Fans of the Dallas Cowboys are accustomed to certain qualities of a high football life that fans of the Ravens can only envy.
The Cowboys, who play in Baltimore Sunday, are the NFL’s signature franchise in many respects. They’re worth $2.1 billion, more than any other team in American sports, according to Forbes magazine. No NFL team is more publicized, scrutinized, idealized. The Cowboys don’t have to fret about going five years without playing a home game on Monday night. They don’t ever complain about not getting enough attention or respect from the national media blabbers.
They’re always in the limelight. Sometimes it seems the NFL Network was invented strictly to allow everyone to keep tabs on “the Boys.”
They can point to a starry history to go with all that attention, having captured five Super Bowl titles, two in the 70s and three in the 90s, and they play in a stadium that befits their stature, a massive oval edifice parked on the Southwestern landscape like an opulent Roman temple.
It was NFL Films, not the Cowboys themselves, who dreamed up the “America’s Team” nickname, but it was spot-on from the outset and as accurate as ever today. You can be sure thousands of Dallas fans will populate the stands Sunday. The Cowboys could play in a jungle clearing in the Brazilian tropics and their fans would show up.
It’s nice to be important.
The Ravens have come a long way in their 16 years, but they still have a way to go to match the Cowboys’ tradition and popularity. Their brand is rising, but the Cowboys are in another league.
It’s a funny thing, though. As much as the Cowboys might see Baltimore as a lesser NFL light in some respects, there are qualities of the pro football life here that Dallas fans desperately envy.
Remember in 2008 when the Cowboys basically handpicked the Ravens to play the last game at Texas Stadium, hoping Baltimore would roll over nicely like a good homecoming-style opponent? The Ravens ruined the occasion, beating the Cowboys.
For that matter, the Cowboys have never beaten the Ravens; Sunday’s game will be the fourth between the teams and the Ravens won the first three by a combined 90-34 score.
But a few wins and losses aren’t the issue with the fans, of course; it is the respective methodologies of the teams, which are so different.
The Ravens operate with the lines of responsibility clearly drawn. The owner just owns, keeping a low profile. The GM picks the players. The coaches coach. It’s a top-down style that lets everyone do what they do best. To say the Ravens have benefited would be an understatement. Since the Cowboys last won a Super Bowl in January 1996, the Ravens have earned a Super Bowl trophy of their own, played in three AFC title games, made eight playoff appearances.
The Cowboys operate, um, differently. Their owner, Jerry Jones, is the money-makingest guy around and wholly committed to winning, but he loves the limelight and can’t stay out of the football-side operation. In fact, he runs it, making trades and orchestrating the draft, to the chagrin of many fans.
Jones is always the story, win or lose, and unfortunately for him – and for the fans – there’s been as much losing as winning in recent years. The Cowboys are a dead-even 98-98 since 2000. Since their last Super Bowl triumph, they’ve made a few postseason appearances but never gone far, winning just two of nine playoff games.
Since 2008, the Ravens are 48-21 and have won five playoff games. The Cowboys are 36-32, with one playoff win.
One is an elite team, an annual playoff qualifier, the other maddeningly inconsistent – talented and capable of big wins, but always coming up short in the end.
The Cowboys still have their tradition and popularity, and their brand is as preeminent as ever. Being their fan puts you in a vast legion of believers.
But many of those fans would trade the glitz and high profile for a front office such as Baltimore’s, which hordes draft picks and uses them wisely, builds a roster from the ground up and puts a playoff-caliber team on the field every year.