We’ve known since the NFL schedule was released that the opening game of the entire season would be our beloved Cowboys at the Giants on September 5th. A lot has already been written about how big this game will be. A win over the defending Super Bowl champions and division rival Giants on the road would be big anytime. But, with a worldwide audience watching the start of the NFL season it would be monumental. A win and a season with so much promise gets off on a very good footing. A loss and the heartbreak, doubt, and frustration of so many previous seasons creeps in once again. If you’re anything like me, the bitterness of that would be palpable. But, win or lose, it’s one game and there will still be 15 more before it is all decided. But, it will no doubt set the tone for the season.
The Cowboys have not fared very well in season-opening games of late – remember the 4th quarter meltdown last year against the Jets when the game was seemingly going our way? But, it got me thinking. Can we draw any real correlations between the opening day results and the success of the overall season? Is it as important as we think to get out of the gate with a win? Here are a few interesting facts:
The Cowboys inaugural season was in 1960 – the 2012 season opener will be their 53rd opening game in their history (counting the 2 strike shortened seasons in 1987 and 1982)
Thirty of those 53 games, the Cowboys opened the season on the road. With 16 opening week games, 16 teams have to start the season on the road, but 57% of the time the Cowboys have had to pack a bag. Which one of the NFL scheduling gurus doesn’t like Dallas?
In fact, in the last 20 seasons including this coming year, the Cowboys have only opened at home 5 times – only twice in the last 10 seasons with the last home opener coming at the start of the 2007 season. Seems like a league that is so in love with parity would try to spread the home openers around too…tough to win in the NFL on the road and tougher still to start the season in the hole with a loss.
The Cowboys overall record on opening day is an impressive 34-17-1 (.654) but like Super Bowl victories (last one in 1995) a lot of those wins are in the past. In fact, the Cowboys have lost their season opener the last 2 years in a row (at Jets in 2011 and at Washington in 2010). In the last 10 seasons, the Cowboys are a less than impressive 4-6 in opening day games. Since Jerry Jones bought the team in 1989, the ‘Boys are barely above .500 with a record of 12-11. At one point, the Cowboys lost their opener 5 years in a row – the worst stretch in the team’s history – from 2000 to 2004.
The Cowboys used to be known for dominating season opening games. In 29 seasons under Tom Landry, their record was an outstanding 22-6-1 (.776) at one point winning 17 consecutive years (1965-1981). It’s a different league today with free agency and some of the rules changes, but in a tribute to his excellence, no other Cowboys coach has been even close. In chronological order, the other Cowboys coach’s opening day records were: Jimmy Johnson – 3-2, Barry Switzer – 3-1, Chan Gailey – 2-1, Dave Campo 0-3, Bill Parcells – 1-3, Wade Phillips 3-1 (the one loss coming in the 2010 opener the year he was fired mid season), and Jason Garrett – 0-1. Landry lost his very first opening season game too, so let’s hope Garrett can get on a roll starting this year.
There are a lot of different factors that go into the end result for the total season, but when the Cowboys have started a season on the right foot and won their season opener, their overall record is 341-172-3 (.664). Winning the opening game doesn’t guarantee a good season, but there have only been 4 times in the team’s entire history that they won the season opener and finished the season below .500. Four times in 52 years! It definitely sets the tone and builds confidence.
The Cowboys have opened the season 24 previous times against a division opponent and have a record of 17-6-1 (.708).
Interestingly, the Cowboys have opened the season against the Giants 5 times in the past (2012 will be the 6th time) – most recently in Dallas in 2007, a game the Cowboys won 45-35. Their record in opening games against the G-Men is 5-0! Things that make you go “hmmmm”…
The numbers are what they are. Winning the opener doesn’t automatically generate a playoff berth or Super Bowl victory, but numbers don’t lie either. For this team – one with so much promise – it will be critical to their fragile psyche and to their season to win this game. Based on their history, I like their chances on getting opening day win #6 against the Giants! Keep the streak alive! Go Cowboys!