have a chance. That's why the Patriots (Brady), Broncos (Peyton Manning) and Packers (Aaron Rodgers) will be in the Super Bowl hunt for the long haul. That's also why the Cowboys (Tony Romo), Giants (Eli Manning) and Steelers (Ben Roethlisberger) still have a fighting chance as this year winds down.
Your quarterback can be a human eraser. His playmaking ability can make all of your other problems disappear, as Romo has done.
The Cowboys have a turnover margin of minus-9. Only two of the 46 Super Bowl champions were a minus: the 1987 Redskins and 2011 Giants.
The Cowboys lead the NFL with 111 penalties. The last team to win a Super Bowl with that many penalties was the 2003 Patriots, who also had 111. And the Cowboys still have two games remaining this season. The most penalized champion in Super Bowl history was the 1983 Raiders at 121. The Cowboys are on pace to top that.
The Cowboys have lost 58 games by starters because of injury this season. Six starters are already out for the season: center Phil Costa and defenders Bruce Carter, Barry Church, Kenyon Coleman, Sean Lee and Jay Ratliff. That's automatically 12 more starts lost.
That pushes the count to 70 games right there. Only two teams have absorbed more injuries and still managed to win Super Bowls: the 2010 Packers and 2003 Patriots.
The Cowboys rank 31st in the NFL in rushing. Only one team ever won a Super Bowl with a worse rushing attack (2011 Giants). The Cowboys rank 21st in scoring defense. Only two teams won a Super Bowl with a lower ranking (2011 Giants and 2006 Colts).
The Cowboys are a terribly flawed football team. But their quarterback gives them a chance to achieve the same glorious heights as Cowboys teams of the past.
It's called parity — and it's finally being embraced here in Dallas.