This is not a divorce. It’s not a break-up or a separation. Let’s just say it’s a Cowboys cooling-off period.
I don’t recall taking a "'til death do us part” vow with the Dallas Cowboys in the late 1960s, but I might as well have. They have been a Sunday, Monday night, Thanksgiving afternoon staple for, oh, the past 45 years.
I have not been a fickle fan. I have skipped to the good and trudged through the bad over the decades. But I’m beginning to be a faded fan, much like the star on the helmet. For the longest time, season after season, it was easy being a Cowboys fan, maybe too easy.
In Coach Tom Landry’s 20-year heyday from the mid-’60s to the mid-’80s, they won with an almost robotic style. They were two steps ahead of most teams, one step ahead of the good ones.
Under Landry, they won a pair of Super Bowls, played in three more, and were knocked out from playing in another three in NFC title games. A deep playoff run seemed like a Texas NFL birthright.
I had a grandmother who thought football was a ridiculous waste of time until she discovered the Cowboys, and it wasn’t long before she could spout off most of the two=deep roster. A postseason loss could suck the life right out of my relatives in January.
“Well, I guess we don’t have to worry about the Cowboys next week,” said an uncle, leaving the living room after a particular stunning playoff defeat.
“Yeah, but I wanted to worry about them next week,” said an aunt. Me too.
The end of the Landry era was part shocking, part sad. It was like shoveling dirt on a dying dynasty. While I knew it was time for Landry to retire, I couldn’t turn my back on him or the ‘Pokes. But Jerry Jones pulled the Band-Aid right off when he bought the franchise in 1989. Landry’s dismissal should have been handled better, sure, but how well can the firing of a coach of 28 years actually go?
Many Cowboys fans thought Jones the Antichrist, and swore off the team for the rest of their natural-born days as long as Jones was, as he said, “in charge of socks and jocks.” And they’ve made good on that verbal proclamation.
I was more ambivalent, more curious. Jerry Seinfeld said rooting for teams is more like rooting for laundry. Fans root for the familiar look, the reassuring uniforms. The star on the helmet, the white home jerseys; I couldn’t turn it off like that.
In that 1-15 disaster of the 1989 season, I’m sure I watched every miserable game. Late in the year, KFDA made the decision to switch a Cowboys game for some matchup more meaningful to the playoff race. Uh-oh.
The station was flooded with irate calls. I wasn’t one of them, figuring there were several hundred willing to do that in my stead. There were still many who couldn’t quite make the sudden disconnection even as bad as Dallas was.
Then, of course, two years later, was a playoff win, followed by three Super Bowl championships in four years. Let the good times roll. There are coffee mugs still in the cabinet celebrating those titles.
Well, enough history. Let’s just say it’s been 16 years of wandering in the wilderness since. There’s the occasional 13-3 and 11-5 record to get hopes soaring, but it’s been mostly average to mediocre, and a reputation that far exceeds any recent accomplishment.
One playoff win in 16 years about says it all for me. One. But what says it more is Jones. I’m a little slow on the up-tick because he’s been catching heat for 20-plus years, but only until recently do I point the finger directly at him.
I’ve liked his passion, honesty and thick skin, but that doesn’t translate into sustained success. In the only real success under Jones, it took strong-willed head coaches, Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells, with the strength of their convictions to cut the puppet strings and build a roster that could compete at the highest level.
Other than that, it’s been curious, inexperienced hires that acquiesce to Jones. It’s a different NFL world than when Landry roamed. It takes an infrastructure of owner, president, and general manager – the latter two football men – to make it work today.
Jones’ ego is such that he has to be all three for fear someone else might get credit for success, yet he should know he would still get a lot of back-slaps if the Cowboys win. But he would rather do it his way than the proven way. His way isn’t working in today’s NFL. The more things change, the more things stay the same.
As I write this, the opener is still a few days away. Yet I no longer have any emotional investment. Yes, he Cowboys could be 2-1 by the time this publishes, but I will no longer shout at the TV, exchange high-fives, keep things just so on the coffee table for good luck.
Oh, I’ll still watch, still want a win, but it’s more out of habit than longtime loyalty. I’m cynical and weary. Then, again, if the Cowboys are 8-1 in November, forget everything I said.
by Jon Mark Beilue
Jon Mark Beilue is a columnist for AGN Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or (806) 345-3318.