Tag Archives: dallas cowboys

America’s Team(s)

nfl playoffs“They appear on television so often that their faces are as familiar to the public as presidents and movie stars. They are the Dallas Cowboys, ‘America’s Team.’”
– Dallas Cowboys 1978 Season Highlight Film

The Dallas Cowboys: You love them or you hate them. Me, I have done both, often during the same game.

Bob Ryan first called the Dallas Cowboys “America’s Team” when preparing the team’s highlight film following the 1978 season and defended his controversial term by saying that they were the most popular team in the nation both in fan support and television appearances. In the forty years since, the franchise has maintained a huge fan base in good times and bad times, for better or worse, ‘til death do they part. The franchise is now worth $5 billion—the highest of all NFL teams.

I am afraid that I am one of those people. I joined the bandwagon at the height of Tom Landry and Roger Staubach in the late 1970s and survived until Emmett, Troy, and Michael in the glorious 1990s and then survived again until the late 2010s with Dak and Zeke. It has surely not been an easy ride, but it has never been boring.

The first time I saw the Cowboys play in person was a Christmas Eve road game at the Superdome against the New Orleans Saints in the closing days of 1999, which happened to be the game that snapped a streak of 160 games the Cowboys played before sellout crowds. My wife and I were in the stands that day to see Aikman, Irvin, Smith, and Sanders play in person. But we lost.

The second time I saw the Cowboys in person was a Monday Night Football game against the Giants in old Texas Stadium in 2006. It was so awesome to be in a place I had dreamed about as a child with my best buddy, Dave, and see colorful characters such as Parcells and T.O. in action. In the first half things went poorly and the hometown fans jeered starting quarterback, Drew Bledsoe, and chanted their desire for backup quarterback “Ro-mo, Ro-mo, Ro-mo.” When the second half opened and Tony Romo ran on to the field for his debut as quarterback the crowd went wild! He threw an interception on his first pass. And we lost.

Last Saturday was my latest opportunity—a playoff game at the famed L.A. Coliseum against the Rams. The playoff atmosphere was electric, and I loved hearing the roaring voice of the Rams’ stadium announcer (who also happens to be my Pepperdine friend, Sam). I am not sure why I was surprised at the massive number of Cowboy fans at the game or how vocal they were—from my seat it was hard to tell which team’s fans were loudest. But it wasn’t hard to tell which team was better. I was proud that our overmatched team made it a game in spite of our two major weaknesses in the game: offense and defense. We lost again.

Maybe I should stop attending games for my favorite football team.

I got to thinking. American football really is American in all sorts of ways, particularly the way it displays the adversarial nature of our society. We compete head to head in business, politics, the justice system, and many other ways—even in our entertainment. And the more I think about it, maybe the Dallas Cowboys really are America’s Team. More than any other franchise, they inspire people to choose sides and root one way or another.

Competition isn’t necessarily evil. And yet, it is one thing if we shake hands after we compete and another entirely if we just keep on shaking our fists at one another. I have been watching the news lately and continuing to wonder: What kind of world will we choose to be?

Superhero

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My attachment to the Super Bowl began forty years ago in the same year that I declared my love for the Dallas Cowboys. I was seven, an ideal age for declaring eternal love, and my newfound infatuation was rewarded with a dominant Super Bowl victory over the Denver Broncos.

Super Bowl XII was played in New Orleans, only a few hundred miles from my house but in a magical alternate universe as far as I could tell. It was the first “primetime” Super Bowl, so since my dad did not go to church with us he kept a close eye on the game until I made it home from church for the second half.

Those awesome late 1970s names take me back. Golden Richards. Too Tall Jones. Hollywood Henderson. Jethro Pugh. Billie Joe DuPree. Tony Dorsett. Haven Moses. Otis Armstrong. Riley Odoms. Lyle Alzado. But my hero, hands down, was Roger Staubach. Roger the Dodger.

It is clear in retrospect how deeply I was influenced by my environment. As a white American church-going boy, of course my hero was Roger Staubach. Clean cut. Patriotic. Captain America. He was a Navy man, just like my dad.  And a quarterback, just like my dad.  #12 was my first sports hero.

Just before the following Christmas, eight-year-old me had the idea to write my hero a letter. With a new knowledge of cursive handwriting, which was easily my worst subject in school, I labored over the perfect letter to express to “Mr.  Staubach” the depths of my love for him—and to request an autographed picture. We somehow tracked down the address to the Dallas Cowboys, so my dad wrote a check for three dollars addressed to Roger Staubach and mailed it and my letter off to the great unknown.

Never in my life will a piece of mail replicate the joy in my heart on the day the manila envelope with the royal blue Dallas Cowboys sticker arrived. I floated by day and slept with the envelope at night and on show-and-tell day became the most popular kid in the third grade. We learned that an 8×10 photograph cost one dollar that year, so I received an autographed picture inscribed, “To Al Sturgeon, Merry Christmas, Roger Staubach,” AND an 8×10 team photo of the 1978 Dallas Cowboys. (We concluded that the other dollar must have been used for shipping and handling.)  This piece of mail was instantly my greatest material possession.  I would like to know how many hours I spent memorizing the names of the players in the team photo.  I would like to know because I still know almost every one forty years later.

Some will remember this, but in the old world of checking accounts all personal checks were returned by mail each month so that you could properly balance your checkbook.  My parents soon realized that Roger Staubach had endorsed my dad’s three-dollar check, so when it arrived at our house I had yet another autograph from my hero!  For free!

I have followed the forty Super Bowls that have occurred since Super Bowl XII.  A sportswriter ranked Super Bowl XII as the worst game of the first fifty.  You will never convince me.  In all honesty, I had zero interest in the Eagles-Patriots matchup yesterday.  I was not allowed to cheerfully support the Eagles as a Cowboys fan, and although I used to root for the Pats in honor of my dear friend, Scott, their recent dominance of the game removed any desire to support them either.  But I followed along because of the memories this annual American tradition brings.  Memories of a little boy and heroes, a dad and a check, and a letter that seemed to appear from heaven.

It’s funny, but I saved that canceled check and surprise autograph for many years, and it was long after my dad died that it dawned on me that it contained another surprise autograph: My dad’s.  Right there on the front.

My sweet wife framed that check for me in a special frame where you can see the signatures on both sides of the check.  I always display it where you can see my dad’s autograph.  It turns out that he was my first and greatest hero all along.

It’s Lonely at the Top, but It’s Not Always Quiet

1My first Los Angeles Rams game came with a free helping of déjà vu when the crowd transformed its booing of starting quarterback Case Keenum into chants of “We want Goff” in reference to Jared Goff, the rookie backup quarterback hoped to be the future of the franchise.  Goff never saw action, but the fans did their best to get him in the game.

I say déjà vu because my wife first gave me NFL tickets in 2006 for a Monday Night Football contest in old Texas Stadium with my great friend, Dave, which happened to be the game when Tony Romo replaced starting quarterback, Drew Bledsoe, after the crowd spent much of the first half chanting Romo’s name.  It was a little awkward for Cowboy Nation that night, not to mention Romo, when his first pass was intercepted after he ran on the field to deafening cheers.  Romo did go on to a great season, however, but I don’t think that would matter either way to the fans in Los Angeles chanting for change a decade later.

It’s lonely at the top, but it’s not always quiet.

Me, I’ve been a coach and a preacher and a dean, three professions that encounter a healthy share of critics, and I know well the convenient criticism that someone else would have made a different and better decision.

I once read that the contents of Abraham Lincoln’s pockets on the night he was assassinated are in some drawer tucked away in the bowels of the Smithsonian, and that among the assorted items is a newspaper clipping that complimented the sitting president, which is particularly interesting once you remember his unpopularity at the time.  It seems that even a great leader like Lincoln needed to remember that his efforts were not entirely unappreciated.

As I sat in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum a week ago with my lovely wife and listened to the disgruntled fans voice their disgruntled-ness, I thought about what poor Case Keenum should do.  Backpacking across Europe is an option, as is a noise-canceling helmet.  Instead, I suggest that Mr. Keenum keep an encouraging note in his pocket and continue to give everything he has to his work—I don’t think he has to go so far as to avoid the theater.