“How does a young man, born and raised in West Philadelphia, become a lifelong Cowboys fan?” is probably the question that I have been asked more than any other during my lifetime. I know that they are “America’s Team” and most people who are fans of professional football are a fan of the Cowboys’ but that was not my deal growing up.
My path to Cowboys fandom began in 1977 during the Thanksgiving holiday when I was just 9 years old. My mother and I took a plane ride to Los Angeles, CA (my first plane ride) to visit with my grandfather during Thanksgiving. The magical land of palm trees and t-shirt weather was everything that I had viewed on television and I instantly fell in love with LA-LA Land.
The agenda for our visit was awesome to say the least. After settling in from the six-hour flight, the Thanksgiving meal with my west coast family was a delight to behold with the best of the trip yet to come…yes, a trip to Disneyland on Friday.
Unfortunately, I learned that the day after Thanksgiving is one of the few days of the year that the park was closed. I was devastated and my grandfather knew it so he thought real fast and took his daughter and grandson to an amusement park that was open; a great little amusement park called Knotts Berry Farm. Grand pop reached heroic status that day but he had more in store for his grandson.
The day would end with the attendance of my very first college football game. But I would soon learn that this was not just any game, this was “the USC Trojans vs. UCLA Bruins annual battle for Los Angeles college football supremacy” college football game.
Late in the game, UCLA was down 26-10 and mounted a furious comeback that eventually earned them the 27-26 late fourth quarter lead. On the line for the Bruins were a Rose Bowl berth and the LA area bragging rights for the next year. What happened next was this little 9-year-old was treated to a fantastic finish that saw the Trojans boot a winning 36 yard field goal with just “two” seconds left in the game. UCLA was out of the Rose Bowl and the Washington Huskies were in…amazing.
Instead of heading for the parking lot like most of the 65,000+ fans in attendance my grandfather had us headed to a different destination…the Trojan locker room. There he introduced me to a young mountain of a man that he was mentoring, Dennis Thurman. Dennis, still excited from the nail-biting win, greeted me very enthusiastically and my first “man crush” was born.
Of course I had no idea at the time that Dennis Thurman was not just one of the best players on the team but one of the best in all of college football. What he did not know is that he had just earned a new lifelong fan. So when he was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the 11th round of the 1978 NFL draft a new Cowboys fan was born.
I now loved football because I had actually met someone who now played for the Dallas Cowboys. What I did not realize was I would learn so many great life lessons by watching a championship team go about their business of winning football games, most notably in the fourth quarter.
Instead of following a team that played not to lose (Philadelphia Eagles), I was now following a general named Roger Staubach who refused to lose. I marveled at a coach that wore a suit, tie and hat along the sidelines, who when you looked at him you could never tell if he was winning or losing, lead his team to victory after victory.
What Roger and Coach Landry taught me at a young age was that even though the game was in doubt, it was never over until the clock read “0:00”. In fact, I was never more certain that my team would win than when Roger would break from the huddle, rub his little white towel, bark out the signals and then carve up the opposing defense all the way down the field to the end zone.
Then came Super Bowl XIII, the second meeting of the Cowboys and the Steelers in the big game. I was not yet a fan when the Steelers beat the Boys in Super Bowl X 21-17 but my appetite was wet for revenge nonetheless. The game was back and forth and Roger was magnificent until his picture perfect pass was dropped in the end zone by some guy had never heard of named Jackie Smith.
The Cowboys never recovered from that dropped touchdown pass and lost the thriller to the Steelers 35-31. The following year I watched the greatest quarterback I have ever seen throw his final pass to the other team (LA Rams in the NFC Divisional Playoffs) and then Roger Staubach retired from his NFL Hall of Fame career leaving me with his back up and punter, Danny White.
Danny White provided me with some thrilling regular seasons and then three consecutive NFC title games in which we lost each one to the Eagles, Niners and Redskins respectively. I loved the Danny White years and in my opinion he never got the credit he deserved but when it was all said and done he didn’t win the big one. I still had Dennis Thurman to root for no matter what.
So I then entered my first “desert of despair” as a Cowboys fan that would see Dennis Thurman leave, the team get sold and then fire their legendary coach, Tom Landry. The firing of Landry made me vulnerable to leaving for the hometown team but two things kept me in tow; I liked the new coach’s pedigree and the Eagles were still a team that played not to lose which is a mindset that I can never align with.
Slowly but surely the “Big 3” (Troy, Emmitt & Michael) were assembled and righted the Cowboys’ ship to lead them on an unprecedented championship run that would leave them one pass interference non-call (thank you Deion Sanders) away from 4 straight Super Bowls in the early to mid 1990’s. That dynasty like performance will never be duplicated in my opinion.
Today the Cowboys are still America’s Team but find themselves in yet another desert of sorts. They have had good regular seasons since the glory days but they just have not put together a championship run with their current quarterback Tony Romo. Like him or hate him (I love him), he has been more like Danny White and less like Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman.
As I type this story, Tony Romo is ranked #3 through six weeks of this season only behind Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. Tony will have his critics until he can put together a nice playoff run and restore the Cowboys back to their proper place in NFL championship royalty with their record tying sixth Lombardi trophy.
I have no doubt that the Cowboys will again be Super Bowl champions, that Tony Romo will be their quarterback when it happens and it will happen very, very soon. Of course I believe this with every fiber of my being because…I AM A COWBOYS FAN!
And just think if Dennis Thurman would have been drafted by any other team this would never have happened. Thank you Dennis Thurman for getting drafted by the Cowboys and thank you grand pop for introducing me to my first real sports hero back in 1977.