The devotion of the Cowboys' following says something about the way we root for teams in this country — the importance of fathers and sons, football and geography.
David Krause grew up in Dallas, wears a Don Meredith jersey on Sundays and can remember when the side of an Oak Farms dairy carton plus $1 covered admission for a Cowboys game in the Cotton Bowl.
Geramy Slayton is from Virginia, and his father cheered for the Cowboys despite coming from a family full of Washington fans. Slayton traveled extensively while serving in the military and now, at 31, he is a new father here in Seattle with what can only be described as an exquisite Cowboys man cave.
They are two faces in a fan base that is truly national — one that links generations and spans geography. They belong to a group of about 200 Cowboys fans here in Seattle who meet up to watch Dallas’ games here at a joint called Laredo’s (naturally), and they will be among the local residents cheering the visitors on Sunday when the Seahawks host an opponent that needs no introduction beyond the star on the side of the helmet.
“They seem to be the rival team for every other team,” Slayton said. “No matter who they’re playing, it’s a big deal.”
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These Cowboys are loved by many, perhaps hated by more. Feelings about the franchise are as unambiguous as a pregnancy test. That’s why, even after winning only one playoff game in the past 15 years, the Cowboys are one of the NFL’s flagships, and a lightning rod.
This is a franchise brassy enough to embrace the nickname “America’s Team,” and it has become the Cadillac of the league, pegged by Forbes to be worth more than $2 billion. The Cowboys have the largest stadium in the league, featuring a high-definition screen that’s almost as big as the field, and an owner in Jerry Jones whose face is demonstrating what can only be described as a resolute surgical defiance of gravity.
The Cowboys aren’t the only team with a truly national following. The Yankees are popular coast-to-coast. So are the Lakers, and the Heat has an increasingly crowded bandwagon. Other NFL teams like the Steelers and Packers have demonstrated more than regional appeal. But how many of those teams have sustained their popularity while going 15 years without winning a championship as Dallas has?
The Cowboys have gone through some lean times, including the end of Tom Landry’s era, the beginning of Jimmy Johnson’s run or Dave Campo’s tenure (three utterly unforgettable 5-11 seasons). The Cowboys are about more than Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith, and their history did not begin when Jones bought the team.
The devotion of the Cowboys’ following says something about the way we root for teams in this country — the importance of fathers and sons, football and geography. There is something special about that sport in Texas, something this team gets right to the heart of.
“My dad would get a group of kids, six or eight of us, and he would haul us all down to the games,” said Krause, now 56. “You can’t grow up in Dallas without being a Cowboys fan.”
Seahawks safety Earl Thomas grew up in Orange, Texas, which is so close to Louisiana you can look across a river and see that state. In terms of physical proximity, it is closer to New Orleans than it is to Dallas, but when asked during his rookie year if he grew up a Saints fan, he looked incredulous.
“I’m from Texas,” he said.
That means something.
“Since I can remember, it was all about the star, you know?” Thomas said. “Just something about seeing the star on the helmet…. That’s a historic team, and when you get an opportunity to play against them, it’s great.”
Radio host Dave Grosby of 710 ESPN Seattle grew up in northeast Ohio, which is Cleveland Browns territory. His father managed four radio stations, one of which was in Dallas — KBOX — and employed Dave Manders as a salesman in the offseason. Manders was a staple of early Cowboys history, a center who became the franchise’s first lineman to make the Pro Bowl.
In 1970, Grosby and his father went to Dallas and wound up watching a workout. A quarterback named Roger Staubach had Grosby — then 10 — run a pass route, telling him the ball would be there when he turned around.
Sure enough, the ball was right there. Right in Grosby’s stomach, actually, knocking the wind out of him. Next thing Grosby remembered, there were a bunch of large, sweaty men who would become pillars of the franchise’s history looking down at him, seeing if he was all right.
On the drive back to Ohio, Grosby had an earnest question for his father.
“Dad, do you think it would be all right if I was a Cowboys fan?” he asked.
Now he’s a member of that national network of fans that gives games against Dallas a little extra meaning, even in a league where every game is important.
Danny O’Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org