Some of my fondest childhood sports memories were watching the Dallas Cowboys become one of the greatest dynasties in NFL history.
The first season I can remember was 1989. I was about 8 years old, and the Cowboys were just plain awful. My dad explained to me that a businessman named Jerry Jones had bought the team, and the world was going to hell in a handbasket. He fired Tom Landry, hired his college buddy Jimmy Johnson, and drafted a new quarterback, Troy Aikman from UCLA. They finished 1-15.
Then the next year you could tell something was happening. With a rookie running back from Florida named Emmitt Smith, they finished the season strong to improve to 7-9 in 1990. Aikman developed a rapport with the team's best young receiver, Michael Irvin, and his tight end, a Cowboy from Wyoming named Jay Novacek. With the biggest offensive line ever assembled, they could run the ball, and their young defense started to show some promise.
By 1991, the secret was out - the young Cowboys had everyone's attention. They finished 11-5, beat the Bears in a wild card playoff game, and then lost to the best Lions team Detroit ever boasted in the divisional round. They were the first - and one of the only teams - to beat the eventual Super Bowl champion Washington Redskins that year.
The 1992 Cowboys were one of the greatest teams ever assembled. Aikman, Smith, and Irvin were clicking on all cylinders. The defense was mean, and the head coach refused to accept anything but the best from his players. Jimmy Johnson used to cut players on the flight home after a bad game, we'd later learn. He, and they, were determined to be great.
The Cowboys earned a first round bye and cruised to the NFC Championship against the mighty San Francisco 49ers. In what would go down as one of the best games in NFL history, Dallas outlasted the Niners in San Francisco, 30-20. They were going to the Super Bowl, and you couldn't go anywhere in Texoma without people saying, "How Bout Them Cowboys!" In fact, there was a popular t-shirt with that headline "unlicensed" vendors sold on the street. A very happy 12-year-old Denison boy donned this shirt to school proudly until it disintegrated after 4,000 washings.
The year culminated with a 52-17 blowout win in Super Bowl XXVII over a very good Buffalo Bills team. They were no match for these Cowboys.
The next year began without Emmitt Smith, who was holding out for a new contract. The Cowboys lost their first two games before Emmitt got a new deal. Everything changed. The Cowboys were the Cowboys again, and they again outclassed Buffalo in the Super Bowl. Back to back championships, and the world debated just how many more these Cowboys were going to win.
That offseason the most famous breakup in Cowboys history happened. Jimmy and Jerry got into an argument, egos got the best of them, and Jimmy quit. A few weeks later Jerry announced the hiring of Barry Switzer as the new head coach.
Marred by the awful "double star" uniforms, the arch rival 49ers finally beat the Cowboys in the 1994 NFC Championship Game. San Francisco cornerback Deion Sanders and a muddy, awful field shut down Irvin that day. There would be no three-peat.
That offseason, to many Cowboys fans' chagrin, Jerry Jones signed Deion Sanders. It worked out. The Cowboys captured their third Super Bowl in four years by beating the Steelers in Super Bowl XXX.
What's happened since then for the Dallas Cowboys and their fans has been forgettable. One playoff win in 16 years.
It's a shame there's now an entire generation of football fans that don't know what it's like when the Cowboys are great. Year after year, we watch two teams we don't really care about play on the biggest stage in sports. Year after year, we watch a general manager put together a team that doesn't get the job done. And sadly year after year, loyal Cowboys fans continue to support this team and its owner by buying tickets, gear, and the idea that one year he'll get it right.
Oh well. At least some of us have some great memories.
News Director, KXII-TV