Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Why I love the team I useta hate/ Nashville’s Team

DMN 1992

Maybe it was the way their offensive linemen settled into their stance by heaving upwards in unison, like a Fascist chorus line. Then there was their humorless coach in his trilby hat. And, then, let’s face it: They were from Dallas, which nobody would have heard of if not for a building that once housed school books.

Whatever the reason, I grew up hating the Dallas Cowboys from afar.

My brother loved the Cowboys, but to me, “America’s Team’ was — like disco and Watergate and polyester and “CHiPS” — just another thing about the ’70s that made it the Ford Pinto of decades.

The early ’90s version of the Cowboys was just as easy to despise, with Stepford quarterback Troy Aikman and Michael “The Mouth’ Irvin coming off like a gridiron version of the Clone Ranger and Taunt-O. Then there was coach Jimmy Johnson, whose hairstyle is inconsistent with what I am sure is his sincere concern for the ozone layer.

When the Cowboys went 1-15 in 1989, my brother was in the Army, and it’s amazing how much it costs just to call West Germany to say “ha ha ha.’ For Cowboy-haters, that season was one big bubble bath. We couldn’t believe how dumb Jerry Jones was. I mean, you don’t trade a Herschel Walker for draft picks!

Yeah, the Cowboys were always the team I loved to hate. But this year something overtook me that could happen to other people, but not to me.

I’ve become a hardcore Dallas Cowboys fan. And like waking up in a flophouse after drinking a case of nonalcoholic beer, I remember exactly how I got there: I moved to Dallas earlier this year.

Simple as that. Decades of hatred have been turned around just because I now risk my life daily by merging onto North Central Expressway. Why do we love the teams that share the names of the places we live? For the same reason we cheer when some rock star looks down on a piece of paper taped to his monitor and says “Hello, Dallas!’ Hey, that’s us!

The reason so many people read the horoscope is because it’s the only thing in the paper about them. In a way, that’s also why folks who live in Dallas love the Cowboys. They represent us, so we watch Nate Newton’s weight more than we do our own. When Kelvin Martin scores a touchdown, so does Joe the grocer, Fred the barber, Sally the teacher. You should see Sam the butcher’s touchdown dance. The Cowboys are a club that anyone can join as long as they can high-five and say “Yes!’ about a thousand times a game.

The downside is that I now find myself in the rare position of having to defend my team to Cowboy-haters. Those jerks really bug me. I’ve got a stock reply to them, however. I explain my allegiance this way: “If you’re going to join the military, be a Marine. If you’re going to be religious, be a Catholic. And if you’re going to be a fan, be a Cowboys fan.’ My brother used to tell me that.

 

NASHVILLE’S TEAM: COWBOYS of the 90’s

It was only fitting that, after congratulating the Cowboys on their NFC championship victory against San Francisco, then-President George Bush handed the phone over to George Strait. While the Cowboys have regained their label as “America’s Team,’ they’ve also become the team to root for by a good chunk of the country music community.

The Cowboys locker room has looked a little like the green room of The Nashville Network lately, with such acts as Brooks & Dunn, Shenandoah, Collin Raye and Hank Williams Jr. stopping by after the game to help the team celebrate. Meanwhile, diehard fans like Mark Chesnutt, Tracy Lawrence, Tanya Tucker, Vince Gill, Holly Dunn, Steve Wariner, Little Texas and Strait have turned parts of their live shows into mini pep rallies for the Cowboys.

The Cowboys are young and hot, and so are the current country music stars. Both have recently

Lorrie and Troy 1993

rebounded after straying from their revered traditions. And the Cowboys and country music are led by nice guys from Oklahoma whose acquaintances all gush about how humble and down-to-earth they are.

It also doesn’t hurt the Cowboys-Country connection that Dallas is the No. 1 country music market. Marty Raybon of Shenandoah relates that about a fifth of their total record sales are in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. “As good as Dallas has been to us, we’d probably be Cowboys fans even if they were 0-16,’ he jokes.

There’s no doubt, however, that much of the team’s appeal comes from the fact that they win a lot: During the ’70s glory years the Cowboys also had an intense connection with Nashville’s hitmakers, many of whom grew up in Texas.

Led by a religious head coach and a quarterback who had gone to Vietnam when the cool thing was to protest the war, the Cowboys were practically a country song come to life. They stood for family values and also had the sexiest cheerleaders, which can’t help but remind you of Dolly Parton wearing a low-cut dress and singing Coat of Many Colors.

“Our success has resurrected the image and history of this proud franchise, and it’s bringing people out of the woodwork,’ special teams coach Joe Avezano says. His good friend, singer Collin Raye, simplifies the team’s appeal in Nashville: “Country music is America’s music, and the Cowboys are America’s Team.’

“I’m from Texarkana,” says Raye, “but I’ve lived in a lot of places all over the country and the Cowboys have always been a little bit of home I could take with me. They’ve set an example for hard work and organization that I’ve always tried to follow.’

Raye describes the experience of singing the national anthem at a Cowboys home game this year as “probably the biggest thrill I’ve ever had. You make a lot of unreachable goals when you’re a kid, but singing out there before a Cowboys game was something I never dreamed that could happen.’

Avezzano credits the recruitment of country acts to sing the national anthem as one of the reasons that the Cowboys have become “Nashville’s Team.’

“It’s a nice trade-off,’ says Avezzano, who includes longtime country songwriters Ed Bruce, Con Hunley and Red Stegall among his closest friends. “The acts get to enjoy a sideline from their daily routine, then, when the season’s over, our guys get to go see these acts in concert and feel a part of it. There’s a real correlation between athletes and entertainers, and they enjoy seeing each other perform well.’

Hank Williams Jr., credits his affinity for the team to his friendship with owner Jerry Jones and several fans of his on the team.

“Man, Troy Aikman knows my songs better than I do,’ Williams said recently from his hotel suite near the Galleria. “Then I hear that some of the big boys have been lifting weights to my new song ‘I’m Tired.’ I think it’s a perfect match — Bocephus and the Cowboys: Still rockin’.”

Tracy Lawrence, a lifelong fan from Forman, Ark., admits losing enthusiasm with the Cowboys after Jones fired Tom Landry in 1989. “Landry built up the aura and helped create the mystique with his religious attitudes, so I felt they could’ve handled it better,’ he said. “It was the end of an era, and, in retrospect, maybe it was time for that era to end. A Cowboy fan certainly can’t say anything bad about this team.”

According to Raybon, whose band tapped Aikman to star in their “Leavin’s Been a Long Time Comin'” video, the Cowboys are to football what Merle Haggard and George Jones are to country music.

“The Cowboys are almost larger than life. Throughout the years I’ve gone through periods where I didn’t follow the team as much, just like I’ve gone through periods where I didn’t hear George or Merle as much, but they’re always in the back of your mind. Then one day you hear Silver Wings or find yourself cheering on the Cowboys, and you get right back into it.’

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