All the talk about the Dallas Cowboys’ free agency activity, or lack thereof, has gotten me thinking back to the days before free agency was even a twinkle in the league’s eye. I know I’m dating myself; but I can remember a time when fans could expect to see the same players on their favorite team’s roster year in and year out. It was a different age for the NFL and those who watched it.
I grew up watching the Dallas Cowboys with my Dad in rural Arkansas. It was a long time before The Triplets known as Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin rode into town and brought Super Bowl glory back to Big D. It was a long, long time before Tony Romo, DeMarcus Ware and Dez Bryant wore the Star. Fan favorites were some Cowboys whose names still ring a bell… Roger Staubach, Drew Pearson and Tony Dorsett…just to name a few.
On wintry Sunday afternoons I’d tune in to ” The NFL Today” on CBS with Brent Musburger and Phyllis George, since that was the home of the NFC before Fox came into being. I’d warm my toes by the fire and suffer the highest of highs and lowest of lows with the ‘Boys while trying to send positive vibes through my decidedly not-flat-screen television. There was much pillow throwing and door slamming on the way to what was usually a victory by Dallas. Then on Mondays my friends and I would pass the time in study hall by listing the names and numbers of the players on our favorite teams without much difficulty, from the quarterback to the last lineman. That kind of loyalty between fans and teams has been diminished as the game as evolved.
Buying a jersey with our favorite player’s name emblazoned on the back has become a risky investment as it has become much more the exception than the norm for players, especially the marque names, to retire wearing the same uniform that they came into the league with. Since that is the case, it is harder to pledge our undying allegiance to a player who might be wearing a different helmet in any given season. That was certainly not always the case.
I remember the shock waves that rocked Cowboy Nation when it was announced that running back Tony Dorsett had been traded to the Denver Broncos. In today’s age of moving and shaking and big money contracts such a move might have created little more than a ripple. That’s not to say that yours truly hasn’t managed to adapt to the changing tide in the NFL. When Deion Sanders brought his Prime Time antics from the then arch-rival San Francisco 49ers to Dallas, I swore that I would never cheer for him. Although it took a while, I could eventually be seen on Sunday afternoons jumping up and down in my living room and screaming, “Go, Deion, Go!” as he high-stepped his way to the end zone. Even Terrell Owens, who was once public enemy #1 in Dallas for what he did on the beloved Star, was accepted into the fold. As it has been well documented, though, that particular experiment ended rather badly.
Looking back on some of the moves the Cowboys have made over the years makes this fan realize that today’s NFL is a far cry from the one I grew up with. That makes it even more special to remember a time when we could truly tell the players without a scorecard.