Lonnie Benford View his profile on Inside The Star
Growing up in North Carolina, 1,200 miles away from the Promised Land, people assume that I’m just another Cowboys bandwagon fan. Nothing could be further from the truth.
My first memory of football was Super Bowl XXXII when John Elway hurled his aging body between two Green Bay defenders to pick up the first down, and then the Broncos running back Terrell Davis scored the game-winning touchdown.
Until I started playing football at the age of 10, I was only a casual fan, watching Super Bowls and playing Madden. After I started playing, I spent most of my Sunday’s playing backyard football at my best friend’s house, whose dad was a Cowboys fan from the glory days of Roger “The Dodger” Staubach.
In between halves of our game, we would retreat back inside to cool down, drink a Pepsi and, of course, the Cowboys games were always on in that house. Even if the Cowboys weren’t on, my friend’s dad indoctrinated us with sweetened stories from autumns past of how things used to be.
Keep in mind this was the year 2000, Dave Campo was the head coach, and there was barely even a wagon left to jump on from the Golden Age of Jimmy Johnson. Troy Aikman was just a shell of his former self and nearing retirement, thanks to several concussions. I was too young to realize it, but Dallas was at the dawn of a decade-plus long stretch of heartbreak and turmoil.
Sure, there were a few proud moments along the way, but they were far and few between. Moments that should be remembered fondly such as Emmitt Smith surpassing Walter Payton as the all-time leading rusher, a few playoff berths, are largely overshadowed by multiple late season meltdowns.
During the 2nd Great Dallas Depression, as the Carolina Panthers became more popular, the number of Cowboys fans in this part of the country dwindled. The casual Cowboys fan jumped ship to a surging franchise that would eventually reach the Super Bowl in 2003. Being from North Carolina I was proud the Panthers made it that far, but distraught at the same time because they had to go through Dallas in the Wildcard round a few weeks prior.
The football culture in North Carolina is very different compared to Texas.
Being located in The South, the tradition of high school football is deeply engrained into each community, but thanks to the success of the ACC, we are recognized as a basketball state. The only true football schools are Appalachian State, who is just starting their first year at the FBS level, and my Alma Mater, East Carolina University.
As a Cowboys fan, my time at ECU was very interesting because a large portion of the student body comes from up north. It’s apparently cheaper for someone in New Jersey to send their kids to school in North Carolina than a place like Rutgers. The experience was fun for me because a lot of my new friends were fans of NFC East teams. Some of my favorite memories from college were meeting up with those friends during conference play, while I was decked out in my #17 Dwayne Harris (Also an ECU Alumni) jersey, at a local Deadskin Redskins bar called Sup Dogs.
I’m not sure what kept me loyal to the Dallas Cowboys. Maybe it’s stupidity, or maybe I just like being disappointed around the holiday season. With each late season blunder, my friends didn’t hesitate to point and mock my team with their always-original “Tony Homo” chants.
With the way Jason Garrett is rebuilding the franchise, I will certainly be having the last laugh.
Walter Yeates View his profile on Inside The Star
My father is a life-long Dallas Cowboys fan, who actually tried out for the team in the 1970s, a story I will tell in the future on Inside The Star. My childhood was full of stories Tony Dorsett, Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Roger Staubach, Drew Pearson, DD Lewis, and many others from the days of Tom Landry. He also told me a lot about the 1985 Bears Defense being special, so I learned quite a bit about that team as well.
I have very few memories of the Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer Super Bowl winning teams, besides wearing Troy Aikman’s jersey to class at a young age after one of their victories.
As I grew older, I remember watching quite a few games with my dad, being very fortunate to see Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, and Troy Aikman finish their careers on the field.
Much like Lonnie, I was never accused of being a bandwagon fan, as there’s not much of a bandwagon to be on when Anthony Wright, Chad Hutchinson, Clint Stoerner, Drew Henson, and Ryan Leaf are starting games for the team. The Quincy Carter days were not exactly memorable as when he was about to turn the corner, his demons led to his time ending rather quickly in Dallas.
Even though North Carolina now has the Carolina Panthers, I have never felt their fanbase has grown as expected. There are quite a few fans from other teams that held onto their loyalties once the Panthers became an expansion team, however, I did not come across very many Cowboys fans until college.
East Carolina University is not known for putting a great deal of talent into the NFL. With more popular names being: Chris Johnson, David Garrard, Jeff Blake, Vonta Leach, Linval Joseph, and one Dwayne Harris. I was an undergraduate at ECU when Harris was playing, spoke to him on campus once, and he was a nice guy. I was excited when the Cowboys drafted him and I was pained when he left to play for the New York Giants.
As a Cowboys fan in North Carolina, I did not recognize how hated the team was until joining twitter at some point during college. It still today baffles me how a Cleveland Browns, Miami Dolphins, or New England Patriots fan can despise a team not even in their conference. Some fans will even speak more about the Cowboys than the team they are actually fans of.
It became such a phenomena that even ESPN regularly spends time bashing the team whenever it is convenient. As a Sports Journalist, I find a great deal of that coverage to be laughable, yet it draws their network a great deal of attention.
While there were several years without much to cheer for on the field, with Will McClay and Jason Garrett at the helm it is difficult not to feel encouraged about the future of America’s Team.