One-armed Knife Sharpener
- Apr 7, 2013
Bob Sturm 4h ago
If you are the type to engage in traditions, you will be pleased to know I’m aware this is one of mine. This year, above all other seasons, we are breaking from traditions against our will, but that can’t stop me from making sure I try to keep a little normalcy, as a sportswriting creature of habit. For the last 23 seasons, I have been employed to cover Dallas Cowboys training camp on-site. For many of those, I have been employed to write about them. Each year, often from a seat on an airplane 30,000 feet in the air as I swiftly move westward toward California, I wrote my “Off to Oxnard” column, which I suppose could be considered my very own “State of the Cowboys” address — a very different one than the one you may hear from the Jones Family.
The Cowboys’ actual power brokers, of course, often deliver their version from the sunny tennis courts in Oxnard, welcoming us to a sun-soaked destination where we can expect that the annual super-serving of optimism is poured on generously.
Before a single practice snap has occurred, we find everyone healthy and in “the best shape of their lives.” Hope is overflowing, and Super Bowls are mentioned. We hear about the new draftees and acquisitions and how they will fix the noticeable gaps from last season. Holes have been filled, we are told. Progress has been made, we are told.
We also feel like we have been here before. And we have: We have very often been in the exact location hearing this exact message for years and years and years. In my case, 21 of them.
I was hired in July of 1998 to come work in Dallas. That was right after my 26th birthday. The Chicago Bulls, led by Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman, had just won the NBA title. A week later, the Dallas Mavericks were able to trade for the draft rights of a young German named Dirk Nowitzki. A week after that, the Dallas Stars acquired Brett Hull as their final piece of the puzzle that would deliver a Stanley Cup to Texas. In other words, it has been a long, long time.
My first camp was an insane experience for a young media pup. Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, Deion Sanders, Moose Johnston, Larry Allen, Nate Newton and Darren Woodson were all there. I honestly couldn’t believe I was in the presence of what seemed like the Pro Football Hall of Fame team right in front of me. When they said they expected to go to the Super Bowl again, I believed them. If anyone knew the path to a Lombardi Trophy, it would be the guys who all sported rings on their fingers. They didn’t need to convince me very hard when they talked about a Super Bowl. It would be silly to bet against them.
They didn’t go in 1998. And they haven’t gone – or been in the NFC Championship Game – since 1995. Yes, they start every training camp with the pie located up in the sky, but as those heroes all collectively ended their careers, we suspected someone would take their place and continue the standard of excellence from the 1990s until today, significantly out of place in Frisco, Texas in the middle of August and nowhere near a tennis court by the Pacific Ocean. We’re still waiting.
Last year, there was a feeling of finality when giving this address to you in this space. It was Jason Garrett’s 10th year, and we knew that the next year would likely feature one of two outcomes: Either the Cowboys would finally achieve something constituting a breakthrough from the mediocrity, or we would see significant change. It is tough to say what the populace would have voted for, as many longtime fans seemed to be ok with a painful loss here or there; ultimately, they knew that in Garrett’s contract year of 2019, each win might buy him another five years and each loss might allow a look behind Door No. 2 and certainly a bridge to a new future.
I think you know by now which scenario won.
The Cowboys are all new in 2020. Almost too new. They have said goodbye to old friends at a rate we haven’t seen in some time. Garrett is a New York Giant, and Jason Witten appears to be something called a Las Vegas Raider, which I am not sure is a real thing yet. Jeff Heath is with him, by the way, while Travis Frederick is somewhere in Wisconsin to balance out the new head coach Mike McCarthy coming south for his summer. Byron Jones is in Miami, and Randall Cobb continued his southward migration down to Houston. Any further south than that will require NFL expansion in Belize, which we do not anticipate.
There are more than a few mornings when I have written about the new regime and the aggressive offseason of veteran free agents and an unbelievable gift that draft day has bestowed upon North Texas in the form of CeeDee Lamb sliding to pick 17. Many more mornings are still to come. 2020 will continue to be weird, but I remain confident there will at least be a Cowboys season in some form or fashion, and you know we will not let a detail blow past us.
But today’s piece is never about that. It is about the track record that 2020 is asked to overcome. What we may call a “burden of failure,” if you will.
Late every summer, the financial know-it-alls at Forbes quantify the values of every sports franchise under the sun. For as long as I can recall, the Cowboys have finished at the very top of this list. Higher than the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Lakers, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. I will tell you that it is so common that it hardly even gets a reaction anymore from anyone in North Texas. It is assumed now that this area hosts the most valuable sports team in the world, and there isn’t a franchise close enough to challenge them. Now valued at $5.5 billion, they are pulling away, despite Forbes describing a $500m lead on the Yankees as merely “edging out” the Bronx Bombers.
For Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and New York’s Steinbrenner family, it may as well be paper profit. Only one team in the top 35—MLB’s Los Angeles Dodgers, in 2012—has changed hands in the past decade, which explains how the Mets, No. 41 at $2.4 billion, became one of the hottest tickets in sports.”
Now, in fairness, the Jones family tries not to vocalize how incredibly rich they truly are, and we all play along. Even the area’s voters help them achieve greater generational wealth by assisting them in building fresh stadiums and facilities with very little resistance from taxpayers. It is probably a wonderful world viewing it from one of the family helicopters.
Regardless, though, I do not care about any of this as a real point of success. I realize that the Stockholm Syndrome approach that this generation of Cowboys fans has endured has caused some fans to advocate that business success in some way mitigates the lack of meaningful football success. It doesn’t for me, and it shouldn’t for you (unless you are somehow sharing in the profits – in which case, well done).
Jerry Jones’ business acumen has never been in doubt. We can debate how much is his personal brilliance and how much is a matter of being in the right place at the right time, but that is probably a waste of energy. He has taken a small fortune and turned it into a big fortune several times over, and that will make sure he may eat with gold forks off diamond plates for the rest of his life. And, hey, he will probably enjoy as long of a life span as one might purchase.
But you cannot buy Lombardi trophies.
It has been tried and tried. Money is always part the process, but a Super Bowl team needs secret sauce. You can’t just add money. There are 32 teams fighting for the throne, and money isn’t short anywhere in the league. It requires a number of fortuitous forks in the road, a recipe for how to get there and then the precision and execution to carry everything out over a six-month march that eliminates most participants through simple daily attrition.
We could easily argue that if you merely wonder about their place in history since 1995, the Cowboys may not be a top-20 franchise. Are they any more than a mirage, a fleeting memory of a time when Jerry Jones did not drive this proud ship into the football ground and convert it into something of a laughingstock?
This is my State of the Cowboys address. I don’t care about the money and the glitz and how luxurious everything is. I care about wins, preferably meaningful ones. I care about ultimately seriously contending to be a true heavyweight in the modern NFL. You aren’t going to win every year, but in a 32-team league, you should figure out methods to turn your “richest franchise in the world” value to something better than a championship every 32 years.
In other words, keep the cash that buys another yacht. Show me a meaningful January. I have covered this team for 23 seasons and have hardly seen one.
With that harsh love in mind, and as tradition dictates, here is how I end this piece. You may bookmark it for future reference, or ignore it and pretend we are not talking about the most important sports franchise in your heart. These are the cold, hard facts about the Dallas Cowboys and what they have become since the Jones family had to deal with life on top.
- This is the 25th season since the Dallas Cowboys have last won a Super Bowl. They have won five Super Bowls, which ties them with San Francisco and is one behind Pittsburgh and New England for the most Super Bowl titles ever. But the last 24 years have been bleak. Very bleak. Somehow, financial success is not linked to just how pedestrian this franchise has become in a post-Triplets/Jimmy Johnson world. But given that this proud group’s last parade came during the first term of President Clinton, and we had another term of his, two terms of President Bush, two terms of President Obama and now near the end of the first term of President Trump, well… we are all getting significantly older. You need to be about 34 years old now – almost old enough to run for president yourself – to remember the last time. Yikes.
- During this stretch, 13 teams have won a Super Bowl. Six teams have won multiple Super Bowls. Two teams have won more than two Super Bowls, and one team has won six Super Bowls by themselves. Dallas is not one of them.
- Twenty different NFL Franchises have won a Conference Championship Game to go to a Super Bowl since 1995. Dallas is not one of them.
- Twenty-four different NFL franchises have won at least an NFL Divisional Round playoff game to advance and play in a Conference Championship Game during this stretch of time. Dallas is not one of them. Think about that.
- Only three NFC franchises have not played in an NFC Championship Game since 1995. They are Washington, Detroit and Dallas.
- Four franchises — New England, Green Bay, Pittsburgh and Baltimore — have won more playoff games during this stretch than the Cowboys have played in (14). Three more — Philadelphia, Seattle and Denver — have won as many playoff games as the Cowboys have played in.
- Dallas has won four playoff games in 24 seasons. They have all been home wildcard games. This is the same number of playoff wins as the Las Vegas Raiders and the Houston Texans. Only seven teams have fewer wins during that stretch: Chicago, Miami, Washington, Cincinnati, Buffalo, Detroit and Cleveland.
- Dallas is 4-10 in the playoffs during this stretch, for a win percentage of .286 which ties them with Washington at 27th overall. Only Cincinnati, Detroit, Buffalo and Cleveland have it worse.
The Cowboys are the most valuable franchise in sports and the most televised franchise in the NFL by a mile. They play all the high-profile, high-ratings games, and they have proven that unlike other franchises, it is not about a special player who has attracted the eyeballs. It is the logo, the uniform and the franchise itself that has people wanting to see the next chapter.
The Dallas Cowboys now have a fresh coat of paint. Optimism remains high, as we believe they have assembled a team that has a chance to make some noise this year. But that has been true for some time. The question, as we begin Year 25 of the post-parade march, is how long must we sing this song?
The torch has now been handed to Mike McCarthy, as he sees whether he can do what Chan Gailey, Dave Campo, Bill Parcells, Wade Phillips and Jason Garrett could not: lead the Cowboys back to the promised land.
He has already done that in Green Bay, where he brought the Packers to a place only Vince Lombardi and Mike Holmgren had ever done. I assume he believes it is only a matter of time.
Let’s hope he is right. Enough is enough, and hearing about what Tom Landry used to do is wearing thin. Not only that, but those 34-year olds are starting to see their kids grow up too fast.