America's Team an easy target
TAMPA - They're here ... almost. Two weeks from today, Jerry Jones, Tony Romo and America's Underachievers will stroll into Raymond James Stadium to see what a real first-class football facility feels like. As usual, Dallas figures to be well represented in the road crowd, but let's admit it - there's never been a better time to be a Cowboy hater. When you venture into the new $1.2 billion Cowboys Stadium, you can dig into a $60 pizza pie while watching cut-rate football.Despite ESPN's fascination with this starry, starry franchise, the Cowboys haven't won a playoff game since 1996. The only other NFC club with that dubious distinction is the Detroit Lions. How's that for company, Jerry? We're 37 years down the road with the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders and there hasn't been much to raise a pom-pom about since a 40-15 NFC wild-card triumph against the Vikings, the last hurrah for the big three of quarterback Troy Aikman, running back Emmitt Smith and wide receiver Michael Irvin. Aikman and Irvin already are enshrined in the Hall of Fame, and Smith will cruise into the Class of 2010, marking his first year of eligibility. Since purchasing the Cowboys for $140 million, Jones has done a masterful job of keeping the Cowboys in the NFL spotlight for two decades. He has proven to be far more adept as a marketer than as a general manager. The last time I spoke to Jones, he was in St. Petersburg for the league's fall meeting, crowing about how the Cowboys just stole receiver Roy Williams away from the Lions. Yes, the same Roy Williams who contributed little as Dallas lost three of its final four and stumbled to a 9-7 finish in 2008. Controversy follows Jones around more closely than ESPN reporter Ed Werder. The shiny stadium in Arlington quickly provided comic relief because of a $40 million high-definition TV monitor that hangs 90 feet over the field and can easily be reached by strong-legged punters. Yet the only time the monitor will be raised this year will be for a U2 concert in October, proving Bono has a more powerful voice than Roger Goodell. The Cowboys are fun to lampoon because the franchise takes itself so seriously. On the team Web site, fans can read an ode to the cheerleaders: "The name itself brings to each of us images of an American icon - beautiful ladies decked out in blue and white uniforms cheering America's Team to victory." Cowboy haters were silenced when the team earned five Super Bowl berths in the 1970s, winning twice with classy Roger Staubach under center. Aikman led Dallas to three NFL titles in the early '90s, and now Jones is starting to get that old testosterone pumping. "I can't wait to get up everyday," he said earlier this month. "The combination of the stadium and then having a team that could compete in it right off the bat as a contender ... that would be maybe more than I can stand." When two teams with much to prove meet in Week 1 at Tampa, Jones will have a seat waiting for him in the visiting owner's suite. The view is sublime, and I hear the pizza is a bargain.
Reporter Ira Kaufman can be reached at (813) 259-7833.