(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
I’m watching the Dallas Cowboys play the Chicago Bears tonight, the first of October. This is a pretty pathetic performance by a Dallas assemblage that has so long been heralded as “America’s Team.” The Bears intercept poor, inept Dallas QB Tony Romo five times tonight. The Cowboys are once again humiliated. Totally crushed. Stomped into their expensive artificial turf by the score of 34-18.
This game was in the majestic, new $1.2 billion Cowboys Stadium, the looming, glistening mothership from outer space, where the ‘Boy’ win-loss record is now 14-12 since moving into this enormous Swankienda. The Dallas Cowboys’ lifetime win-loss-tie record from 1960 through 2011 is 481-357-6. Yet they still get away with calling themselves “America’s Team” as a corporate marketing effort. Which remains very successful.
One drawback about the stadium, which is actually located in Arlington, is that there’s very little public transport there from Dallas, Fort Worth or from anywhere else. It’s totally a car culture in this area.
When the Cowboys’ original Texas Stadium opened in 1971, it was inaugurated by a 10-day evangelical Billy Graham crusade, presided over by the crusade’s chairman, Cowboys coach Tom Landry, with former president Lyndon Johnson and first lady Lady Bird Johnson and country music icon Johnny and first lady icon June Carter Cash onstage, as well.
From my childhood in Fort Worth, the Cowboys were the ideal for me and my friends. I still remember, as a kid, being awed by meeting and shaking hands with Dallas running back Dan Reeves in the Fort Worth department store, Leonard’s. Growing up in Fort Worth, my heroes and my friends’ heroes were the Cowboys. Our local TCU football team, in what was then a strong Southwest Conference, was a punching bag in those years.
But the Cowboys were a source of regional pride. They were big and strong and proud. They beat the snotty big-city New York Giants. They stomped the arrogant East Coast Washington Redskins. They were the standard-bearers for Texas.
The Cowboys were also the impetus for a major technological push in the Southwest. Cowboys’ fans, especially in suburban and rural areas, bought satellite dishes in record numbers so they could get their by-God Cowboys games every week. And, as my family members’ history attests, Cowboys fans easily moved on from satellite technology to computers and onto the Internet.
Of all the NFL teams, the Cowboys’ history is unmatched for drama. Now, Texas writer Joe Nick Patoski, whose last book was a comprehensive — and highly readable — biography of Willie Nelson, has written a massive history of the “‘Pokes,” as the Dallas Times Herald newspaper liked to abbreviate them in headlines. ‘Pokes = Cowpokes= Cowboys. Get it?
Patoski’s huge 805-page work is titled The Dallas Cowboys: The Outrageous History of the Biggest, Loudest, Most Hated, Best Loved Football Team in America. I love well-told sports history, which also encompasses urban and regional history. Patoski accomplishes all that in this well-researched work.
But it’s the characters themselves that propel this book along. Characters such as the country music-singing QB Dandy Don Meredith, whom Howard Cosell dubbed “the Danderoo” when they, along with former New York Giant Frank Gifford, were the commentators on Monday Night Football. Meredith’s finest moment may have come on one telecast, when a single solitary fan was sitting in the otherwise isolated upper deck. The camera focused in on him and he raised a feisty up-yours one-fingered salute. The camera shot lingered for an uncomfortably long time, and Meredith finally broke the tension by observing, “He’s just saying that we’re No. 1.”
He also was famous for singing Willie Nelson’s “The Party’s Over” on game telecasts when it became obvious the game’s outcome was already decided, no matter how much time was left.
Cowboys’ characters were legend. Such as Bubbles Cash, the young stripper who — as a fan in the stadium — turned cotton candy dancing into an art form when the early Cowboys played at the Cotton Bowl. She and her abbreviated costume and dancing became the template for the later Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders’ look and demeanor.
Cowboys’ original president and GM Tex Schramm (who was from San Gabriel, Calif.) later filed suit against Pussycat Cinemas Ltd. for copyright infringement for the movie Debbie Does Dallas, claiming it harmed the Cowboys Cheerleaders’ brand. Go figure.
Or Crazy Ray, the black man dressed up in full cowboy regalia, who paraded up and down the sidelines during games, riding a toy wooden horse and waving toy six-shooters. By day, he shined shoes at a downtown barber shop. On Sundays, he was the image of the Cowboys and a favorite of NFL telecast highlights.
And, of course, there was the dour and stoic coach Tom Landry, who — as far as I’m concerned — is the only real coach the Cowboys have ever had. Even my mother liked the Cowboys because Coach Landry always wore a coat and tie and hat on the sidelines. Unlike this guy in New England these days who distinguishes himself by wearing a cheap team sweatshirt on the sidelines.
The Cowboys have also inspired novels and movies, the best of which is North Dallas Forty, the book by ex-Cowboys player Peter Gent. The movie starred Nick Nolte as a very convincing banged-up and doped-up pro footballer.
And there remains the ongoing soap opera that is the Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. His first act was to fire Tom Landry. Jones and coach Jimmy Johnson did not get along since Jones knew more about coaching than any mere coach. Their head-banging came to an end at an NFL owners meeting at Disney World in Orlando, Fla.
Jones came up to a table where Johnson was drinking with a number of former Cowboys employees, whom Jones had fired, and their wives. Jones banged on the table with his glass of scotch and proposed a toast to the Cowboys and all those ‘Boys employees who had contributed to two straight Super Bowl wins. No one at the table lifted a glass in the toast.
“F**k you,” Jones said. “Have your own party!”
Jimmy Johnson was soon fired as the Cowboys’ coach.