We are constantly being told that the Cowboys are America’s Team, which is funny, because I’ve met people from all over America, and for the most part, we don’t like the Cowboys. Actually, I’d say we actively dislike the Cowboys, far more than we care about the majority of teams that aren’t the ones we root for.
Cowboys fans assume this is because we are haters, because we can’t stand their success. Either everybody in America is old enough to remember Roger Staubach, or that’s not true. Dallas has just two playoff wins in the last 20 years. If our Cowboys hatred were really due to some imagined distaste for winners, surely we would have directed our distaste toward one of the 13 NFC teams that has made a conference championship game since the Cowboys last did it after the 1995 season.
If the Cowboys’ success really did make us mad, this year’s team would have us furious. They’re 12–2, and one win in their final two games will secure the best record in the NFC and lock down home-field advantage for the playoffs. Perhaps most upsetting is how repeatable it seems: Their quarterback, Dak Prescott, is a rookie, and their running back, Ezekiel Elliott, is a better rookie. This might be only the beginning.
But on Sunday night, I realized something while watching Dallas pull out a 26–20 win against Tampa Bay. As the Buccaneers rallied back from a 17–3 deficit to take a second-half lead, I wasn’t rooting for the Bucs, a young team fighting for its playoff life. I won’t say I was rooting for the Cowboys, either, but I will say this: I wasn’t not pulling for them, even though they were a massive favorite and the supposed object of my ire.
I like watching these dudes ball out. Watching Prescott, who went 32-for-36 passing Sunday night — the second-highest completion percentage in a game ever — play football makes me happy. Every week, it becomes more clear that his talent and poise are not flukes, though he still plays like he’s just happy to be in the league. Watching Elliott, who ran for 159 yards and hopped in an oversized Salvation Army kettle, play football makes me happy. Elliott runs with the force of a river, and it’s only right that he gets to run behind the league’s best offensive line, which opens up canyons for him.
Perhaps I’m not the only one who suddenly finds joy in the Cowboys. The two most watched games this year have been Cowboys games. But that’s nothing new: The three most watched games last year were Cowboys games, and they went 4–12 last year. And two of the three most watched games of 2014 were Cowboys games, and two of the top four in 2013, and so on, and so forth.
We watch the Cowboys when they’re relevant, and we watch the Cowboys when they’re irrelevant. And because we watch them, they will remain on our televisions on every possible Sunday and Monday night until we stop watching.
I don’t know why we care so much about the Cowboys. But I know we’re supposed to. And more than anything else, this is what irks me about the Cowboys — that their mere existence should be enough to make me care about them, more than the other 31 teams.
I’ve got no qualms with Texans who love the Cowboys for the same reason people anywhere love the sports teams where they live. But Cowboys fans from everywhere else have the same air of entitlement that we find in fans of the Yankees and Notre Dame football — incidentally, you probably know somebody who is a fan of the Cowboys, Yankees, and Notre Dame football, even if you don’t live in New Texiana.
Yes, America, you must love this team, the same way British people love their royals. The Jones family have a billion-dollar palace, and they love to sit together watching stuff in fancy chairs. There’s the son! One day, he’s going to take over for the dad. And the grandson is playing high school football in the stadium! Maybe he’ll get to be their quarterback someday. Running the Cowboys is basically a philanthropic move on their part: They built this magnificent building and managed this magnificent sports team so that we can watch them win and be happy, a noble public service that just happens to ensconce them in perpetual wealth.
What’s great about this year’s team is that they’re interesting for reasons besides the star on the side of their helmet. The players and the way they play are genuinely fun. They revel in their success, rather than considering that success a birthright. Dak and Zeke seem less like Cowboys and more like dudes who are just really excited to be in the NFL. That they are dominating it, too, makes it all easier. They’re smiling, and it’s hard not to smile with them.
We’ll see if these trends continue. Prescott and Elliott are gifted, and could get better. If the Cowboys keep their young stars behind a brilliant offensive line, the success of this year might only be the beginning. And if they continue to be good for years, that stuff that Cowboys fans believe about how we hate their success might turn out to be true for the first time this millennium.