The Austin Chronicle

Coach's Corner

By Andy "Coach" Cotton, October 4, 1996, Columns

I'm thinking of writing a book. Its working title: The Most Hated Team in the World: The Story of the Dallas Cowboys. You may think I'm flogging a beaten horse, but hardly a week goes by without another outrageous example of this most peculiar national phenomenon. And it is strange. And it is a national phenomenon. Outside of Texas, Dallas is universally reviled. There are 29 other teams in the NFL, yet if you combined the hate factor of the next five most-disliked teams they wouldn't fill half of a Cowboy hate-beaker.

The common rejoinder -- typically arrogant Dallas -- is itching envy of Cowboy success. Sounds good but wrong. Take San Francisco. They've enjoyed as much success as Dallas, though you don't hear masses of people from Cedar Rapids, Bangor, and Carson City discourse on a hatred of the 49ers. No, it's a uniquely Dallas phenomenon. How did this come to pass?

Hatched inauspiciously on the floor of the Cotton Bowl in 1960, the infant Cowscum were innocuous. In fact, considering all the factors involved, the players themselves are the least of the culprits. It begins with a perception of Texans as loudmouth, boastful blowhards. There is a truth here. In a peculiarly (how does this virus spread?) uncertain transmission of these traits, Cowboy converts from upstate New York, rural Missouri, and Tokyo develop all the obnoxious swagger and braggadocio of lifers from El Paso. Strike one.

Tom Landry has -- in retirement -- developed a kindly, warm, grandfatherly persona. As a coach, he was a tough, efficient, ruthless, emotionless snake. Unlike his contemporary Vince Lombardi, who had many of these characteristics but was clearly a man capable of great emotion and warmth, Landry mimicked and personified the city his team represented: sterile, symmetrically sharp angles, polished glass-and-steel, haughty, rich, and conservative. His team -- buttoned-down, successful, smugly arrogant (Roger Staubach being the franchise's perfect poster boy) -- ideally reflected a coach and a city. Somewhere in here, they became "America's Team" (a moniker quickly embraced by the pretentious organization). They were not my team. Others shared this sentiment. Strike two.

As the ebb and flow of the NFL took its toll, the team fell into mediocrity. Old-line Cowboy haters softened. Even I felt sorry for the 'Boys. Then along came Jones.

Jerry and Jimmy were in many ways the polar opposite of dull, drab old Tom. This was not an improvement. Though still smug, arrogant, and ruthless, the J/J regime ditched the conservative conceit of the depression-era banker for the shove-it-in-your-face braggadocio of acquired wealth. Drugs, whores, numerous drunken incidents, suspensions, and paternity suits as commonplace as locker room bennies, once unthinkable, became the norm. Who cares what anyone thinks? We're the Cowboys. Strike three.

None of this properly explains the obnoxious, reviled Cowboy fan, an attractive combination of self-important, ungracious winners and sullen, finger-pointing losers. Most of the people I know are Cowboy fans. Tuesday through Saturday they are, on the whole, perfectly likable people. What warped these people? What happened? Enter the football-crazed Texas media, in particular, the Dallas media.

I wasn't at the Cotton Bowl for the birth of the beast, a 35-28 loss to the Steelers. That season ended 0-11-1. There was no hint what was incubating. In 1966, out of nowhere, after suffering through five dreadful seasons, the Cowboys hatched. They went 10-3-1 (their first winning season) and won the Eastern Conference. The monster sprang, fully grown. Possessing a perpetually optimistic view, my suspicion is that Cowboy fans are made, not born.

I don't know what young Blackie Sherrods, Bud Shrakes and Dan Jenkinses were writing in those formative years, but they or their colleagues must have set the tone. This attitude -- whipping up the natives -- was picked up by reporters statewide. It evolved into the hysterical Cowboy reporting we see today. Contemporary example: Week one, Chicago beats Dallas. Metro-Plex media, only the week before smugly reporting "everything would be fine..." now calls the season "lost." They want the coach's head. Week two, Dallas beats a terrible Giant team. Sweet baby Jesus, the 'Boys are back!! Week three, the 'Boys blow an 18-point lead to a crippled, not-very-good Colt team. "Disastrous" becomes a redundant headline adjective.

How many times is the sportsfan subjected to the sad, melancholy litany of Cowboy woes? Troy is missing his "go-to guys." Poor Emmitt is "nicked" up. Cowboy fans believe injuries to their team are flat unfair. A league conspiracy! Star players are out all over the league but in Dallas excuses instead of responsibility abound. Five All-Pro linemen still block for poor, bruised Smith. The world's greatest quarterback still throws the ball. Deion still covers. Cowboy All-Stars -- more than entire divisions possess -- litter the roster. Still, this sorrowful lament is whined incessantly.

All the elements are in place for a best-seller. Hate, lurid scandal of every conceivable sort, envy, greed, revenge and, at last, retribution. I just need a publisher. n

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