The Trio That Started the Tale
After the dissolution of the All-America Football Conference ten years prior, the Dallas Cowboys became the NFL’s first successful new franchise in 1960 and were ready to play NFL matches. Clint Murchison Jr., the primary owner of the new franchise, hired Tex Schramm as general manager, Tom Landry as head coach, and Gil Brandt as player personnel director as his first order of business. This trio was destined for near-unprecedented success in professional football. Still, the glory years were not easy to come by.
When the expansion NFL team in Dallas named their head coach, the headline in the next morning’s Dallas Morning News read: “Rangers Hire Tom Landry.” However, after some consideration, the management staff determined that there might be confusion with the Dallas Rangers, an existing minor league baseball franchise. The Dallas squad was formerly known as the Steers in the months following its creation. At the same time, a baseball team with the same name was operating in Dallas, but it was set to disband before the 1960 football season. Cowboys was the third option. Clint Murchison Jr. and Bedford Wynne, two owners of the new NFL franchise, chose the moniker Cowboys to avoid confusion when the baseball team opted to play another season.
Dallas won their first two division titles in 1966 and 1967 but fell in the NFL championship game each year to the Green Bay Packers. Murchison declared in 1967 that the Cowboys would construct their own stadium in Irving, Texas. On October 24, 1971, the 65,024-seat Texas Stadium opened, ushering in a new era in Dallas pro football.
Following similar playoff defeats the previous seasons, the 1970 season ended with a 16-13 last-second loss to Baltimore in Super Bowl V. A good squad that couldn’t win the big games was how the Cowboys were described. However, with a 24-3 victory over the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VI the following year, they put that notion to rest for good.
During this time, the Cowboys’ success drew legions of fans from all around the country. The Ice Bowl had cemented the team’s image as a scrappy underdog. Its charismatic 1970s roster—which included quarterback Roger Staubach, wide receiver Drew Pearson, and running back Tony Dorsett—captured the hearts and minds of fans throughout the country. The Cowboys were dubbed “America’s Team” in a 1976 highlight film made by the NFL. The moniker was both appropriate and memorable.
Life After Staubach
While President Ronald Reagan declared 1980 to be the start of a new era in America, ‘America’s Team’ considered the new decade to be a disappointment after the brilliance of the 1970s. Staubach left the Cowboys in March 1980, and while they made it to the NFC title game in 1980, 1981, and 1982, they never made it to the Super Bowl.
Murchison sold the team to an 11-member limited partnership led by Dallas entrepreneur H.R. Bright for $60 million in 1984. On the other hand, the Cowboys’ fall accelerated when they failed to make the playoffs for the first time in a decade. The Cowboys endured their first losing season in 20 years in 1986, and things got ugly quickly.
Oil in Dallas
Jerry Jones, an Arkansas oilman, purchased the Cowboys and Texas Stadium for $140 million in 1989, the highest ever paid for an NFL franchise. The price astonished onlookers. Jones predicted that the Cowboys would win the Super Bowl in five years and set out to rebuild the squad immediately.
Jones spent the money attracting top players, knowing that fans would return to see a winning team, resulting in increased ticket sales. He spent a record $10.4 million for rookie quarterback Troy Aikman in 1989. Next, he picked running back Emmitt Smith in 1990, who, along with Aikman and wide receiver Michael Irvin, would form the core of the Cowboys’ dominant 1990s teams.
In 1991, they broke through, going from a 6–5 start to an 11–5 finish, earning a wild-card playoff place, the franchise’s first postseason victory since 1982, and regaining some legitimacy in the NFL. The Cowboys won back-to-back Super Bowl titles over the Buffalo Bills in 1992 (13–3) and 1993 (12–4), defeating the AFC champions 52–17 and 30–13, to become one of only three NFL teams to win four Super Bowl titles at the time.
After winning again in 1995, the Cowboys went over two decades without winning another Super Bowl, failing even to reach the NFC title game. As a result, a succession of head coaches began. During the Cowboys’ first fifty-six NFL seasons, they won five Super Bowls; in addition, they had fifteen players inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
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