By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Yeah you, the rabid Dallas Cowboys fan with painted face and silver-n-blue panties in a wad. Your popular old refrain about some supposed Cowboys prejudice among Pro Football Hall of Fame voters makes about as much sense as Mixed Martial Arts fighter Chael Sonnen claiming iconic cyclist Lance Armstrong gave himself cancer.
When Emmitt Smith was inducted into Canton last weekend he became the 10th Cowboys player to earn football immortality in addition to former general manager Tex Schramm and legendary head coach Tom Landry. In the last five years, five Cowboys have been knighted into the Hall of Fame.
While there's probably a better argument to be made about Cowboys favoritism than anti-'Boys bias, the irrational cries for more Canton Cowboys continue.
It's asinine. It's embarrassing. It's wrong. It's...on full display inside San Antonio's Alamodome during Cowboys training camp.
"We're America's Team, the best team in the history of football!" says San Antonio fan Hector Ramons in between impassioned screams for quarterback Tony Romo's autograph. "We won three Super Bowls in the '90s. Almost every player from those teams should be in the Hall of Fame. How is that fair? It's not! Everyone hates the Cowboys...because they're jealous."
All together now: I love the Cowboys. But I hate Cowboys fans.
Every player is a star. Every referee has a grudge. Every season that doesn't end in a Super Bowl championship is a fluke. Every Cowboy should wind up in Canton.
"I don't know about any Hall of Fame bias," says former Cowboys defensive end Charles Haley, a member of the '90s dynasty that won three championships in four years. "Seems like we're filling it up pretty good."
Truth is—and this one's gonna sting—those beloved '90s Cowboys were underachievers. That's right, underachievers. Think about it.
In the same offensive huddle the Cowboys were blessed with four Hall of Famers in Smith, quarterback Troy Aikman, receiver Michael Irvin and slam-dunk future enshrinee and offensive lineman Larry Allen. Certain Hall of Famer Jerry Jones owned the team, legitimate Canton candidate Jimmy Johnson coached it and on the defensive side of the ball were probable inductee Haley, no-brainer Deion Sanders and possible member Darren Woodson.
Maybe it's just me, but—impressive as it is—shouldn't six Hall of Famers produce more than three titles?
Perhaps that's a tad harsh, but no more absurd than fans moaning and bitching about the absences of former Cowboys such as Drew Pearson, Cliff Harris and Harvey Martin. Yes, Pearson was named to the NFL's All-Decade Team of the 1970s and was Roger Staubach's favorite target in the clutch. Yes, Martin was co-Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XII and the most feared pass-rusher of his era. And yes, Harris is a member of both the Cowboys' Ring of Honor and the league's '70s All-Decade Team.
But sorry, not everyone gets in. Relatively speaking, Dallas is well represented.
"I'd love to see Cliff and Drew and Chuck Howley get their due," said 1980 Hall of Fame Cowboy Bob Lilly last week. "But I don't think playing for a team as successful and visible as the Cowboys ever hurt anyone trying to do anything. It's a huge advantage."
The Chicago Bears have 26 members in the Hall of Fame, but their franchise has been around since 1920. Of the teams born at the same time or later than the Cowboys in 1960, only the Oakland Raiders have more representatives, 13 to the Cowboys' 12. The Philadelphia Eagles, for example, have been playing football since 1933 with only nine Hall of Famers to show for it.
On the heels of Aikman and Rayfield Wright in 2006, Irvin in 2007, Bob Hayes in 2008 and Smith in 2010, the Cowboys seemed primed for the immediate future. Sanders (who won a Super Bowl as a mercenary of sorts in Dallas in '95) will be a candidate next year, Haley (who won three of his five championship rings as a Cowboy) was a finalist this year and Allen (a rare two-time All-Decade player in the '90s and '00s) will be a first-ballot winner in 2012.
"I don't want to be too presumptuous," said Jones at training camp last week, "but we might be headed back up to Canton a couple more times pretty quick here."
This year's Cowboys also have high hopes, but no Hall of Famers. Not yet, anyway.
Linebacker DeMarcus Ware is one of the NFL's most prolific pass rushers. And Jason Witten is already a prime candidate for the Ring of Honor as the best tight end in franchise history, capped by six consecutive Pro Bowl appearances and the second-most catches as a Cowboy behind only Irvin. But for the most part, the 2010 Cowboys will attempt something great behind players that have so far only proved to be good.
"This team reminds me of us back in the late '60s," Lilly said. "For a couple years we were good teams that couldn't get over the hump and people started to label us and so forth. It was just a matter of time before it all clicked and we had that breakthrough season. I can see something like that happening to them this year. They've got the pieces in place."
The Cowboys, who began their preseason with a 16-7 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in last Sunday night's Hall of Fame Game in Canton, move their split training camp to Oxnard, California, this week after a fortnight in San Antonio. A camp off to a rousing start—thanks to the energy and excellence of receiver Dez Bryant—ground to an emotional halt when the rookie receiver sprained an ankle July 30.
He should be back in time for the September 12 regular-season opener against the Washington Redskins, as should defensive end Marcus Spears after spraining a knee in the next-to-last practice at The Alamodome. Other than those two minor, temporary setbacks, the Cowboys in San Antonio were a stirring success.
Doug Free looked more than capable to take over for the departed Flozell Adams at left tackle. New starting free safety Alan Ball, though a bit undersized, proved to be an instinctive ball-hawk capable of producing more turnovers than big hits. And second-year kicker David Buehler, who entered camp with a job despite having never tried an NFL field goal, made 33 of 38 kicks during Dallas' stay down south and made three of four against the Bengals.
"We're excited, but you can't microwave a season," linebacker Bradie James said. "You've got to go through the process. Get better each day in practice at camp, produce in preseason games and then win some regular-season games and get into the playoffs. Farthest thing from our minds is the Super Bowl right now."
"This is our year," adds diehard fan Ramons. "The Cowboys will be the first team to win a Super Bowl in their own stadium. It's our destiny. Tony Romo will be in the Hall of Fame. Dez Bryant will be in the Hall of Fame..."
He continued. I could not.
For now, Cowboys fans, it's Super Bowl-or-bust before the Canton busts.
Please, stop whining long enough to enjoy it.