Cowboys at Redskins 10/29/17

In 1960, the NFL faced a threat from the new American Football League (AFL), which had teams in Houston and Dallas. Concerned about falling behind the AFL in the South, the NFL awarded a franchise to Dallas. The Cowboys and the AFL’s Texans shared a stadium for their first three seasons, until the Texans relocated to Kansas City and became the Chiefs.

With Dallas to themselves, the team began to have more success and posted its first winning season in 1966. That began a run of 20 consecutive winning seasons that is still unmatched. During the 1970s, the Cowboys won five NFC Championships and two Super Bowls. The team declined in the late 1980s but bounced back in the 1990s with three more Super Bowl wins.

The team’s regular presence on national TV and the number of Cowboy fans in the stands at road games led to the nickname, ‘America’s Team’. Dallas’s scantily-clad cheerleaders – a trend the Cowboys popularised – also helped spread the team brand. More progressively, the Cowboys were also pioneers in using computers and data analysis to scout players.

Given their history of success and larger than life profile, it’s no surprise that lots of books have been written about the Cowboys. Coaches Tom Landry, Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer all wrote autobiographies, as did plenty of star players. There’s only room for five on this list, though. How many are on your shelves?

1John Eisenberg, Ten-Gallon War (2012)

Eisenberg grew up a Cowboys fan in the 1960s – a story he told in Cotton Bowl Days (2000). Ten-Gallon War looks at the rivalry between the Cowboys and Texans, which was a small-scale version of the battle playing out between the NFL and AFL at national level. Texans owner Lamar Hunt was a key figure on the merger of the two leagues, which arguably would not have happened without the fight for supremacy in Dallas.
John Eisenberg interview
Out of print – available secondhand

2Duane Thomas and Paul Zimmerman, Duane Thomas and the Fall of America’s Team (1988)

Drafted in the first round of the 1970 NFL draft by the Cowboys, Duane Thomas was a running back who was expected to achieve great things. However, he lasted just two seasons, thanks to stormy relationships with the team and the media. The story repeated itself in short stints with San Diego and Washington. In 1988 he decided to tell his story, bringing in legendary sports writer Paul Zimmerman to help. The book coincided with a Cowboys team in decline and Thomas returned to the Cowboys training camp to look at what had gone wrong.
Out of print – available secondhand

3Peter Golenbock, Cowboys Have Always Been My Heroes (1997)

A prolific sports writer, Peter Golenbock had mostly written about baseball before he turned his attention to football with this oral history of the Cowboys. It’s an epic 800-pages and covers the glory years in particular depth. Many of the players interviewed say they were treated poorly by the penny-pinching team. Others seem still to love the franchise. The Cowboy’s history is set against the background of an expanding league that comes to dominate the sporting landscape.
Out of print – available secondhand

4Mark Ribowsky, The Last Cowboy (2014)

Another pretty hefty volume but that’s understandable given that its subject, Tom Landry, coached the Cowboys for almost 30 years. A defensive innovator, Landry developed the 4-3 defense while he was defensive coordinator at the New York Giants and the Flex Defense in his early years with the Cowboys. On offense he popularised pre-snap shifts and brought back the shotgun formation. His image was of a smartly-dressed, Christian gentleman but he could be cold with players and, in Ribowsky’s words, “treated everybody as chattel”. Whatever the verdict on the man, the history of the Cowboys would not be the same without him.
Out of print – available secondhand

5Jeff Pearlman, Boys Will Be Boys (2008)

The story of the 1990s Cowboys opens with wide receiver Michael Irvin stabbing a teammate in the neck with a pair of scissors and things get wilder from there. Sex, drugs and violence dominate the off-field stories – oh, and Troy Aikman records a country album. On the field the team returns to glory, winning three Super Bowls before the wheels come off. This is a riveting book.
Full review | Jeff Pearlman interview
Buy the book: Amazon UK | Amazon US

Photo: KA Sports Photos


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