Joe Nick Patoski has been writing about popular culture in Texas for decades. His work includes biographies on Willie Nelson, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Selena. He has been a scribe for Texas Monthly magazine and freelanced for Creem, Rolling Stone, and The New York Times. Whether the subject is western swing music, barbeque, or water conservation, Patoski has the Lone Star State covered like a blanket. His latest work, as lengthy as a presidential memoir, is about how a football team and a city grew together, have somewhat grown apart, yet are inextricably linked.
Professional football started in Dallas as the play toys for the sons of oil tycoons. Lamar Hunt, unhappy with his inability to purchase his own team, established the American Football League in 1959. His franchise, the Dallas Texans, began competing with the Dallas Cowboys for the hearts and wallets of DFW football fans in 1960. The Cowboys, founded by Clint Murchison, Jr., won the battle when the Texans moved to Kansas City in 1963 and were rechristened as the Chiefs.
For decades, the operations of the organization were handled by Tex Schramm, the General Manager, and Gil Brandt, the Vice President of Player Personnel. The Cowboys were innovators in their use of computer statistical models to evaluate players and creating the eye candy known as the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders as a marketing tool. Tom Landry, the stoic, aloof coach, focused on game planning, substitution X’s and O’s for motivation. In the ‘60s, quarterback Don Meredith was as comfortable throwing touchdowns as he was chasing skirts in Texas honky-tonks or appearing on The Tonight Show. Meredith’s irreverence and Landry’s seriousness were never a comfortable pairing.
As the book progresses, Patoski reflects on the growth and changes in Dallas. A segregated city with the dishonor of being where John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Dallas has always had a strange polytheism where capitalism, Christianity, and football are all equally worshipped and revered. The true sin in Dallas doesn’t involve who winds up someone’s bed or what goes up somebody’s nose – the only true sin in Dallas is losing.
As the 1970s progresses, Roger Staubach became not only a two-time winning Super Bowl quarterback , but with his clean cut image also became a poster child for the National Football League. The Cowboys were branded “America’s Team,” as they were the squad that everyone either loved or hated. You could be apathetic toward the New York Jets, but everybody had an opinion about the Cowboys. The glory days of the team coincided with the expansion of the “Metroplex,” as DFW built a huge airport hub and became the headquarters for a number of business operations. The team had also moved to Irving and opened the iconic Cowboys Stadium. General Manager Schramm developed a reputation as a ruthless negotiator that was able to pay bottom dollar for top talent. He was more generous with the funds when it came to parties for management officials.
Ownership changed hands twice in the 1980s, with the cultural implosion arriving with Arkansas oil and nature gas tycoon Jerry Jones. Jones dropped Cowboy legend Tom Landry and the internal management team like a pair of dirty underwear, creating howls of disapproval. The thought of an obnoxious Arky owning the hallowed Dallas Cowboys was an unthinkable heresy, until they started winning again. Jones hired his University of Arkansas college football teammate Jimmy Johnson as coach and they quickly landed the best quarterback (Troy Aikman), running back (Emmitt Smith), and receiver (Michael Irvin) in the league. Johnson won two Super Bowls, but there was an inevitable ego clash between the perfectionist coach and the solipsistic owner. The workaholic Johnson was replaced by the hard partying, back slapping yahoo Barry Switzer, who had so much talent on hand that he even won a Super Bowl with the team.
On the field, it’s been mediocrity or worse for the past fifteen seasons, but Jerry Jones has developed a new measuring stick for success. After opening a mega-stadium in Arlington, Texas, which can hold over 100,000 fans, and by taking corporate sponsorship deals to previously unimagined levels, the team is making more money than ever. The franchise is worth at least ten times more than the wildcat oil speculator paid for his vanity project. He has so thoroughly embodied the “Bigger is Better” Texas spirit that what happens on the field has almost become a secondary thought in the equation.
In this book, Patoski has covered over fifty years of Dallas Cowboy’s football while deftly interweaving the history of the city and the popular culture of the area. It’s a compelling story that could only be properly told by someone as entrenched in Texas history as Patoski. Highly recommended.