An epic drought for the Dallas Cowboys
The NFC East was once the center of football’s universe.
Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the NFC East featured legendary coaches – Hall-of-Famers Joe Gibbs, Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells – and some of the greatest players ever to step on a football field – Hall-of-Famers Emmitt Smith, Lawrence Taylor and Reggie White. Dallas, New York, Philadelphia and Washington were big-market franchises that commanded weekly national-television audiences because their division was where the best football was being played.
The NFC East won three consecutive Super Bowls from 1990-92 by three different franchises – the Giants, the Redskins and then the Cowboys in 1992. Dallas also won Lombardi Trophies in 1993 and 1995, Washington captured them in 1982 and 1987 and New York in 1986. So the NFC East won eight Lombardi Trophies over a 14-year span (1981-95), leaving just six for the other five divisions.
But free agency arrived in 1993, then the salary cap hit in 1994 – and the NFC East has since faded into the landscape as a football power. And teams that never before had a shot in the NFC finally had a shot.
Since the Cowboys won their last Lombardi Trophy in 1995, 12 different NFC teams have reached the Super Bowl. Arizona, Atlanta, Carolina, New Orleans, Seattle and Tampa Bay all went to their first Super Bowls. The Seahawks have now gone to three Super Bowls and the Falcons and Panthers two apiece.
Only four NFC teams have failed to reach the Super Bowl since the start of the 1996 season and two of them are in the East, the Cowboys and Redskins. The other two are housed in the North, Detroit and Minnesota. But the Vikings reached four NFC title games since 1996. Neither the Cowboys, Lions nor Redskins have reached an NFC title game since then. The last time either the Lions or Redskins played for an NFC title was in the 1991 season when they faced each other.
It should be noted that the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars entered the NFL in 1995 as expansion franchises. Despite starting from scratch, the Jaguars have reached three AFC title games and the Panthers two on the NFC side. Yet the Cowboys, Lions and Redskins plod through the wilderness of non-achievers.
The East has had its moments, however. The NFC has won only one Super Bowl in the last six seasons – Philadelphia in 2017. The Eagles beat the Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and Patriots. So did the Giants – twice – spoiling New England’s perfect season in 2007, then repeating the upset in 2011.
But the bar has been low of late. The Eagles won the East last season with a mere eight victories – and the Cowboys loom as the popular offseason choice to unseat them in 2020.
Dallas led the NFL in offense last season and have given quarterback Dak Prescott another elite weapon for 2020 in wide receiver CeeDee Lamb, an Oklahoma All-America and the franchise’s first-round draft pick. Expectations are through the roof for Lamb, who has already been issued the iconic number 88 jersey worn previously by franchise legends Drew Pearson, Michael Irvin and Dez Bryant.
But a return to the NFC championship game, much less the Super Bowl, would take a much greater effort than the Cowboys have expended in recent seasons. Dallas was the division champion and the NFC’s top seed in both 2007 with Tony Romo and 2016 with Prescott but failed to win a game in either post-season. The Cowboys also haven’t won a road playoff game since 1992.
Dallas has a new coach this season who has won a recent Super Bowl, Mike McCarthy with the Packers in 2010. He also took Green Bay to four NFC title games since 2006. Maybe he can remind the Cowboys how to play when the stage is biggest and the lights are brightest. Twenty-four years constitutes an epic drought for a franchise that considers itself America’s Team.