Dallas Cowboys

America’s Team: How the Dallas Cowboys became a household name

The Monday after a home game at the Dallas Cowboys Pro Shop finds half-empty shelves and apologetic employees. AT&T Stadium workers can’t restock fast enough as shirts, jerseys and caps are popular purchases on game day … or any other day for that matter.

The Cowboys again rank first in team jersey sales —– as they do most seasons — with rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott’s jersey the highest-selling in the league from April 1-Sept. 20, according to the NFL.

“I really never felt there was a question who really should be America’s Team,” said former Cowboys fullback Daryl Johnston, now a Fox Sports analyst. “I really don’t see anything different now. They’re No. 1 in almost every measurable category.

“For all those teams that think they’re America’s Team, if you were America’s Team, you’d be No. 1.”

The Cowboys continue to wear the crown despite not having won a Super Bowl since the 1995 season. Their record is only 167-159 in the 21 seasons since, including 5-1 this season.

“Everybody’s got names and tags and slogans and phrases,” Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins said. “Every team has theirs, and I think [America’s Team] is one that’s become synonymous with the Cowboys. It just kind of is what it is.”

The Cowboys became America’s Team before Jerry Jones bought the team, before they won the last three of five Super Bowl titles and before they built their $1.2 billion stadium in Arlington.

The Cowboys won over the nation with 20 consecutive winning seasons from 1966-85. It was the fourth-longest such streak ever in professional sports.

The team with the star on its helmet became America’s Team because of its stars on the field. The Cowboys have nine Pro Football Hall of Famers from the 1970s, including Coach Tom Landry and quarterback Roger Staubach.

“I think of Tom Landry and Roger Staubach and so many great players and coaches that really, when the NFL was all coming together, those were the guys who made it into America’s Team,” Cowboys tight end Jason Witten said.

By the late 1970s, Cowboys games were broadcast on 225 radio stations, including 16 in Spanish. Their in-house newspaper, Dallas Cowboys Weekly, touted a circulation of 95,000, more than Pro Football Weekly. Cowboys merchandise represented 30 percent of the NFL’s apparel market, and the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders sold more than a million posters and were featured in two made-for-TV movies.

“We did a lot of things people didn’t really realize we did,” said Gil Brandt, the Cowboys player personnel director from 1960-89. “We answered every letter from every fan, and we would put a little flyer in there that they could buy T-shirts for $4 and wristbands for $2 and so forth. Everybody was surprised that they would actually get a letter from an NFL team and every player on our team. It was good for us, and it was good for the future of NFL Properties.

“I think we’re probably into the grandkids of those people we started with.”

Dr. William Sutton, the director of the University of South Florida’s Sport and Entertainment Management program, credits the Cowboys’ “reach” across the country. The Cowboys play in the South, have held training camp on the West Coast for 37 of 57 seasons and play in the NFC East with Philadelphia, Washington and the New York Giants.

“Geographically, they’ve got it nailed,” Sutton said.

America’s Team is born

Bob Ryan, an editor-in-chief at NFL Films, gave the Cowboys their nickname. Ryan proposed “Champions Die Hard” as the title for the Cowboys’ 1978 highlight film, but Doug Todd, then the team’s public relations director, rejected it.

So Ryan, noting the Cowboys’ national appeal, instead offered “America’s Team.”

“They had legions of fans across the country,” Ryan said. “They were a team that you either loved or hated. They were like Notre Dame, the Yankees, the Celtics, those kinds of teams that drew large numbers in ratings because of that love-hate relationship. If there was a national team in pro football, there was only one team, and that was the Dallas Cowboys.

“So it was based more on fact than on fancy. This was not something I said, ‘Oh, this would be something strange to do.’ It really was based on fact.”

Tex Schramm, the team’s president and general manager, loved the nickname. Landry, the team’s coach from 1960-88, hated it. Opposing players mocked it.

“Whenever we went, like Philadelphia, there would always be a columnist say, ‘Hey, America’s Team is in town,’ ” said Staubach, a Hall of Famer who played for the Cowboys from 1969-79. “People were always giving us a hard time.

“We were playing the Eagles right after it came out, and I was scrambling around, and Bill Bergey grabbed me and someone else grabbed me. I kind of got the wind knocked out of me, and I’m laying there. Bergey comes over and grabs my hand, and he pulls me up and he says, ‘Take that, America’s quarterback.’ I said, ‘Oh, my gosh, they’re not too happy with us being called America’s Team.’ I like it today, because I was proud of being part of America’s Team. But when we were playing, it was bad enough playing the other guys, but when they thought we were kind of shoving it in their face with America’s Team, I don’t think as players we were crazy about it.”


The team now goes by both nicknames.

The Cowboys trademarked “America’s Team.” They sell the slogan on T-shirts, including one with Captain America and another with the presidential seal; they include it in a mural in the executive break room at The Star, their new $1.5 billion training complex; and they tout it in a pregame video set to Ray Charles’ version of America the Beautiful, featuring Cowboys fans at landmarks around the country.

Jones has turned them into the cash Cowboys since buying the franchise and the Texas Stadium lease for $140 million in 1989. Forbes now estimates the Cowboys are the world’s most valuable sports franchise, worth $4.2 billion.

“We have maximized the foundation and the brilliance, if you will, of Tex Schramm in terms of visibility,” Jones said. “He knew better than anyone how to maximize visibility. The other part of visibility, the marketing part of it, means that you apply that visibility, use that visibility to bring some viability, juice if you will, back home so you can go again. That’s marketing.

“There’s no question that the name itself — America’s Team — really attributed to, at the time, the new thing of NFL football on television.”

The Cowboys played in the three most-watched regular-season games last season, according to Nielsen. Of the 10 most-watched Sunday night games, the Cowboys played in five, including the top two.

They played in front of the most fans last season, 1.3 million, and have sold out stadiums 227 consecutive games.

The Cowboys also have stayed atop the Harris Poll as the most popular NFL team for 10 of the 15 years of the survey, including the most recent in 2015. CBS Sports determined the Cowboys were the most tweeted about NFL team last season despite their 4-12 record.

Love ’em or hate ’em, everybody watches them, tweets about them and talks about them. No matter their record.

“You get people always asking, ‘Are the Cowboys still America’s Team?’ ” said Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin, who played in Dallas from 1988-99 and now works for NFL Network. “They always equate it with a winning record, as if America’s Team has to have a winning record. The Cowboys became America’s Team for a number of reasons back in Tom Landry and Tex Schramm’s day. It was also the way they were doing things at the time. All of that. It wasn’t just the winning.

“So there’s no doubt they’re still America’s Team. It’s not even a question.”

Charean Williams: 817-390-7760, @NFLCharean

Cowboys’ bye week

Next: vs. Eagles, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 30

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