By Jason Keidel
Now that the fairy dust has faded from the 2016 season, we once again see what a traveling circus the Dallas Cowboys really are.
Players getting cut for crimes they didn’t commit. Players who would be cut if they didn’t produce so much. Recycled statements as a press conference. And a nipple ring.
And it makes you wonder if those of us who long resisted their unworthy handle as America’s Team may be missing the point.
The Dallas Cowboys aren’t our nation’s football club because they are the best. Two playoff wins this century certainly don’t warrant such regal nicknames. Indeed, if victory were the criterion, you have Tom Brady and the Patriots. Or, if you take a longer view, the Green Bay Packers or Pittsburgh Steelers. The latter two surely have as many fans as Dallas does, and each group travels with equal mass and force.
Perhaps the Cowboys are so highly regarded because they have something for everyone, equal parts back page, front page and Page Six. Like a car wreck, it really is impossible to look away from the star on the helmet.
Whether it’s Duane Thomas refusing to speak to his teammates, coaches or the press, Hollywood Henderson hiding narcotics in this thigh pads, the bizarre QB shuffle between Roger Staubach and Craig Morton or the melodrama of the ’90s, led by the tete-a-tete between Jimmy Johnson and Jerry Jones, the Cowboys are a soap opera that even Susan Lucci can get with.
Fast-forward 25 years, and not much has changed. We have Lucky Whitehead, cut over a crime he didn’t commit, followed by Jason Garrett’s absurd, monotone presser, in which he branded the move “in the best interest of the Dallas Cowboys” about five times in two minutes. Not only did Whitehead get jobbed, he was punished once again by being picked up by the Jets.
We have Ezekiel Elliott, who can’t seem to stay out of trouble. Had Elliott been a backup rather than the NFL’s leading rusher, he would have joined Whitehead in the league’s recycle bin. But morality is always relative with the NFL in general and Dallas in particular. Greg Hardy pushed the bounds of civility and humanity, yet Dallas rolled the dice, not out of altruism but avarice. Likewise with Pacman Jones.
Jerry Jones was his indignant best this week, defending the release of Whitehead and his record as the Father Flanagan of pro football. The Cowboys owner lectured local media on his paternal responsibilities with players past and present. Funny how that works as long as the surrogate sons lead the team in yards or points or jersey sales. It’s all a facade for cost-benefit analysis. As soon as the player stops producing, he also loses his charm, his usefulness, and his locker.
And for comic relief, beyond the dubious characters, the Cowboys also invest in exotic jewelry. (Just Google David Irving for the rest.)
At some point every NFL team has engaged in some form of moral or legal relativism, wondering if they can brush a player’s past under the rug long enough to let him loose on the gridiron. Yes, your team, too. And we clearly indulge them, or else the NFL wouldn’t generate over $10 billion in yearly revenue. We’re all a little dirty.
But no team is as public or prolific in their self-righteousness as the Dallas Cowboys, who became America’s Team in the 1970s, when they actually backed up the moniker with Super Bowl appearances (and a couple rings). They were reality TV before we had a name for it. What’s their current reality? Are they a 13-3 club with a sprawling sideshow of miscreants? Or will they return to the .500 club with the same, corresponding circus?
Either way, we will be watching, because we love car wreck, especially those with a blue star on the side.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.