Football in North Texas is a tale of two audiences.
The national audience is keenly focused on the Jan. 12 college football championship game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington — where the Oregon Ducks will face the Ohio State Buckeyes.
But the local audience — about 7 million strong in Dallas-Fort Worth — seems to be all but ignoring the college gridiron and is singularly focused on the Dallas Cowboys’ playoff run. The Cowboys face the Detroit Lions at 3:40 p.m. Sunday at AT&T Stadium.
“Nothing tops a Cowboys playoff game,” said John Hartnett, part-owner of Flips Patio Grill locations in Grapevine and far north Fort Worth. Hartnett expects a full house of about 600 spectators Sunday afternoon at his Fort Worth location, where most of the 40 televisions will be tuned to the Cowboys game.
“We will be packed. We can put tabletops on the pool tables for extra seating,” said Hartnett, who opened a Flips in Grapevine in 2006 and a second location in Fort Worth’s Western Center Boulevard corridor in 2009.
“We might have people in face paint,” he said, adding that the last time the Cowboys were in the playoffs, in 2009, patrons sat on the floor to watch the game near friends.
During the past week, the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington area has hosted three bowl games — the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic in Arlington, the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth and the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl.
The national championship is just eight days away in Arlington.
But conversations in sports bars, at office water coolers and on sports radio stations center on whether the Cowboys are poised to make their deepest playoff run since the glory days of the mid-1990s.
“I think it’s fabulous,” said Randy White, a Pro Football Hall of Fame player who was a Cowboys star from 1975 to 1988. “I think they’ve really turned the corner. I think [coach] Jason Garrett and the whole Cowboys organization has done an excellent job. This team is playing right now at a high level.”
White, who was guest speaker Wednesday during an Armed Forces Bowl luncheon at the Omni Fort Worth Hotel, downplayed assertions that the Metroplex harbors a fickle fan base.
He said he knows from his days playing on the “Doomsday Defense” under legendary coach Tom Landry that North Texas football fans’ allegiances are with their beloved NFL team.
“Dallas fans have been waiting for a long time for this,” White said, “and I think that stadium on Sunday afternoon is going to be rocking and rolling.”
Just a couple of months ago, the Cowboys were embarrassed nationally when fans of visiting teams bought up so many tickets that they were at times louder than the home crowd.
But tickets to the game Sunday are selling for hundreds of dollars above face value, and it appears that Cowboys fans are the buyers this time.
On Saturday, the Star-Telegram posed this question on its Facebook page: “Are you more interested in the Cowboys playoff game or the college football national championship game in Arlington on Jan. 12?” Within an hour, nearly 50 followers had responded, most of them in favor of the Cowboys.
“The Cowboys most definitely,” wrote James Stanley Barr of Euless. “They are having the best season they’ve had in quite a few years. Don’t get me wrong, College Football is good. But the Cowboys are on the edge of being America’s Team again.”
Jay Coakley, professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, has written several books about the cultural importance of sports. He offered an explanation for North Texans’ focus on the Cowboys.
“My take is that the college games are relevant for highly knowledgeable football fans,” he said, “but the Cowboys are the focus of attention because they are directly linked with the local and regional identities of so many people.”
Not everybody agrees, of course. In answering the Star-Telegram’s question on Facebook, Javier Paredes of Watauga wrote, “You have to go with watching history unfold in the first [college football] playoff championship game.”
Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796
Cowboys (and college football) fans on Facebook
A sampling of answers to the Star-Telegram’s informal Facebook survey Saturday about whether the Cowboys playoff game or the college football national championship game is more interesting.
▪ Vern Vartdal of Arlington, a TCU alumnus: “The Cowboys are much more interesting that two great college teams that would both lose to TCU.”
▪ Brent Light of Azle: “I’m not represented by Oregon or Ohio State.”
▪ Rachel Engel of Burleson: “Once TCU got overlooked, college football no longer held any interest for me. Thank goodness the Cowboys are actually relevant in January, or it would be a long wait until the first Texas Ranger game!”
▪ Trisha Latham Obregon of Fort Worth: “College Football is just more exciting to watch and the players play with more heart and passion than anyone in the NFL these days!! Bring on the Championship!”
▪ Bruce Kabat of Waco: “Neither Ohio State nor Oregon is a national ‘brand,’ as are the Cowboys. Much more interest in the ’Boys, whether it be fueled by love or hate.”
To add your comments, go to www.facebook.com/startelegram.