January 26, 2013

How far away are Cowboys from a Super Bowl?

Commentary: The 49ers and Ravens have similar traits, none of which can be found in Jerry Jones' franchise.

As the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens descend on New Orleans to begin preparation for next Sunday's showdown in Super Bowl XLVII, it has not gone unnoticed that the Dallas Cowboys are now 17 seasons removed from their last Super Bowl title in 1995.

That fact is certainly not lost on angry owner Jerry Jones, who after pointing out last summer that he was getting too old to wait much longer, saw his Cowboys finish 8-8 and miss the playoffs for the third consecutive season.

He has since gutted the coaching staff and seemingly neutered coach Jason Garrett in a frustrated quest to get back everything the Cowboys had in 1995.

That was the third of three Super Bowl titles in the 1990s when the Cowboys were a bona fide dynasty.

Back then -- a time oilman Jones infamously remembers as the "glory hole" days -- it seemed as though the Super Bowl was to be a frequent destination for the Cowboys.

The Hall of Fame Triplets -- Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin -- were in the prime of their careers, and Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders was just coming off his first season with the team.

It's all but a distant memory now.

To many kids of today, Sanders and the Triplets appear more like fictional storybook characters than part of the same franchise that begot the self-destructive likes of Quincy Carter or the tragic hero that has become quarterback Tony Romo.

There is a whole generation of Cowboys fans born after 1995 that has seen nothing but Cowboys failure. The Cowboys have just one playoff win and a middling 128-128 regular-season record since the start of the 1997 season.

If Jones doesn't find a way to turn things around for his own increasingly diminishing legacy, at least do it for the kids -- the knee-jerk, bandwagon generation of today.

They are becoming Redskins fans because of Robert Griffin III or Saints fans, like my 11-year-old daughter Channing, or 49ers fans, like turncoat LeBron James, who professed his love for the Cowboys earlier this year and is now tweeting about San Francisco and transcendent quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

The time is now for the Cowboys to end their Super drought, but doing so takes more than want-to.

When you ask how much longer must Cowboys fans suffer, I would like to steal a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King and say, "How long, not long, because no lie can live forever."

But that would be a lie rooted in lies.

The reason the Cowboys are continuing to wallow in their own version of Super Bowl purgatory is because of the fibs Jones spouts about the history of the franchise since he took over in 1989.

As Jones tells it, he has been the primary decision-maker from Day One, and that was the foundation of the dynasty teams of the 1990s -- never mind that then coach Jimmy Johnson was the architect of three title teams of the 1990s. Their power struggle was at the root of why Jones fired Johnson following the 1993 season.

Jones' hell-bent mission to prove that he built a winner doing it his way as owner and general manager has ushered in the downward spiral of the franchise.

The Cowboys have been at the level of the two Super Bowl contenders at times over the past two years.

Remember, Dallas defeated San Francisco on the road last season when Romo courageously played with a punctured lung.

The Cowboys also came within a missed field goal of beating the Ravens on the road this season.

But these two teams are not in the Super Bowl because of how they fared in one game. They are there because of how they were built, mainly through the draft, and because they have strong leaders in their coaching and front office who are not afraid to make bold moves.

Those issues go hand-in-hand when you ask how far the Cowboys are from being Super Bowl contenders.

The 2012 team had just six starters from the past five drafts combined -- none from what should have been core drafts in 2008 and 2009. Of the 18 players picked in those two years, only five were on the roster in 2012. That number will be even lower this year, with running back Felix Jones and cornerback Mike Jenkins, both first-round picks in 2008, set to leave via free agency.

It doesn't take long to make a run in the NFL.

The 49ers missed the playoffs every year from 2003 through 2010. They then hired Jim Harbaugh as coach, made back-to-back trips to the NFC title game and this season's trip to the Super Bowl.

Is it possible for the Cowboys to make a similar turnaround?


But with Jones still in charge, don't bet on it.

Clarence E. Hill Jr., 81-390-7697

Twitter: @clarencehilljr

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