For the Love of the Game

A question was posed the other day about when and where you discovered your love for the Dallas Cowboys. I thought long about the query and came away with a few recollections of the team, the game, and my love of the ultimate sport.

Back in the windmills of my mind are flashes of colors mostly. The players were a backdrop to the din made by the crowd, as I watched my first professional football game.

It was in 1960 and the Dallas Texans were hosting the Buffalo Bills. The Texans, led by head coach Hank Stram were in the fledgling first year of the AFC, a league started by Dallas businessman Lamar Hunt.

Hunt longed to own an NFL franchise and out of frustration created the American Football League. The Texans shared the Cotton Bowl with the newest NFL team, the Dallas Cowboys.

Hunt saw the wisdom in generating excitement for the hometown team and put together a backfield of Texas collegiate players to garner interest.

Cotton Davidson of Baylor quarterbacked the Texans with Abner Hayes out of North Texas as the running back and Jack Spikes from TCU as the full back.

Hayes was later named the player of the year posting 875 yards and nine touchdowns. The team had a high scoring club that season and with an 8-6 record barely missed playing for the division title.

My father took me to the game. The sun was bright and the October skies were the deepest azure. The outcome is hazy but I am sure I was bitten by the football bug that day. I can still remember the action on the field before us and the cheers of the crowd.

Flash forward to December 31st, 1967. The Dallas Cowboys were playing the Green Bay Packers in a horribly painful game to watch.

I recall the players with what appeared to be smoke billowing from their faces when the 13 degrees below zero weather froze everything in sight. The coldest New Year's Eve in Green Bay's recorded history.

Vince Lombardi walked the field before the game in a short-sleeved shirt. The "Great Motivator" undoubtedly was sending an unspoken message to his troops that weather was no excuse for losing.

Tom Landry's Cowboys were 9-5 that season. Landry himself felt he had the better team and only an act of God could prevent Dallas from mounting the summit of professional football. God spoke in frozen words that day.

The Packers were 9-4-1 and headed for destiny at the frigid Lambeau Field. The teams would play for the NFL Championship and the right to face the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl II.

Dallas was quickly down 14-0 on two passes by Bart Star to Boyd Dowler in the first quarter.

Dallas mounted an attack in the second and forced two fumbles that created a touchdown and field goal for the Cowboys. The end of the first half saw Dallas trailing 14-10.

The third quarter was a test of wills with neither team giving ground. No one scored in the third and I recall how coolly my father watched the contest. I however, was a nervous wreck almost praying out loud for some divine guidance to give the Cowboys the edge.

I had gotten the football fever and the Cowboys were the team I would forever follow.

Late in the fourth quarter the Cowboys scored a touchdown on a 50-yard pass by halfback Dan Reeves to Lance Rentzel. Dallas took the lead with 4 minutes and 50 second left to play, 17-14.

The Green Bay Packers mystique and Vince Lombardi's legend were created in the next few minutes as they orchestrated a 68-yard drive with the wind chill at 40 below zero late in that game. It took twelve plays and 4 minutes and 34 seconds to drive to the two-foot line of the Cowboys.

Lombardi could have kicked the field goal on third and goal. He could have taken the sure bet and force overtime.

But on a Jerry Kramer block that will live in the memories of all Packer fans and an impressionable 15-year old Cowboy fan desperate for his team to win, Bart Star dove into the end zone and history was made.

Again move through time to a Monday Night Football game in October at RFK Stadium with the World Champion Dallas Cowboys facing the Washington Redskins. The battle was hard fought that night and the score was Washington 9 and Dallas 3 with less than a minute to play.

Joe Theisman took the snap and danced away from the line running into his own end zone. He held the ball over his head and waited as the Dallas rush broke from their blockers and raced to tackle him.

At the last second Theisman stepped out of the back of the endzone and gave Dallas a safety. The resulting punt by the Redskins pushed the Cowboys to their end of the field and a loss as time expired.

I will never forget the anger and disappointment the game caused me. Jack Pardee's Redskins flaunted the win in the face of my team and the rivalry took shape for me that night.

I have always felt the real measure of a fan is not when the team wins. Everyone feels the elation of victory. Even a casual fan can be swept up in the arms of a triumph. Attested to by the endless sea of jerseys of the most recent Super Bowl Champs that adorn people across this country. Conquest is easy.

The real yardstick is the disappointment and anguish one feels when your team falls short of the prize. And over the course of time the memories that are the freshest aren't of the Super Bowl victories, but the defeats.

Being named the team that can't win the big one in the sixties was a tough pill to swallow. Tasting defeat at the hands of the Colts, and twice to the Steelers in Super Bowls still causes Cowboy fans to wince.

Perhaps the most painful memory that is almost the advertising logo of ESPN is "The Catch" in the loss to Montana's San Francisco 49ers. To be honest I have to turn the channel.

It started on a warm October day in 1960 at the Cotton Bowl going to a game with my Dad. It built throughout the years as I watched first as a child then an adult when the Dallas Cowboys amassed the most prolific winning history in modern day football.

I am not ashamed to admit. In fact, I am proud to say I am a Dallas Cowboys fan. And always will be.

Happy Father's Day Dad, and thanks for the love of the game.

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