In an NFL Films highlight video summarizing the 1978 Dallas Cowboys season, announcer John Facenda dubbed the Cowboys “America’s Team,” thus providing the moniker that has been synonymous with the organization ever since. But with twenty years since the Cowboys’ last Super Bowl win and a shiny new stadium more known more for an oversized scoreboard and attracting opposing fans than providing home-field advantage, are the Cowboys really still America’s Team? If not the Cowboys, then who?
Well, the United States women's national soccer team, of course, especially after they rolled to a World Cup title last July.
Okay, NFL fan, relax. We were just having some fun. The question of whether the Dallas Cowboys remain America’s Team is an interesting one given how much local fandom dictates the NFL. But if you use the metric of television viewers, the Cowboys have a very strong case. The team’s Week 2 win over the Eagles this year drew 27.2 million viewers on Fox, the most-watched NFL telecast in Week 2 of the season since at least 2000. Their Week 1 win over the Giants on NBC’s Sunday Night Football drew 26.8 million viewers on NBC, the second most-watched SNF season-opener ever.
Is this a one-year anomaly? Hardly. The most-watched NFL regular-season game last year came on Thanksgiving Day when 32.0 million viewers watched the Eagles-Cowboys game on Fox. Last year's Cowboys-Eagles game in Week 15 was Sunday Night Football’s most-watched game with 24.3 million viewers. The most-watched ESPN Monday Night Football game last season? A Week 8 Redskins-Cowboys game that averaged 18.8 million viewers, the most-watched Monday Night Football game since 2010. Of the Top 10 most-watched regular season games in 2014, the Cowboys were part of four of them, the most among any team.
Sports television executives always cite Dallas as the league’s top draw and no doubt that likely includes some hate watching. If you don’t want to give them the America’s Team tag, fine. But clearly a ton of Americans can’t get enough of them.
Granted, it’s a purely mythical title created with the sewing of disagreement in mind, but there's no one in the NFL that fits the bill of America’s Team more thoroughly and convincingly than the tradition-rich and undeniably unique franchise that is the Green Bay Packers. With their beloved and shrine-like Lambeau Field, their legacy of multi-generational success, and the small-town charm that comes with being a publicly-owned team in the league's tiniest market, it’s an unbeatable combination every time a Packers game day arrives.
And the beauty of it all is that Green Bay, though confident in its own ways, would be the last organization to ever dare to label itself America’s Team, a move that would be deemed the epitome of un-Packer-like. So we’re doing it for them.
In Green Bay, the Packers reflect the civic mindset of keeping one’s head down and going about their business. They don’t trash talk. They don’t flaunt success. They get up every day and work hard to keep it going. And they win. That’s the Packer Way.
Poll after poll has identified the Packers as the NFL’s most popular team for a while now, and for good reason. For going on two and a half decades, Green Bay has been a perennial playoff and Super Bowl contender, with supremely talented but down-to-earth star quarterbacks like Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, and solid, no-drama head coaches such as Mike Holmgren, Mike Sherman and Mike McCarthy (they like Mikes in Green Bay, it’s a good, dependable name). From the Ron Wolf era to Ted Thompson’s tenure in the front office, the Packers consistently do things the right way. They get the franchise’s big, important pieces right, then take their shot each and every year at chasing another ring. That engenders both understandable respect and well-deserved envy from the rest of the NFL world.
If you had to bring a novice football fan or two over from another country and plop them down in the middle of the league’s landscape, how could you do better than teaching them to love and root for the history-steeped Packers? They’re a winning team that’s always relevant, ultra-likable, and they’ve got a mystique to them that has been cultivated for decades. Green Bay features an attractive, passing-led style of game, draws from the most loyal and passionate fan base in the NFL, and plays in a revered venue that even opponents consider a bucket-list must to visit. And who doesn’t like cheese? It’s quite possibly the universal food.
The Packers aren’t merely America’s Team, they’re a big, living and breathing slice of Americana themselves. With their populist ownership structure, their understated and accessible approach to the game, and their proven and productive way of conducting themselves, they’re a model franchise that happens to play in the nation’s heartland, where the fit is ideal and the team’s storied tradition is treasured. You can search the map far and wide, but in the NFL, the success story that has no peers resides in small-town Green Bay.
There are several franchises with very prominent fan bases—the Steelers come to mind in recent memory more than the Cowboys. But the notion of "America's Team" doesn't really fit the NFL landscape anymore, mainly because the league has succeeded in becoming such a vast empire.
When the Cowboys took the "America's Team" moniker back in the late '70s, they were in the midst of a stretch that saw them make the playoffs 18 times in 20 seasons (1966-85). They won a couple of Super Bowls and a boatload of NFC East championships. And as a result, they were always on TV.
So, much in the same way previously unaffiliated sports fans started following the Lakers or the Celtics or the Yankees, the Cowboys planted their flag simply by being visible. It is impossible for any team to dominate the television landscape anymore. Sure, the Patriots and Seahawks and Packers draw the national-TV slots more often than, say, the Titans or Raiders. But the days of the viewing public being limited to a couple of games per week are long gone. Every game now can be seen live, one way or another, plus full replays can be found online. Heck, even access to the coaches' All-22 film is now part of the typical NFL fan experience.
Because of all that, it's easier for fans to stay connected with the teams they grew up watching, no matter where they reside. Staying a fan is a much easier task these days, just as the NFL would prefer—the deeper the loyalties run, the more eager people are to pay up for tickets or merchandise or TV deals.
The Cowboys still can call themselves "America's Team" if they want, but fandom is a much more personalized experience than it was when that phrase was first coined.
Two decades ago when the Cowboys were truly in the heyday of being America’s Team, winning Super Bowls and fielding a slew of charismatic players in large part because they outspent their competition in a pre-salary cap era, they were the team that everyone either loved or loved to hate. Today, they are like many other teams: not elite, not atrocious. In the playoff conversation, but not in the Super Bowl conversation. In Tony Romo, they field a likeable quarterback. Their defense is interesting. But none of it adds up to appointment viewing.
Meanwhile, there is one franchise that clearly fits the America’s Team moniker, and that’s the New England Patriots. They simply check all the boxes, and it starts under center. Tom Brady is the ultimate fighter, whether it’s clawing his way from the sixth round of the NFL Draft to become perhaps the greatest quarterback of all-time or taking on and beating the big bad commissioner. Or Tom Brady is a cheater and a whiner. Or all of the above. Either way, he’s been an incredibly compelling figure for almost fifteen years.
Add in an outspoken owner, a mysteriously brilliant mad scientist of a head coach, an irreverent yet harmless and thoroughly dominant tight end, not to mention four recent Super Bowls and the America’s Team formula is there.
Unlike the Dallas Cowboys of today or any other team of the today, the Patriots spark an emotional reaction that extends far past their local market. NFL fans everywhere either love them, or love to hate them. But everyone cares.