T MAKES ME UNEASY TO CALL ATHLETES "heroes." As Blackie Sherrod said years ago, a hero is someone who can land a fighter jet at night on the swaying deck of an aircraft carrier-not a guy prancing around with a football. When members of the Dallas Cowboys went to Oklahoma City after the terrorist bombing, the moral hierarchy seemed right: wealthy, famous entertainers paying homage to anonymous men and women who were the real heroes-the rescue workers who fought to bring survivors from the rubble.
And yet, if we add enough qualifiers, there is a sense in which great athletes can be called heroic, Unlike the rest of us, athletes inhabit a mythical kingdom, a realm where perfection is not only possible but measurable. In the real world, clever fakes may prosper, amiable blanks may coast along, but within the artificial boundaries of sports we always know the great from the second-rate. We have only to look at the scoreboards and the stats. Nobody’s college pal or brother-in-law gets to start for the Cowboys unless he can do the job. On third and long, a player’s connections, endorsements, and agents cannot help him. Someone is going to succeed and someone is going to fail, and we will not need a congressional hearing to tell the difference.
Because of the hard, undeniable numbers that rule sports, we can say with scientific accuracy that the Dallas Cowboys have been one of the greatest sports franchises of all time. Fact: From 1966, their sixth season of existence, to 1985 the Cowboys rolled up 20 consecutive winning seasons. Only the New York Yankees (1926-1964) and hockey’s Montreal Canadiens (1951-1982) have surpassed the Cowboys for consistent excellence. And as everyone around here knows, the Cowboys bounced back with remarkable speed from their inevitable turn in the cellar, climbing out of the 1-15 tomb of 1989 to win the Super Bowl in 1993 and 1994.
The record books tell us all that-the four Super Bowl victories, the 16 division championships, the seven National Football Conference titles and more, but numbers alone do not tell us why so many care so much for this team. Even before they were saddled with the nickname of "America’s Team"-a marketing moniker the players never suggested or wanted-the Cowboys were the civic religion of Dallas and much of Texas, beloved by millions around the country and around the world. For a decade the unofficial rule of television sports programming was: "When in doubt, give them the Cowboys." Dallas far outstrips other NFL teams when it comes to sales of logo-bearing paraphernalia like hats, jerseys, jackets, pennants, ashtrays, bath mats, etc. And how many times, watching the evening news, have you seen a kid on the street in Lebanon or Germany, wearing Troy Aikman’s number 8? Today America’s Team, tomorrow the world’s.
Some of the Cowboys’ allure can be attributed to a far-from-mysterious fact: The team usually wins, and because winning is, if not the only thing, at least a better thing than losing, people like to be with the winner. That’s especially the case in Dallas, where we just don’t embrace perennial losers. Let the Mavericks go into the tank, and Reunion Arena starts to look like the old Arlington Stadium bleachers usually looked in late September-empty. It’s hard to imagine Dallas taking to its heart New York’s Amazin’ Mets of the early ’60s, or loving the Chicago Cubs, who have not won a World Series since Charles Lindbergh was a young man with a big idea.
Over the years, unlicensed psychoanalysts have hinted that there is something dark and shameful about Dallas’s love of winners, as if it builds character to watch your team take a 38-3 shellacking. Not so. Loss is part of life and must be accepted-but (the homilies of high school coaches notwithstanding) sport is not life. Sport is a counterlife, a magic realm where, at least theoretically, we can win every day. So give us the winners. That is, the Cowboys.
A number of first-class writers have pondered the Cowboys mystique in these pages, among them Pete Gent, an old Cowboy himself and author of North Dallas Forty. But none have known the team and the city’s relationship with the team better than Skip Bayless. A former columnist with the Dallas Morning News and the Dallas Times Herald, Bayless now talks sports on KTCK-AM, The Ticket; writes three columns a week for The Insider, and triples as an ESPN analyst during the NFL season. He’s written two books about the Cowboys and is planning another right now.
That’s why we asked him to take us into the life and work of Barn’ Switzer, who’s entering his second season as coach of the Cowboys- a job that in Dallas, Bayless writes, has become "a cross between Pope and President." Skip’s story begins on page 80.
Double-teaming with Bayless is one of our favorite writers, Carlton Stowers, who, starting on page 88, examines another measure of the Cowboys’ success, the plethora of books by and about the team. As the author of three ’Boys books himself, Carlton knows whereof he speaks,
D Magazine takes on a new look this month, Thanks to the inspired work of our tireless art director, Fernande Bondarenko, and assistant art director Kay Bird, you’ll see a classic mix of traditional and contemporary design, emphasizing substance over style for maximum readability-a look that supports and conveys the message without overwhelming it. We hope you like the new design as much as we do. Let us know what you think.
Finally, a last word about contributing editor Derro Evans, who died in a house fire in July. Derro served this magazine in a number of roles over the years, most recently with his monthly "Designs for Living" section. A longtime teacher of writing, he was a meticulous stylist who would argue at length with any editor so bold as to suggest altering his copy. But it was all in the name of the high standards he valued. We’ll miss Derro, whose last story starts on page 104.