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I became a Dallas Cowboy fan at the perfect time, the franchise's first winning season in 1966.

Most of the kids in my neighborhood were naturally fans of George Halas' Chicago Bears, featuring Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus (the greatest football name ever). The others followed Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers, who were just up the road and won a lot more.

I cheered for the Cowboys for the same reason I cheered for the Cardinals instead of the Cubs and George was my favorite Beatle--out of contrariness, to be different. I still remember being less than impressed when my dad took me to a fundraiser where I got the autographs of Bart Starr and Max McGee because what I really wanted were those of Don Meredith and Bob Lilly.

So I was depressed as a small kid could be after "Dandy" Don's pass from the two-yard line was picked off in the end zone to seal Green Bay's 34-27 victory in the 1966 NFL title game. And when Starr slithered beneath Jethro Pugh to win the Ice Bowl the next year, after which we all went out and re-enacted the play in the sub-zero temperatures in the ice pasture known as the backyard.

Those two losses meant that it was the Packers rather than the Cowboys who got to beat up on the AFL champions (the Chiefs and Raiders) in the first two Super Bowls. They also explain why the trophy hoisted last week by Patrick Mahomes is named the Lombardi Trophy instead of the Landry Trophy.

The Cowboys finally won their first Super Bowl at the end of the 1971 season and thereafter became "America's Team," with Captain America himself, Roger Staubach, at the helm. Their success peaked in the 1990s, when they won three Super Bowls in a four-year span behind the "triplets" (Hall of Famers Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin).

Those 1990s Cowboys were the most dominant NFL team ever, going a remarkable 12-1 in the playoffs during those four years, with all the wins by double digits and the three Super Bowls won by a cumulative 72 points (it would have been four straight rings if they hadn't dug themselves such a big hole by turning the ball over on their first three possessions in the 1994 NFC championship game against Steve Young's 49ers).

The beginning of the decline came, of course, when Jerry Jones, frustrated over not getting his share of the credit, and in a decision perhaps unequaled in the substantial annals of stupid owner behavior, fired the coach (Jimmy Johnson) who'd just given him back-to-back titles and constructed the most talented roster in league history.

Mike McCarthy is now the sixth Cowboys head coach since the team's last trophy. During those 24 seasons they've barely won more than they've lost (206-192, counting playoff games, of which there have been far too few) and haven't even got to the NFC title game, let alone the Super Bowl.

The only constant in all that dismal mediocrity has been Jones, who has now demonstrated that however little credit he got way-back-when was too much.

To be sure, a hard salary cap (instituted at least partly in response to the Cowboys' 1990s dominance and Jones' deep pockets), combined with a league emphasis upon "parity" (in which teams with good records are punished the next season with harder schedules) now makes it virtually impossible to establish dynasties like Lombardi's Packers and the 1990s Cowboys, with only the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady New England Patriots managing to remain championship contenders on a regular basis.

The NFL has also now become overwhelmingly a passing league, with the rules tilted so much toward the quarterbacks that the area in which they can be touched by a defender is probably smaller than the baseball strike zone. As many commentators noted, the kind of jarring hits on "defenseless receivers" (a truly stupid concept) that sent safeties like Cliff Harris and Steve Atwater into the Hall of Fame would today result in only a parade of flags.

Those of us who prefer the kind of 10-7 defensive struggles with only an occasional forward pass that were the norm in the 1960s and early 1970s now have to sit through 42-35 pinball games in which the team that wins isn't necessarily the best, just the one that has the ball last.

For its part, the Super Bowl is now more about the commercials and the halftime shows than it is about what happens on the field. It is less a sporting event than a spectacle designed to appeal to those who don't know what a left tackle is or how to make a first down.

Last week I actually took a perverse delight in recording the big game and fast-forwarding through the commercials. I've also managed to find other things to do during the cheesy halftime shows since Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend doddered out onto the stage a decade ago, seemingly befuddled about what all the fuss was about.

As for the Cowboys, they're now the most valuable franchise in all of sports. They sell the most paraphernalia and have the highest-rated games on TV.

They just don't matter on the field.

Freelance columnist Bradley R. Gitz, who lives and teaches in Batesville, received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Illinois.

Editorial on 02/10/2020

Print Headline: Super Bowls sans Cowboys

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