It isn’t the nickname — that “America’s Team” thing — players and fans of opposing teams will tell you, it’s all the other stuff.
The big stadium. The big ego of the owner, Jerry Jones. The big chunk of network TV time that the Dallas Cowboys always seem to get.
For a team that has won only two playoff games in 19 seasons, the Cowboys have reveled in their Kardashian-like grip on headlines and TMZ. To the rest of the NFL, Owner Jones’ franchise behaved like it was one step from the champagne room, rather than 21 years removed from its last Super Bowl.
But behold the difference. See the new quarterback, who picks up his own trash. Observe the rookie running back, who used his first NFL paycheck to buy his mom and dad a new house.
On Sunday night in Frisco, Target employee Stuart Newton noticed something familiar about the customer in the black warmup suit. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott was buying gifts for some angel tree needy that he’s never met.
This wasn’t staged for TV. There wasn’t an NBC 5 camera in sight. But Prescott did pose for a smiling selfie with the Target clerk.
Time and again this season, we are being reminded that these aren’t your father’s Dallas Cowboys. A rendezvous at the notorious “white house” has been replaced by serving Thanksgiving dinner at the Salvation Army shelter. A group of 2007 Cowboys infamously spent their postseason off-week vacationing in Cabo San Lucas — Prescott used his free weekend last month to visit his grandma in Vinton, La.
The local TVs devoted time Monday to show the players’ annual visits to area children’s hospitals. It’s become a cliché, of sorts, the kind of photo op the NFL likes — kids and football heroes.
Except this year’s visits seemed different. There was Jason Witten, smiling while trying to group-dance with some young female patients. There was receiver Dez Bryant, stooping to hug Brock and Brody Gumm like old friends at Dallas’ Medical City Children’s Hospital.
“Those are my boys,” Dez told the WFAA cameras, explaining that he had met them at last year’s Christmas visit.
Lots of sports teams visit children’s hospitals at this time of year. We all know that. Maybe I’m guilty of reading something into this Cowboys team’s demeanor that really isn’t there.
But I don’t think so.
At the Thanksgiving visits, Prescott told our newspaper’s John Henry, “The time we have, it’s important giving it to others.”
That’s a far cry from hearing a Cowboy say that he wasn’t going to let his free time be dictated by people’s perception.
Yes, that was the Cabo trip.
And here was what Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman said on the radio to Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin after that:
“[Tony Romo] hasn’t fully grasped what being the Cowboys quarterback is all about ... To say, ‘I don’t worry about perception,’ you’d better worry about perception, because it’s a big part of making it through some difficult times.”
Over the seasons since Aikman and Irvin retired, some Cowboys have realized the burden of being branded America’s Team. And they’ve realized that it’s a name that they inherited, rather than earned.
The old Cowboys — Landry, Staubach, Lilly, and later Aikman, Irvin and Emmitt — earned the famous nickname. Not the ones that won only two playoff games in 19 seasons.
True, winning tends to put a smiling and kind face on lots of things. But this young Cowboys team has shown no sense of the entitlement that recent teams wore.
These aren’t your daddy’s Cowboys. They’re hungry, not entitled.
“It was great. These people are awesome,” someone said during the Cowboys’ hospital visit Monday.
But it wasn’t a patient who said it.
It was Dez Bryant of the Dallas Cowboys.
Cowboys at Giants
7:30 p.m. Sunday, KXAS/5