Some time in the neighborhood of six decades ago, shortly after oilman Clint Murchison, Jr., outsmarted then-Washington Redskins owner George Marshall with his own fight song, my grandpa adopted the Dallas Cowboys—the only NFL team located south of D.C.—as his favorite professional football club.
Years later, he had a daughter who eventually had a son, and that son developed an unadulterated love for the sport of football moments after emerging from the womb. That son, of course, is me.
As it pertains to favorite teams, I originally chose mine with the most patriotic of intentions, after a brief discussion with my mother regarding team mascots. I was four years old, sitting on a sofa in my grandparents’ den. The following dialogue is, verbatim, how the selection process played out.
Me: “Mom, I need a favorite team. What are some team names?”
Mom: “Well, there’s the Dallas Cowboys… (long pause)… or the New York Giants, or the Chicago Bears, or the Philadelphia Eagles…”
Me: “My favorite team is the Eagles.”
Mom: “Oh? And why the Eagles?”
Me: “Because the eagle is the American bird.”
And, no, I have no idea from where, exactly, this innate sense of patriotism derived.
At some point, in what I assume was the relatively near future, I began to familiarize myself with Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham.
Cunningham, as you’ll recall, was Michael Vick 1.0, in a league full of Jim Kellys. He was electrifying; even captivating enough to occupy the typically non-existent attention span of a pre-schooler. His poster was tacked to my wall, his McFarlane action figure perched atop my headboard, and his kelly green No. 12 jersey was constantly on my back. To this day, he—along with Ken Griffey, Jr., and Deion Sanders—remains one of my all-time favorite athletes.
Still, Rocket Man Randall wasn’t enough to solidify my allegiance to the American birds.
On Dec. 16, 1991, the Eagles and Cowboys were each 9-5 and fighting for a playoff berth. My extended family filled my parents’ home for the game, each of them covered in stars. I, on the other hand, was the lonely green spot in the room—faithfully sporting my Cunningham jersey.
That is, until mid-way through the third quarter. That’s when Kelvin Martin returned a Philadephia punt 85 yards for the go-ahead touchdown, and I made a decision that would forever change my life as a sports fan.
Cunningham was out injured, and with Jeff Kemp under center, I was filled with indifference toward the guys in winged helmets. I wanted to cheer for Dallas like my cousin, whom I idolized, or my grandpa, whom I adored.
As Martin strode down the sideline, I jetted off to my bedroom to change out of my Eagles jersey—and into a Cowboys T-shirt.
Little more than a year later, Charles Haley and Nate Newton were showering Jimmy Johnson with Gatorade, and the Cowboys were the champions of the football universe. Twelve months after that, Dallas knocked off the Buffalo Bills once more for a second consecutive Super Bowl victory. Then, after losing in the NFC Championship in 1994, Barry Switzer led the Cowboys to yet another world championship in ’95.
It was an overwhelmingly euphoric four-year introduction to professional football. Unfortunately, my lack of life experience fueled the ignorant expectation that it would always be like that.
It hasn’t been.
The Cowboys were bounced in the divisional round by the second-year Carolina Panthers in ’96, followed by a 6-10 record and the subsequent resignation of Switzer in ’97. The one and only Chan Gailey succeeded Switzer in ’98, eventually becoming the first head coach in franchise history not to reach a Super Bowl upon his termination two years later.
The astoundingly overmatched Dave Campo took over for Gailey, followed by the equally overbearing Bill Parcells and, finally, the staggeringly incompetent Wade Phillips.
From Campo to Phillips, Dallas attempted to replace Hall of Famer Troy Aikman with each of the following: Cunningham, Anthony Wright, Quincy Carter (who might have actually been a solid pro, were he not railroaded by Parcells), Ryan Leaf, Clint Stoerner, Chad Hutchinson, Vinny Testaverde, Drew Henson, Brad Johnson and Drew Bledsoe.
Ten quarterbacks in five seasons, before finally, mercifully, Tony Romo emerged as a competent option at the position—in principle, anyway.
Over that stretch—which also happened to run concurrent with my junior high/high school years—the Cowboys managed to drop 56 of 96 contests; reaching the playoffs only once, in Carter’s lone season as the starter.
Despite a winning record in three of the past four seasons—including 12 wins in 2014 and 13 wins in ’16—Dallas has appeared in only a dozen playoff games since winning the Super Bowl 22 years ago.
The ‘Boys sport a 3-9 postseason record over that span and have not advanced past the divisional round—thanks in part to the NFL’s inability to decide what a catch looks like.
Still, in spite of such relative futility, we embattled Cowboys fans are treated with the same irreverence as front-running Yankees fans.
I don’t get it.
The last time Dallas was consistently good, I couldn’t even write in cursive. And, more importantly, the NFL enforces a salary cap. No doubt, Jerry Jones would love to spend his way to a championship but, unlike the Yankees—or the Red Sox, Dodgers and Angels, for that matter—he cannot; hence the reason Jones & Co. passed on free agent Texas-native Drew Brees in favor of Romo in ’05.
Jones constructed a $1.5 billion football stadium for the world’s most valuable team to play in. Safe to say that no one at The Star is voluntarily pinching pennies. But, in the NFL, a large market and/or a willingness to spend separates no team from the pack. Just ask the Miami Dolphins.
At the height of comically un-comical paradox, is the reality that chief among Cowboys haters is “Bandwagon Bob.”
You recognize Bob. He’s the guy that became a die-hard Red Sox fan in 2004, suddenly showed up to work in a Houston Astros hat last fall, but spent last month packing his Instagram story full of Steve Pearce highlights.
He “loves” the Patriots, but in January of ’10, he became a Saints fan in the midst of Tracy Porter’s 70-yard interception return in much the same way he’s recently begun touting the Rams as his “favorite NFC team.” He says things like, “I cheer for players, not teams,” and “I was an (insert team) fan until (insert owner) traded (insert player).”
In essence, Bob hates Dallas for everything that he stands for.
Just know that when Dak Prescott drops back to pass on Thursday night against New Orleans, we will hope for the best, with a holiday season-heart filled with optimism—but we will subconsciously expect him to miss yet another wide open receiver on the back side of the play, with over two decades of conditioning to blame.
Our team is not the Yankees of professional football. Hell, it’s not even the parking-lot-neighbor Rangers. If anything, we’re the post-Kobe Bryant Lakers; complete with high powered executive(s), just enough roster potential to allow for a degree of suppressed ambition, and the endless pre-occupation with next year.
Don’t be a Bob. Let us suffer in peace.