I'll stop short of calling critics of the Cowboys and the NFL "increasingly irrelevant''– I'll even avoid references to "senility,'' "Alzheimer's'' and "public drunkenness'' while trying to argue that to the people who matter most, the Cowboys and the NFL are as vital as they've ever been.
There are three common criticisms: 1) Parity has watered down the league, robbing the Cowboys of their dynastic destiny. 2) The passion and devotion is somehow not the same. 3) Things just aren't as "classy'' as they used to be.
Let's debunk, item-by-item:
1) Parity has watered down the league, robbing the Cowboys of their dynastic destiny. First of all, it is NOT Dallas' birthright to win Super Bowls. The organization worked insanely hard to get the new stadium approved in Arlington, labored even more furiously to bring the 2011 Super Bowl to town. … and must now work with twice as much combined intensity to actually get the team to a title game.
Every time somebody suggests that today's game is "watered down,'' or "ugly,'' or that "there isn't enough good football to go around,'' I direct them back to 1976. The same exact arguments were made that year, and they had immediately apparent merit. The two expansion teams, Tampa Bay and Seattle, combined to win a total of two games that season. And the only reason the total was that high is because they played one another, so somebody had to win. (Seattle did, sending the Bucs on their infamous 0-14 path.)
You want watered down? That was watered down.
Another important point about parity that is lost on the average Cowboys fan: While Dallas may have suffered at the hands of the salary cap and free agency, the league has thrived. Teams that were built up as powers in the early ‘90's might've stayed that way without parity, a good thing for the Cowboys, 49ers and Bills. (Imagine if the old system had remained in place: Larry Brown, Russell Maryland, Jimmie Jones, Dixon Edwards, Ken Norton, Robert Jones, Darrin Smith, Brock Marion, John Gesek, Kevin Gogan, Mark Stepnoski, Steve Beuerlein and Alvin Harper would've never been allowed to leave, and the talent pool would've remained deep forever!)
But what about the other two dozen teams? Parity has allowed the NFL to really matter in San Diego and New Orleans and Cleveland and. … well, everywhere.
Yes, parity has forced the Cowboys back to the pack a bit. But parity creates 32 contenders, and that's good for everybody.
2) The passion and devotion is somehow not the same. Anybody who believes this is a victim of "Good Old Days Syndrome,'' a phrase coined by DFW radio guy Bob Sturm.
Whose passion is lessened? The 85 guys – that's the entire Cowboys roster – who are participating in the OTA's at Valley Ranch this week? The millions of Cowboys fans who follow their teams via TheRanchReport.com and elsewhere? The kids who emulate Romo exactly as their big brothers and their dads and their grandpas emulated Aikman and White and Staubach and Morton and Meredith?
The truth is, we always think football (and TV, music, girls) was superior when WE came of age as fans. If your rite of passage as an NFL fan arrived in 1976 when you were 17, you likely think Tony Dorsett is the greatest Cowboy runner ever. If, however, you turned 17 in 1992, Dorsett is some little guy on grainy film. Emmitt is the greatest Cowboy runner ever!
What you know is normal, what you don't know is odd.
For years in Pittsburgh, the Steelers wore yellow pants and yellow shirts at practice, with no jersey numbers. I grew up in Minnesota, so it was the weirdest football uniform I ever saw. But if you grew up in Pittsburgh? Yellow-on-yellow was all the rage. And in your mind, probably still is.
Here's a point that's been skimmed over as North Texas has captured the 2011 Super Bowl: Yes, Jerry is a brilliant salesman. Yes, Roger Staubach drips credibility. And yes, the new building will be a majestic showplace. But you know another reason we won the bid?
This is Football Country.
If you somehow stripped Texas (and I believe, America) of pro football, you know what would be come America's pastime? College football. And if it went away? Well, in my suburban Texas community, the high-school football field is adjacent to the baseball field. The other night, the baseball team was participating in a baseball game while the football team was going through non-contact drills.
There were five times as many fans watching the football practice.
3) Things just aren't as "classy'' as they used to be. The other day I got a phone call from a prominent Cowboy from the ‘90s. He wanted to know if I would be interested in helping to write a movie script about that era.
"It'd basically be an update of ‘North Dallas Forty,'' he said.
That era. This era. The next era. The more things change, the more they remain the same – including the fact that the Cowboys and the NFL, all things considered, are as great as ever. … and, if you're in the right mindset and not willing to slip into "increasing irrelevance,'' maybe greater.
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