How I Became A Dallas Cowboys Fan
It was between the Giants and the Cowboys. My dad was a Giants fan, my older brother a Dallas fan.
The year was 1969. The Dallas Cowboys had just lost to the Cleveland Browns, 38–14, in the NFL playoffs. Dallas wasn’t supposed to lose. They had compiled an 11–2–1 record in the regular season. One of those losses was to the Browns, 42–10, in Week 7. Still, the Cowboys were favored to win and move on to face the powerful Minnesota Vikings in the NFL title game.
This would be the fourth year in a row that the Cowboys were good enough to reach the Super Bowl but didn’t. They lost two heart breakers to the Green Bay Packers in the 1966 and 1967 NFL title game. They lost again in 1968 to the Browns and, now again, to the Browns.
Truth be told I don’t remember the game all that well, But I do remember watching it. I was only seven years old and it was the first year I followed the NFL.
My interest in football started with playing it, not watching it. My father gave my brother and me a football and a helmet for Christmas. We would play in the yard and sometimes in the park.
I do remember football being on our black & white TV at home. My father and brother watched the games often, but I was still too young to understand it. I also had trouble sitting still.
My interest in watching football started with football cards. I don’t remember where I obtained them, but I got my hands on some 1969 Topps football cards. I loved looking at those cards with bright vibrant colors. I was captivated by the colorful uniforms, the helmets, and, especially, the team logos. I would read all the information on the back of the cards. It gave you the players' height, his weight, his age, his stats, what year he started in the league, what job he had during the offseason (yes they actually had regular jobs in the offseason). It was like a whole biography on each player.
That Christmas–three days before the Cowboys vs. Browns playoff game–my mother gave my brother and me Dallas Cowboys sweatshirts–our first! She ordered from the Sears and Roebuck catalog.
But I had a problem. I was torn between two teams–the Cowboys and NY Giants. My father was a Giants fan. He watched all the great Giants teams of the 1950s and early 1960s. Because we were from New Jersey we were supposed to root for local teams (in our case, the Giants and Jets).
But he also said it was up to me which team I would root for. I liked the Giants because my father did, but I also liked the Cowboys, because my brother did.
My brother was 3 & 1/2 years older than me. He started rooting for the Cowboys during the 1967 NFL title game against the Green Bay Packers. He was a big fan of wide receiver, Bob Hayes. Hayes was nicknamed “The Bullet” because of blazing speed. Hayes won a Gold Medal in the 1964 Olympics and, with that, was deemed “The Fastest Man in the World.”
``My brother convinced me to choose the Cowboys over the Giants. It didn’t really take much convincing, either. The Giants had fallen on hard times–without a winning season for six years. Even my father–a lifelong Giants fan–was down on them. He criticized them for trading away his favorite player, Sam Huff, after the 1963 season.
The Cowboys, on the other hand, were winning. They had the sharpest looking uniforms in the league. They had great players, too, like aforementioned Hayes on offense and Bob Lilly on defense. Lilly would quickly become my favorite player.
That’s what made the playoff loss to the Browns so disappointing–especially to my brother, who had watched them lose for the fourth year in a row.
1970 would be different, we thought. It would be the year the Cowboys would finally win it all.
My interest peaked that year, too, thanks in part to my 2nd Grade teacher, Miss Macia. Born and raised in Wisconsin she was a big sports fan.
Normally a shy kid, I loved talking sports with her. Understandably, she was a Green Bay Packers fan. She liked to tease me about how the Packers had beaten my Cowboys two years in a row in the NFL title game. It was a tease lost, though: I was only 4-years-old in 1966 and 5 in 1967 and didn’t remember either of those games.
One day in class (as part of a history lesson) she showed us an 8-millimeter film on the 1967 title game. It was the first time that I had actually seen the game. It was dubbed “The Ice Bowl” because of minus 16-degree temperatures. I was mesmerized! I found myself dissecting every play, understanding it all for the first time. I thanked her for showing it and we talked football for the remainder of the school year. She’ll always be my favorite teacher.
The 1970 season–the one that my brother and I had such high hopes for–didn’t start off well. After nine weeks Dallas was 5–4. Two of those losses were humiliating defeats–38–0 to the St. Louis Cardinals and 54–13 to the Minnesota Vikings.
I was starting to regret not picking the Giants as my team. The Giant's record stood at 6–3 and they had defeated the Cowboys in Week 8.
But, suddenly, the Cowboys got hot. They won the remaining five regular-season games and made the playoffs for the 5th straight year.
Dallas defeated the Detroit Lions in the first round and the SF 49ers in the NFC title game. In their last six games, the defense had allowed a total of just 25 points–4.25 points per game and two touchdowns in 24 quarters of football. The “Doomsday Defense” was living up to its name.
We were sure the Cowboys would beat the Baltimore Colts in the Super Bowl, but it wasn’t to be. The Cowboys were brilliant on defense–just as it had been the previous six weeks–but the team still lost, 16–13, on a last-second field goal.
The Cowboys had now missed a chance to be champions for the 5th year in a row. Miss Macia made sure to remind me every chance she got. Oh, how it hurt to be a Cowboys fan!
1971 started off much the same as 1970. The Cowboys started off 4–3, which included upset losses to two bad teams, the Chicago Bears and the New Orleans Saints. In Week 8, Coach Tom Landry decided to go with former Heisman Trophy winner, Roger Staubach, as his starting quarterback. The Cowboys then reeled-off nine wins in a row, including a playoff victory over the Vikings and a win over the 49ers in the NFC title game.
The Cowboys were back in the Super Bowl, up against the Miami Dolphins. The Cowboys were clearly the better team, but my brother and I were still pretty nervous–knowing the Cowboys’ history. But Dallas won easily, 24–3, and we finally had our long-awaited Super Bowl victory!
By now our bedroom was filled with Dallas Cowboys pictures and memorabilia. My Christmas wish list consisted of mostly everything Dallas Cowboys–shirts, jackets, coats, and helmet–all ordered from Mom’s Sears and Roebuck catalog.
The 1972 Cowboys picked up right where they left off in 1971, standing 8–2 after 10 weeks. We had high hopes for a 3rd straight Super Bowl appearance. But we began to worry after a 31–10 defeat to the 49ers on Thanksgiving Day and a 23–3 defeat to the Giants in the final regular-season game. It would be the first time in seven years that the Cowboys didn’t finish 1st in the division.
They would play the 49ers in the playoffs. Dallas fell behind, 28–13, with just minutes left in the game. It looked like the season was over. But then Roger Staubach entered the game to replace the struggling Craig Morton. Staubach had missed most of the season due to injury. Staubach rallied the team to an amazing last-minute, 30–28, comeback win. But, the following week, our Super Bowl hopes were dashed with a crushing 26–3 loss to the archrival, Washington Redskins. To make matters worse, one of our favorite baseball players, Roberto Clemente, died in a plane crash that same day. It was New Year’s Eve, but neither my brother nor I felt much like celebrating.
The Cowboys started off 3–0 in 1973 before losing again to the rival Redskins on Monday Night football 14–7. The Cowboys had a chance to tie the game in the final minute, but fullback Walt Garrison was stopped at the goal line by Redskins’ safety, Ken Houston, who had just joined the team after being acquired in a trade with the Houston Oilers.
Dallas lost the following week to the LA Rams in a 37–31 shootout. The team rebounded with a Week 6 win over the Giants but, then, lost again in Week 7 to the Eagles. At 4–3 the Cowboys appeared to be sleepwalking.
But then–as they always seemed to do–the team went on a winning streak, this time winning six out of seven, including a much-needed 27–7 win over the rival Redskins. Dallas then avenged its early-season loss to the Rams, 27–16, in the playoffs. But they once again lost in the NFC title game. This time to the Minnesota Vikings 27–10.
1974 started off with a 24–0 win over the Falcons, but then came four straight losses. I was stunned. I had never seen the Cowboys lose four games in a row. They won seven of the next nine, including a thrilling, 24–23, come-from-behind win over the Redskins on Thanksgiving Day, but failed to reach the playoffs for the first time since 1965.
It was clear that changes needed to be made.
In Part Two we will take a look at the Cowboys from 1975–1982.