The Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants are enemies. It's natural, of course, because they've been division rivals for decades. But the enmity New Yorkers have for the Cowboys runs deeper than just sharing the NFC East. Giants fans hate the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins, too, but the Cowboys? That hatred's on a whole other level. And it's not just Giants fans -- Dallas is both the most beloved and most loathed team in football.
Things began innocently enough, when the Cowboys (almost called the Steers or the Rangers) came in the first wave of NFL expansion in 1960, and went 0-11-1. The Giants, on the other hand, were perennially going to championship games in the early '60s, so why hate the Cowboys? Dallas quickly became successful, though, playing in the NFL Championship game in their seventh season (but losing to the Green Bay Packers), led by fun-loving quarterback Don Meredith. They lost again to Green Bay the next season in the Ice Bowl, and continued their regular-season success but always came up a little short. Before they were nicknamed America's Team they were labeled Next Year's Champions. A novel (and subsequent movie) written by receiver Peter Gent, North Dallas Forty, was based on Meredith and the Cowboys of the '60s, and there was nothing not to like about it. They were the Brooklyn Dodgers of football -- Wait Till Next Year. So far so good in the nothing-to-hate-about-the-Cowboys department. I mean, who didn't like Don Meredith (except for maybe Howard Cosell)?
After losing Super Bowl V, they finally won their first championship the next year, defeating the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VI, and remained a powerhouse for the next decade. Meanwhile, the Giants went into a tailspin, and their enemy even had an old Giant leading them to glory, in Tom Landry. He was the coach who got away for Big Blue (not to mention Vince Lombardi). So while the Cowboys were playing in Super Bowls in the 1970s, the Giants were given some of their leftover scraps, in the form of Craig Morton, who was behind center for Big Blue for a few dismal seasons. The hatred for Dallas was born of being division rivals, with a little jealousy for the Cowboys' success thrown in.
But the Cowboys' phenomenon exploded in the mid-'70s. And here's where it all happened. They play every Thanksgiving, so we've been forced to watch them at least once a year, and after the 1978 season they were tabbed with that infamous nickname -- America's Team -- by an NFL Films editor. And those two words have sparked an enmity toward Dallas that has built rather than waned over the decades. Though that name was not self-imposed, it may as well have been. The gall and the chutzpah it encompasses is only equaled by the derision and ridicule when the Cowboys' seasons turn disastrous.
Even the good qualities about the Cowboys couldn't be left alone -- namely their famous cheerleaders. Who doesn't like them? But everything with that franchise has to be an over-the-top production, so a made-for-TV movie was broadcast about them in 1979, starring Jane Seymour, Bert Convy, Bucky Dent (yes, Bucky Dent) and Lauren Tewes of Love Boat fame. It didn't win an Emmy, but was cheesy as the team itself.
Also beginning sometime in the 1970s was the popping up of Cowboys fans all over America. All of a sudden every town had Cowboy fans, whether in the New York area, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and from coast to coast. Bandwagon-jumpers sprouted up in every NFL city. There were spies in our midst. They were once even in my garage as a child, as many decades ago two brothers who lived in the house behind ours engaged in fisticuffs over who should be the starting quarterback of the Cowboys. The mystery of how and why they ended up in our garage has never been solved. But they were both Cowboy fans living in New Jersey. And they were uneasily close to me.
And then it got worse. On Feb. 25, 1989, Jerry Jones bought the team. And the loathing for and hostility toward the franchise multiplied exponentially. The new owner fired the respected Tom Landry and brought in his old college teammate, the well-coiffed Jimmy Johnson. At first, their winning equalled the bombastic, bloated boorishness of Jones, with three Super Bowl titles, but during the last two decades, Jones' ego has grown while his team's success has shrunk.
Jones' giant, spaceship-like stadium dwarfs in comparison to how he views himself. One doesn't so much as watch a Cowboys game on television anymore as watch Jerry Jones. We're lucky if a few plays and highlights are snuck in between shots of Jones in his owner's box -- or just as likely patrolling the sidelines, making himself the story (with much help from whichever network is broadcasting the game). With his team's underachieving ways season after season, there's certainly no jealousy attached to the hatred anymore. Surely, no Giants fan would trade his team's history for Dallas'.
Jerry Jones and the Cowboys have been jammed down America's throats for decades -- he's even now rapping in a Papa John's commercial, for Pete's sake. But, let's face it, it's so much fun to hate the Cowboys. That's part of what makes sports entertaining -- having villains. And when the villain loses year after year, as if he were Wile E. Coyote attempting to catch the Roadrunner, then all the better. When that ACME safe falls on top of Jones or he runs off the side of a cliff, it's just that much more satisfying. It's good that Jerry Jones and the Cowboys are the way they are. Having a bad guy makes rooting for the good guy more fun. Especially when the bad guy ends up burnt to a crisp, the result of yet another backfiring scheme.