By Caleb Slinkard
The Commerce Journal
The Dallas Cowboys are the most storied franchise in the history of football. Their eight Super Bowls are unrivaled, and their five Super Bowl victories have placed them in the NFL stratosphere. They are America’s Team, recording winning season after winning season en route to becoming the most dominant team of the 1990s. They have produced an almost unending string of hall of fame players, including The Triplets: Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith.
But the Cowboys have not won a Super Bowl in 17 years now. Since the end of the 1996 season, they have won a single playoff game and have failed to record double-digit wins in consecutive seasons. For almost two decades, Dallas has had more in common with the television soap opera that shared its name than its previous winning incarnations.
The Cowboys have become a circus, bloated in an attempt to resurrect in swift, shallow moves what took decades of hard work to construct and perfect. Dallas has handed away the title of America’s Team, first to the New Orleans Saints, and now to whichever team captures the imagination of the fans. Instead, Dallas is associated with the ostentatious stadium that is known as Jerry World, a stadium that provides the worst home field advantage in pro sports and has come to symbolize everything that is wrong with the Cowboys: they are showy, expensive and, ultimately, ineffective.
2012 is a prime example of what the Cowboys have become: a caricature of their championship teams. The season began with an inspired win over the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants to begin the NFL season, and then quickly unraveled in a string of disappointing losses. Dallas then clawed their way back with impressive last-second victories over Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati before an overtime loss to the Saints gave them the opportunity all NFL teams want – the ability to “control their own destiny,” i.e. win their final game of the season against the hated Washington Redskins and get into the playoffs.
But in true classic Cowboy form, a battered Dallas defense let up 200 rushing yards to a rookie running back and quarterback Tony Romo threw three interceptions, including one in the late fourth quarter that killed any hope the Cowboys had of a playoff run.
The loss was more than painful for Cowboys fans. It was expected.
Cowboys fans are now prepared to be watching other teams in the playoffs. Dallas has not played meaningful football past New Year’s Day for the better part of two decades, and now an entire generation of Cowboys fans have grown up without knowing the consistent excellence the franchise displayed over the previous 40 years to earn them the moniker of America’s Team.
The Cowboys can regain playoff form with a handful of smart free agent signings and draft picks to shore up the offensive line and establish quality backups at the running back and linebacker position. But it will take far more than a playoff appearance for the Cowboys to gain relevance as a winner again.
It will take a Super Bowl victory.