By Jason Keidel
Forget how pretentious it is. Well, don’t. Because that’s part of the package that is the Dallas Cowboys.
They are America’s Team, despite having an exactly .500 record the 17 years prior to this season, despite one playoff win since Troy Aikman retired, despite playing before partisan crowds — at home! — and despite the four score and seven years since they last hoisted a Lombardi Trophy.
None of this would offend the senses if they weren’t so careless, perilous and pompous about it. Word was in the ’70s that the Cowboys carved a hole in their stadium so that God Himself could watch His favorite team.
A little presumptuous, no?
First we have to agree on a deity, then his form or height or heft, then straight to the Dallas Cowboys. Forget nuclear arms, cold wars, Vietnam and the buffet of political problems at Nixon’s and our nation’s doorstep, we thought God just wanted to watch Roger Staubach throw the football and Harvey Martin wrench it out of some poor QB’s paws.
And now that they’re 6-1, we’re hearing that the Cowboys have just taken their first, dynastic step up to the clouds.
Granted, they look good. But like so many things in the NFL, it could be a bit illusory. In football parlance, it could be a misdirection. And, given their recent history, you’d be right to be jaded. But what if you’re not? What if they’re real? Then, my friends, gear up for a gaseous ride back to the mountaintop, because you’d be hard-pressed to find a more loquacious group than Dallas Cowboys devotees.
Sure, this could just be an angry tangent from a forlorn Steelers fan. We go back a ways, Dallas and Pittsburgh, from Lynn Swann’s ethereal catch to Neil O’Donnell’s GPS INTs right to Larry Brown.
But even though I bleed black & gold, it’s only right to concede that the Cowboys have a special grip on the nation. If we’re honest and earnest, the Cowboys are America’s Team, even if accidentally or tangentially.
Maybe it’s the star on that helmet, or the men wearing it, or the excess and hubris of oil country, big hats and big guns and JR Ewing. The Cowboys, much like Notre Dame and the New York Yankees, have built this myth that donning the hat or helmet not only imbues a young man with athletic splendor, but also biblical virtue. And, somehow, it works.
If you’d like more linear logic, perhaps the biggest reason the Cowboys are still supremely resonant is timing. They spaced their special squads in perfect order, sequentially flawless.
The dynasty started to form in the ’60s, but fell to Lombardi, as all dynasties did. But there was enough to cobble together a budding congregation. By the ’70s, when Tom Landry had aligned all the stars in the Lone Star State, Dallas was about to spawn a frothing fan base that somehow clouded all the others.
Even if the Steelers were the team of the decade — and no one can dispute four Super Bowls in six years — we only heard about the Cowboys. They were reality television long before the genre was born. You first had Staubach and Norton competing for the QB perch, switching with each game, drive, or play — a melodrama that belied Landry’s laconic refrain.
Then you had Hollywood Henderson, who suggested Terry Bradshaw couldn’t spell “cat” when granted two letters ahead of time. There were the party stories, of drugs stashed in thigh pads, of Doomsday Defenses and shotguns offenses, of epic handles like “Too Tall” and “Manster.” Everything was as outsized as the team and the town.
Then, 20 years later, after the funk of the fallen dynasty, Landry was let go. It had to happen. Indeed, my Steelers faced the same dilemma with Chuck Noll. And just as Pittsburgh was revived under the young, bold leadership of Bill Cowher, the Cowboys got their mojo back with Jimmy Johnson. But much better.
Three rings and a messy divorce later, the Cowboys plunged back down the rungs of relevance. But their timing, every 20 years, is enough to birth a new flock of fans. As those of us born in the late-’60s fell in love with the epic epoch of the ’70s — everyone on my Manhattan block was a Steelers, Cowboys, Raiders or Dolphins fan — the kids sired by my generation were born under the identical template.
So if Dallas is really back — and, at 6-1, it’s looking decent — then their timing is still flawless. The Lone Star can only stay lonely for so long. And, if we’re quite candid, which is never pro forma in pro football, we kinda miss them, too.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden.
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