View Full Version : JOE POSNANSKI-Cowboys may be winning this season

12-11-2005, 12:24 PM
Sorry if its a repost...

Cowboys may be winning this season, but they could use more star power


DALLAS — Let’s face it, the Dallas Cowboys are boring. This is hard to accept. The Cowboys have long been called America’s Team. But one of the great principles of American life is that you can be whatever you want, but you can’t be boring.

Boring. It’s hard to reach any other conclusion. The Cowboys offense is drier than Death Valley. It isn’t bad, exactly. Dallas is 15th in the NFL running the ball, 15th passing the ball, absolutely average, the perfect blend of bland. A semi-ancient and immobile Drew Bledsoe throws the passes. Uninspiring Julius Jones plods with the football in a town where Calvin Hill, Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith left them breathless.

The defense is good — ranked sixth in the NFL — but it also lacks flair and star power. The Cowboys stop teams, but there’s nothing exciting about how they do it. They don’t sack, don’t intimidate, don’t take the ball away. A 33-year-old cornerback (Aaron Glenn) leads in interceptions, and a quiet eight-year veteran (Greg Ellis) leads in sacks.

These are not Too Tall Jones’ Cowboys.

In other words, the Dallas Cowboys have become a reflection of their coach, Bill Parcells, who has spent a career cultivating boring but winning football teams. It’s his gift. The Cowboys are 7-5, very much in the playoff chase, especially if they beat Kansas City today at Texas Stadium.

The trouble is, these are the Dallas Cowboys. And through the years, the Cowboys have been a lot of things. They started with a winless season and have been to eight Super Bowls since. They have been bridesmaids and champions and awful and dominating and criminals. They have been the most popular sports team in America — America’s Team. But, until now, they have never been boring.

Can you be boring and still be America’s Team?

Tom Landry despised the whole America’s Team hype from the start. Drove him nuts. The name emerged after the Cowboys won the Super Bowl in 1978. The name emerged, like most of the NFL’s good ideas, in the offices of NFL Films.

“We had started to give our highlight videos names,” says Steve Sabol, president of NFL Films. “We wanted to make them more theatrical. Like, we would call the 49ers videos ‘Gateway to Greatness.’ We called the Packers ‘The Greatest Challenge.’

“So Bob Ryan was doing the Cowboys video, and he was looking for a title. And in going through all the footage, he saw that every time the Cowboys played at a visiting site, there were always people there in Roger Staubach jerseys, waving Cowboys pennants and Lone Star flags and all that. He said, ‘You know, this team is really popular all over America.’ And that’s how it started.”

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm loved the idea. Schramm always knew a good marketing ploy — he’s the guy who created the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders. He volunteered his players to play on Thanksgiving Day every year. He came up with the idea of giving referees microphones so everyone could hear who to blame for the penalty. He loved the idea of his Cowboys being America’s team.

And Landry, the conservative coach, detested the idea. He just knew it would fire up players and fans, make his job harder. He and Schramm fought for a long time about it — Sabol can remember the highlight video was delayed for two months while the two giants of Dallas Cowboys football argued about whether or not to be called America’s Team.

In the end, Schramm won out. The America’s Team highlight video came out, millions saw it, and as time went on, the name worked its way into the lexicon. America’s Team. Over time, people have used the name both as a compliment and an insult. It has made Cowboys fans proud, and Cowboys haters angry.

“The Dallas Cowboys might call themselves ‘America’s Team,’ but calling yourself something doesn’t make it so,” longtime Green Bay guard Jerry Kramer wrote for a book aptly called I Hate The Dallas Cowboys: And Who Elected Them America’s Team Anyway ?

“They’ve got this attitude thinking they ARE America’s Team,” former Falcons quarterback Steve Bartkowski grumbled in the same book.

All of the complaints, of course, just made the Cowboys even more ingrained as America’s Team. There was a famous poll in the 1970s that showed Howard Cosell was both the most beloved and reviled sports announcer in America. That seemed to put him in a different category from anyone else. That’s how it was with the Cowboys. People loved them, hated them, loved to hate them and every other combination imaginable.

Landry never did get used to it, though. Toward the end of Landry’s career, after so many of his great players had retired, his Cowboys started to lose — and lose badly. His Cowboys were 3-13 in Landry’s final season, a terrible end for a legend. He always thought opponents took a special glee beating his America’s Team.

“You started all this,” Landry would stay to Steve Sabol.

“He always said it nicely,” Sabol would say. “But he meant it.”

After Landry was pushed out, the Cowboys were more like America’s Team than ever before. Throughout the 1990s, the Cowboys were about power struggles, crime, celebrity, ego trips and a great American force called Deion. Mostly, they won three Super Bowls. Poll after poll showed the Cowboys were not only the most popular NFL team, but the most popular professional team period.

Then, the inevitable happened. The Cowboys — Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman and the rest — got old. And owner Jerry Jones did not handle it well. The coach was always such a big part of the whole America’s Team dynamic. The Cowboys always had a coaching icon — Tom Landry and his hat, Jimmy Johnson, even Barry Switzer. These guys demanded that you have some feeling about them.

The Cowboys hired Chan Gailey. He was easy to ignore.

They then hired Dave Campo. He was even easier to ignore.

What was happening? The Cowboys had no quarterback. It got so bad, they tried Ryan Leaf for a while. Emmitt Smith refused to leave the stage. The Cowboys went 5-11 three years in a row. Owner Jerry Jones always seemed convinced they were one player away from the Super Bowl (leading him to spend way too much to get Joey Galloway).

Three years ago, Jones hired Bill Parcells to clean things up. He did clean up. Emmitt was gone. The defense was reshaped (and finished first in the NFL in total defense). The Cowboys have really been pretty good this year — all five of their losses are by a touchdown or fewer.

Still, after everything the Cowboys have gone through in the 2000s, the question remains: Are the Cowboys still America’s Team?

Like most questions in America, it depends on whom you ask:

“I think so,” says Gil Brandt, former director of player personnel for the Cowboys. “I think that once you have achieved the heights the Cowboys achieved, you don’t just fall off the earth. The Cowboys obviously are not the most popular team in Kansas City. But they’re the second-most popular team. And in places like Bozeman, Montana, which doesn’t have a team, the Cowboys are No. 1.”

He has a point. Larry Johnson’s mom is a Cowboys fan. Priest Holmes grew up a Cowboys fan. Dante Hall dreamed about playing for the Cowboys, and Brian Waters tried first to make it with the Cowboys. And that’s just the Chiefs offense. Every team in the NFL has players who grew up Cowboys fans.

There are signs that the Cowboys’ hold is weakening. The Harris Poll is interesting. The Harris people have been asking fans for years to name their two favorite football teams. Throughout the 1990s, the Cowboys ranked No. 1, peaking in 1998 when they were chosen by 25 percent of the people. But the numbers tumbled all the way down to 11 percent during the Campo years. Now, the Cowboys are at 14 percent, in second place behind the Green Bay Packers, and just ahead of the New England Patriots.

The Cowboys also do not sell the most NFL merchandise. That would be the Oakland Raiders. The Cowboys finished fourth in the latest merchandise tally. They also do not have the most hits on Google. That would be the Patriots.

(But if you go to Google and type in “America’s Team” and hit the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button, you will go to the Cowboys Web site).

“That Cowboys mystique is gone,” one Chiefs player says. “They’re a good football team. But that’s what they are — a good football team. They’re not superheroes.”

Then again, the Cowboys-Eagles Monday Night game earlier this year was a huge ratings winner. The Cowboys still have as many fan Web sites as any team in the NFL (one blog, called “The Boys,” tried to find the locations of its readers, and found that of the 100 people who wrote in, only 16 were from Texas). In Dallas, a half-dozen players have their own shows, and so does Parcells and owner Jerry Jones. Fox Sports president Ed Goren often talks about how much the Cowboys mean to his network and the NFL.

“I think there is still tremendous interest when you talk about the fans,” Brandt says. “The interest goes up and down some, depending on whether the Cowboys are winning or losing. But overall, I would think the Cowboys are still America’s Team.”

Teams do not maintain identities for long. That’s just the way of sports. The Oakland Raiders spent the 1970s and ’80s playing the bad-boy theme. “Now,” Steve Sabol says, “if there’s a bad boy on their team, it’s probably their kicker (Sebastian Janikowski). Imagine that. The only renegade or ruffian on the Oakland Raiders is their kicker. That tells you how much times have changed.”

The Steel Curtain is long gone, the Purple People Eaters, the Kardiac Kids, the Monsters of the Midway, all of them are history. The nicknames will re-emerge in small ways every so often, but everyone understands that times do change, and teams move on.

But somehow the Cowboys remain America’s Team — with all the pride and arrogance the name provokes.

“Sure, it would mean a lot to me to beat the Dallas Cowboys,” Chiefs founder Lamar Hunt says. He does not go into the reasons, but they are obvious. Hunt lives in Dallas. He hears about the Cowboys every day. The Cowboys drove his Dallas Texans to Kansas City in 1963. And, of course, the Chiefs really need this victory in their playoff push.

But that’s not everything. The Cowboys are boring, no doubt about it. They are not quite as overpowering as they were. But they still matter. They are still America’s Team. And, as Tom Landry knew long ago, everybody wants to beat America’s Team.

12-11-2005, 12:34 PM
The defense is good — ranked sixth in the NFL — but it also lacks flair and star power. The Cowboys stop teams, but there’s nothing exciting about how they do it. They don’t sack, don’t intimidate, don’t take the ball away. A 33-year-old cornerback (Aaron Glenn) leads in interceptions, and a quiet eight-year veteran (Greg Ellis) leads in sacks.

That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard. Who cares if they don't have a supersar on defense or if they are "quietly" a good defense. Who cares who leads them in sacks or interceptions? They have the 6th best D in the NFL and that's all that matters. That simply means that it's a team effort and that they have a good scheme. And they do have a star, he's called Roy Williams.

Either which way lets kick their asses in a few hours.

12-11-2005, 12:47 PM
A semi-ancient and immobile Drew Bledsoe

What's kind of funny is that Bledsoe is a few years younger than Trent Green. He seems a lot older, though.

12-11-2005, 12:50 PM
What's kind of funny is that Bledsoe is a few years younger than Trent Green. He seems a lot older, though.