Did you know God is a football fan?
That’s the word. But for all the deity’s splendor, he has dubious taste in teams. Evidently, he channeled his epic energy toward some architects in Texas. When they designed the old Cowboys Stadium, they carved a hole in the roof so that the Big Guy would watch his squad on Sundays.
But even if you don’t buy the idea that the Cowboys somehow fit into the equations of creation, there’s no doubting the clusters of Cowboys fans around our nation.
The blanket of news is momentarily wrapped around Peyton Manning, who not only retires as a Super Bowl champion, but as America’s quarterback from America’s first football family. The Manning tribe has earned that distinction. But it’s hard to reconcile the Cowboys’ ancestral perch as America’s Team.
Even in New York City, where we have two entrenched teams — the Buffalo Bills make three, if you’d like to include the entire Empire State — you’re as likely to see a Michael Irvin jersey as an Eli Manning on a stroll down Broadway.
Eleven teams have won a Super Bowl since the Cowboys in 1996. The Patriots, Packers, Steelers, Giants and Broncos have won more than one. Some more teams that have reached the Super Bowl since the Cowboys include Philadelphia, Oakland, Chicago, Tennessee, Carolina and Atlanta. That’s hardly a list of eternal NFL powers.
There was an accidentally perfect timing to the Cowboys dynasties. First, you had the Landry-era behemoth. When my generation was falling in love with football in the 1970s, the Cowboys were racking up NFC titles, winning two Super Bowls. Landry officially replaced his former Giants colleague and prince of the 1960s, Vince Lombardi.
Then my generation matured and had their own kids, spawning another loyal legion of Cowboys fans. As if perfectly planned, the Jimmy Johnson Cowboys lorded over the league 20 years later, perpetuating the notion that Dallas was America’s dynasty.
But, as if to speak to their inherent dysfunction, Johnson and his boss, Jerry Jones, couldn’t get out of each other’s way long enough to build a proper empire. The famed triumvirate of Aikman, Smith and Irvin were young enough and gifted enough to win a handful of rings. Yet after an aberrant title from Barry Switzer, the Cowboys fell apart like cotton candy at a Texas carnival.
Then Bill Parcells took the reigns and restored some pride — and winning — to the forlorn franchise. The Tony Romo ‘Boys became vital again. Of course, Parcells left after Romo couldn’t perform the facile function of pinning the ball to the turf for a chip-shot field goal.
That and his allergy to me-first wideouts like Terrell Owens, whom Jerry Jones forced upon the “Tuna.” Is it a coincidence that Parcells, a coaching gypsy who never met a gig he didn’t love, never coached again after a taste of America’s Team?
In fairness, Dez Bryant caught that football in Green Bay about 14 months ago, and landed on the Frozen Tundra with the ball glued to his wide hands. Had Dallas defeated Green Bay, they would have played the Seattle Seahawks, whom they had already defeated, in Seattle, during the regular season, and seemed to have the blueprint to do it again. But not even the gods could reverse the call.
Dallas has been to the playoffs just eight times in 20 years. Between 1998 and 2007, they reached the playoffs in five seasons, and lost in the first round each time. They haven’t reached the NFC title game, and are a collective 3-8 in January. Yet the frothing masses are more faithful than ever.
Is it the helmet? The simple motif of a blue star on a silver canvas? Is it the cheerleaders? Is it the myth that everything is bigger — and presumably better — in Texas?
Is it Tom Landry? Roger Staubach? Hollywood Henderson? Was it an amalgam of pop-culture phenomena, from the football to the iconic TV series? Who shot JR? Then who shot the Cowboys down from their ancestral perch atop the sport?
No matter what made the Cowboys the emblem of Americana, there’s no doubting their following, which is at acute odds with the wholly American algorithm that winning trumps all. Since winning Super Bowl XXX, the Cowboys are 162-158 during the regular season. And since they haven’t sniffed a Super Bowl in 20 years, their playoff record is largely incidental.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, whom the Cowboys defeated that year, are 198-122 during the same period. That includes three trips to the Super Bowl, and two world titles. But they aren’t America’s Team.
The Green Bay Packers, who dwell in a place called “Titletown,” are 206-114 since 1996. Blessed by the serendipity of Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers in consecutive epochs, the Packers have also made three trips to the Super Bowl, winning two. But they aren’t America’s Team either.
The New England Patriots, who have lapped the league since 1996, are in another orbit from the Cowboys. Bill Parcells started and Bill Belichick perfected the craft. Drafting Tom Brady helped, of course, and the Pats are a surreal 225-95 since ’96. Then there are the four Super Bowl rings in six appearances.
If you’re looking for the Cowboys’ contemporaries, look a little north. The Kansas City Chiefs are 158-162 over the last two decades. Of course, they haven’t won a Super Bowl since 1970, and haven’t played in one since then.
It only feels like the Dallas Cowboys have gone equally long. If this is God’s idea of great football, it’s time for some serious prayer.
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. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.