11
Sep
11

“America’s Team” and 9/11

It’s important to remember that sports is a part of our lives, in some cases an important part of our life, but not everything. Sports are not more important than your marriage, sports aren’t more important than your values, your hopes and aspirations. Sports are simply sports, and although at times certain games, and certain moments take on meaning and significance, sports will never replace or alter our perceptions about what is truly memorable to us.

Tonight the Dallas Cowboys will play the New York Jets to help kick off the NFL season, and it is no coincidence that the NFL scheduled these two teams, one called “America’s Team” and the other, a team that plays in the tri-state area, to play in the high profile night game for NBC. If you recall the NFL wisely cancelled games immediately following 9/11 in order for the nation to come together and to grieve. But the NFL also wisely chose to come back a week later because people need to move on, and in many ways football, america’s past time did let us move on. The first games back were very patriotic, with each team’s captains coming out with flags, and taps being played at the games. That year, in an unusual coincidence, the Patriots won the Superbowl, beating the heavily favored Rams. The Patriots wear red, white, and blue, and their mascot resembles the american revolutionaries.

Since 9/11, and at times and for other reasons, some people would like to see another team carry the monikor of “America’s Team.” People didn’t necessarily like the name when it was first given to the Cowboys in 1978. At the time Bob Ryan, who worked for NFL films, was looking for a nickname for the team, and since he saw so many Cowboy’s fans at other teams stadiums he dubbed them “Anerica’s Team.” Tex Schramm, the shrewd marketer and GM for the Cowboys loved the name and immediately used it in advertiesments, and at the stadium. For whatever reason the name stuck, and it has been the unofficial name for the Cowboys ever since.

Over the years other teams have either derided Dallas for their name, or tried to coin the name for themselves. The Atlanta Braves used to call themselves “America’s Team 2” because they were in the playoffs so many years in a row. Some people think the Yankees should be “America’s Team” because of their rich history and success, and other’s think the teams with the most Superbowls or championships should be “America’s Team” so you will hear some people say the Packers are the “real” America’s Team, or the Steelers are “truly” America’s Team. One is reminded of the Seinfeld episode where George tried to give himself a cool nickname “T-Bone” but no one would use it because, well, you can’t give yourself a nickname, they just happen. That’s what’s cool about them.

But among the more disturbing trends in this artificial redistribution of “America’s Team” is when fans or the media have co-opted it because of national tragedy. So after 9/11 we saw that the Patriots became “America’s Team” and the Giants, Jets, and Bills were America’s Team because they played in New York, and at least one sports writer dubbed the Saints “this year’s America’s Team” because of the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina. I understand this desire to use the name in a meaningful context, but to be honest it just doesn’t work. It doesn’t work because there is no truth to it. If you’re a Giants fan of course you would like to be called America’s Team, but that doesn’t mean you are. And while Hurricane Kartrina was devastating, and sad for the people of New Orleans, and while I have no doubt that the Saints helped some people get over what happened to them, that doesn’t mean football fans are obligated to root for the Saints or call them America’s Team because again, they jsut aren’t.

There is no set of attributes that go hand-in-hand with the monikor of “America’s Team.” At one time you could say the name stuck because the Cowboys were successful. In the seventies they went to five Superbowls, and won two. They were also in the playoffs a record 20 straight years, so if America is always on top, you could say that about the Cowboys as well. Except America isn’t always on top. We have our success and failures like all nations. We had dark years after Vietnman, but eventually we pulled out of them. We have survived great depressions, and great recessions. We have fought in some amazing, and brutal wars that have redefined this country, and the world, but we aren’t always on top. Most importantly though, we are always trying to get better. We always aspire to greatness.

Likewise the Dallas Cowboys haven’t always been on top. In the eighties they bottomed out, going 1-15 in 1989 a year after Jerry Jones fired the only man who had ever coached the Cowboys. It looked really bleak for Dallas then, but they quickly turned it around and three years later were in the Superbowl, beginning a run of unprecedented success. But after 96 the Cowboys would bottom out again, going 12 straight years without a playoff win. They finally broke through in 2009 beating the Eagles. And if Dallas ever wins another Superbowl we won’t be surprised because this team like America always seems to bounce back. In fact if anything Dallas is a great representative of the spirit of America, because while the Cowboys aren’t always good people always think they will be. More importantly, people always want them to be.

I feel uncomfortable drawing comparisons of 9/11 to football. That tragic day should stand alone, in its own context. But the term “America’s Team” is not simply appropriate when Dallas does well. If you like the Cowboys you can’t simply root for them when they are doing well. They don’t cease to be “America’s Team” when they are down in the dumps. I believe in the Dallas Cowboys, and I hope they will do better. But more importantly I believe in America and I know we will do better. If you love the Cowboys don’t be afraid to say it. This is America’s Team and always will be. On this day of rememberance go out and root for whatever team you truly love, and never forget that the term “America’s Team” is just a name. You can root for whatever team you want as long as we all root for the same country. That’s what is truly important.

Sincerely,

Jack B.

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