Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings made an appeal to the Dallas Cowboys when training camp opened on July 30, less than a month after five police officers were shot and killed by a downtown sniper during a Black Lives Matter protest march.
The Cowboys’ organization doesn’t solve crimes.
Individual players have tightly defined job descriptions, and trying to do too much outside of that narrow focus on the field can often be as costly as not doing enough.
But Rawlings asked for a little more that day from a team coming off a 4-12 season with question marks of its own swirling.
It was a big-picture moment.
“You know, there are mythic moments in history, in the history of cities. We went through a terrible one a few weeks ago,” Rawlings said at the opening day of Cowboys training camp. “This hopefully is a mythic moment to take us to the next level. As I reminded the team today that they’ll always be the Cowboys, but this year, play for Dallas like they’ve never played before.”
The Cowboys finished 13-3, including an 11-game winning streak, and advanced to the divisional playoffs, losing 34-31 to Green Bay.
It marked the largest one-season turnaround in team history. Their 13-3 record tied the 1992 and 2007 teams for the best record in a single season in team history.
Two dynamic rookies, quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott, led the way. They did it without superstar Tony Romo, who was lost to a broken back in the preseason.
At the moment of Rawlings’ statement, it became about giving the city of Dallas something to be proud of in the wake of a dark moment in North Texas history.
The Cowboys wore “Arm in Arm” decals during training camp as a sign of unity and solidarity, but weren’t allowed to wear them during preseason or regular season games.
“I hope the city’s proud,” said tight end Jason Witten, one of the organizers of the July tribute to the city and to its fallen police officers. “That’s something that we’ll always remember because it was the beginning of something special. Hopefully, they appreciate that, not only how we play, but how you handle yourself.”
Witten has made his share of mythic moments on the field, including the 53-yard catch-and- run with no hat after a helmet-to- helmet hit from Quintin Mikell at Philadelphia in 2007. A blown-up image of a helmetless Witten after that play immortalizes the moment at The Star, the Cowboys’ team facility in Frisco.
That catch and the self-sacrifice it embodies has been described over the years by many within and outside the organization in terms of “what it means to be a Cowboy,” but the police shootings on July 7 put that concept in a whole new perspective.
What it means to be a Cowboy in 2016 and now in 2017 has been centered on rallying and responding after a disaster.
“We’re not just playing for us, or just playing for the Cowboys,” said wide receiver Cole Beasley, who played quarterback at Little Elm in high school before starring at SMU. “We’re playing for everybody. If we can add anything to the city, any happiness, then that’s what we need to do.”
Backup running back Lance Dunbar, who played his junior and senior high school seasons at Haltom before becoming North Texas’ career rushing leader in 2011, said this year’s Cowboys run has been about, in large part, “bouncing back from the tragic things that happened, bringing good vibes to people who lost loved ones and bringing people together.”
No one has forgotten the tragic events on July 7. And despite an exit from the playoffs in the divisional round, the Cowboys’ run this season was partly inspired by Mayor Rawlings’ appeal in the middle of the summer.
“That’s something we’ll always reflect on, and you hope you make Dallas proud along the way,” Witten said.