Anybody who knows anything about sports in the Washington, DC metro area knows that in this town there are two NFL teams, the Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys. More important than how all of these Cowboys fans got here, is why? Why does a city more than 1,300 miles away have just as many fans in the District of Columbia as a team that plays its home games just a few metro stops from the National Mall?
There are those that fall into the first school of thought: “We like the Cowboys because they’re better than the home team.”
Over the lifetime of the Cowboys franchise they have accumulated five Super Bowl wins, which is good for second best behind the Pittsburgh Steelers six titles. The Cowboys were certainly the team of the nineties and nobody can deny that. Troy Aikman, Emitt Smith and Michael Irvin may have been the greatest triple-threat on offense to ever win a title. During the last era of Cowboys success, the Redskins were a few years removed from their last championship in 1991-92 and were at the beginning of their descent down the ranks of the NFL. For over a decade the Cowboys dominated the Redskins and at one point it took Darrell Green’s last game just to get a victory.
The second school of thought is: “Hey, it’s ‘America’s Team’.”
Cowboys fans are everywhere, much like Steelers fans. They travel well, and most times don’t even have to because they have already infiltrated the cities of other NFL franchises. The nickname “America’s Team” was coined by Bob Ryan, who is now the Vice President and Editor-In-Chief of NFL Films, in 1979 as he watched highlight tape of the 1978 Cowboys team. He is quoted as saying “I saw all these fans in away stadiums and I thought ‘hey they’re the most popular team in the county, how can I use that?'” via the NFL Network. (You can see it here on the NFL Network’s top ten nicknames). The name has stuck over the last few decades and for some, like Bishop Sakyi from Riverdale, Maryland -the Cowboys were the first team they could identify with.
The Cowboys are America’s team. I think when my siblings first came to the country, all but one were Cowboys fans[...] The team was a powerhouse at the time and I think it was early to mid 90’s when they were watching so they liked them the most and that’s when I started to understand football. When I understood it the Cowboys were winning championships so from what I saw from my brothers and how they were performing as a team, I was like why wouldn’t I be a fan? That’s when my loyalty began.
The third and most important school of thought, as far as this article is concerned is: “It’s in my blood.”
There are hundreds of thousands of Cowboys fans in this area and the numbers only seem to multiply every year. The tradition of being a Cowboys fan is passed down from generation to generation like most team’s “fanhood” is. My only question is why was that first generation, that group of teenagers growing up in Washington, DC in the 1960’s, so attracted to a franchise that had little to do with this area?
The story is a little deeper than one may think.
The Dallas Cowboys were born out of the disdain of former Redskins owner George Preston Marshall. Clint and John Murchison purchased the rights to the Redskins fight song “Hail to the Redskins” and threatened Marshall with not being able to play it at home games in Washington. Their goal was for Marshall to allow the NFL to expand and ultimately award Dallas a franchise in the Redskin monopoly that was the south at that time. The Redskins had the money, the history, and the major television contract and all of the glory that game with it.
Around the time that the franchise in Dallas was being created there were severe racial tensions all across the United States and even more so in Washington, DC. Marshall believed that an all-white team could succeed and would be a huge hit in the south, especially with the “Jim Crow” era still in full swing. Marshall was on the brink of a federal intervention that would have forced him to integrate his Redskins in 1961. A few months later he drafted the franchise’s first African-American player in Ernie Davis. Davis was later traded to the Cleveland Browns for Bobby Mitchell (pictured left). Mitchell is credited as being the Skins first African-American player.
The racial tensions in the district, combined with the southern expansion of the NFL and the Redskins losing ways seemed to be a perfect combination and a welcoming environment for residents to find a first, or new, team to support.
The hatred for the Redskins doesn’t only center around their past issues for some Cowboy’s fans. The team’s name alone “Redskins” is enough for most people to not want to cheer for them. Some believe that it is a racist term and that a team known as the “Darkskins” or “Paleskins” couldn’t exist in today’s NFL. Why should there be an exception for the most powerful city in the world? The other side of that argument draws upon the Cleveland Indians and Atlanta Braves references, even the Chicago Blackhawks have been used in comparison from time to time. This issue is one that is not likely to be resolved any time soon.
I believe the ground work was laid in the 1960’s for Cowboys fans in DC. I also believe that in the 70’s and 80’s the Redskins and Cowboys sporadic success allowed more fans to catch on to each team nationally. I know that the Cowboys’ dominance in the 1990’s is the reason for many of their recent fans. I also know the thought of supporting the hated rival in a sea of burgundy and gold has driven some to the Boys.
I hope that this serves as a small history lesson for some and a refresher for others. Every fan has their reasons for supporting the team they do. I’m sure if this Shanahan era is the real deal, the Redskins will slowly begin to reclaim their territory. For now though, we must all deal with that annoying co-worker that only has something to say when he’s doing well and nothing to say the other ten weeks of the season.
If you’d like to follow me on twitter you can click here. I answer most questions and welcome input from fans of all teams in all leagues.
I’d also like to add a personal note. About a month ago my father, Kevin Mawyer Sr., passed away at the age of 52. I would like to make it known that my interest, knowledge and undying love for this franchise was started and sustained by him. His knowledge of the Redskins seemed unlimited and his unwillingness to waiver in his support was something not often seen today. I love you Dad and I know you have the best seats in the house for this Monday night.
Tags: America's Team Bobby Mitchell Burgundy And Gold Cowboys Cowboys Suck Dallas DeAngelo Hall George Preston Marshall Monday Night Football Redskins Rivalry Super Bowl Television Contracts Texas Tony Romo Washington Washington DC