Saturday, September 10, 2016

Dallas Cowboys: The Manchester United of the NFL

Tomorrow, the New York Giants open their 92nd season of National Football League play, and the Dallas Cowboys open their 57th, against each other, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, the Cowboys' home.

This morning (our time), in Premier League action, in "The Manchester Derby," Manchester City defeated Manchester United 2-1 at Old Trafford, United's stadium outside Manchester, England.

The Dallas Cowboys are the Manchester United of the National Football League. And Man U are the Cowboys of the Premier League.

The NFL used to bend over backwards to help the Cowboys. They were on TV so much, somebody once joked that CBS stood for Cowboys Broadcasting Service. Somehow, the Pittsburgh Steelers beat them in 2 Super Bowls... until 1996, when, with the truly idiotic Neil O'Donnell instead of the merely alleged dimwit Terry Bradshaw at quarterback, the Steelers couldn't stop the Cowboys.

That was the last time the Cowboys won a Super Bowl -- or even reached one.

When NBC started broadcasting Premier League soccer games in 2013, they got Saturday Night Live performer Jason Sudeikis to play Ted Lasso, an American football coach placed in charge of London team Tottenham Hotspur (a typically stupid Tottenham move). He decided that, to learn the teams in the League, he would get comparisons to U.S. sports teams:

Assistant coach: "Manchester United: Super-rich. Everybody either loves them or hates them."

Ted: "Dallas Cowboys."

Assistant: "Liverpool: Used to be great. Haven't won a title in a really long time."

Ted: "Also, Dallas Cowboys."

Liverpool haven't won the League since 1990. Man United didn't win it from 1967 to 1993, but from 1993 to 2013, 21 seasons, they won it 13 times, becoming one of the most popular sports teams on the planet.

Top 5 Reasons the Dallas Cowboys are the Manchester United of the National Football League

1. They cheat. And they get away with it. The Cowboys have been getting gifts from the officials since at least the mid-1970s. Man U? Guess what: Their attempts to cheat long predate Alex Ferguson's arrival in 1986.

In 1915, to avoid relegation, they got Liverpool to agree to throw a late-season match. They got caught, and the only reason either team stayed in the League, avoiding expulsion, is that Henry Norris, chairman of North London club Arsenal, agreed to support them, and throw his friends' support behind them, if both would support Arsenal's promotion from Division Two to Division One. No money changed hands, so the accusation that Arsenal "bribed their way into the top flight" is a lie. But Man U's corruption goes back over 100 years.

Even before Fergie arrived, they won the 1983 and 1985 FA Cups largely due to the penalty-winning dives and dirty tackles of Northern Irish star Norman Whiteside. Fergie came in, and realized that his team wasn't good enough to win honestly, so he allowed stuff like that. By 1990, he'd won an FA Cup; by 1993, he'd started winning the League. But Man U have had notorious divers ever since: Ruud van Nitselrooy, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Ashley Young.

And they get away with it. When have the Cowboys, or Man U, ever been denied a major victory because a referee got a call wrong against them -- or right against them? Ah, but ask a Minnesota Vikings fan about the Roger Staubach to Drew Pearson "Hail Mary" play in the 1975 Playoffs (at Minnesota, no less), and they'll tell you that Pearson was guilty of offensive pass interference -- and the video proves that they're right.

For Man U, the most notorious examples have been against Arsenal. In a match early in the 2003-04 season, Man U players were kicking Arsenal's players all over the pitch, but it was Arsenal captain Patrick Vieira who got sent off late, and he didn't even make contact on the play in question, but United's Ruud van Nistelrooy got off without even a warning for the play knocking Vieira down in the first place. Then, at the end of the game, with the score 0-0, Diego Forlan dove in the penalty area, and referee Steve Bennett awarded a bogus penalty -- which, of course, van Nistelrooy took. Justice was served when he clanged it off the crossbar. That was the closest Arsenal came to losing a League game that season, as they became "The Invincibles."

Arsenal's League record 49-game unbeaten streak came to an end a year later, when, again, United players, particularly the brothers Gary and Phil Neville, made dirty play after dirty play, particularly kicking Arsenal's young Spanish forward Jose Antonio Reyes. Both should have been sent off. Instead, in the 72nd minute, new signing Wayne Rooney made an obvious dive in the box, and the referee awarded United a bullshit penalty. This time, van Nistelrooy made it, ending Arsenal's streak. Rooney would eventually take his place as Man U's penalty-taker, celebrating his unearned penalties as if he'd just won the World Cup.

The referee from this game was Mike Riley. Was he punished for his (pick one: Incompetence or Corruption)? No: He became the chief official in English football. And Arsenal haven't won the League since, while Man U have won the League 5 times since. In the immortal words of NCIS' Leroy Jethro Gibbs, "I don't believe in coincidences."

Do you doubt that Man U's gains are ill-gotten? Think about this: For all that Man U achieved under manager Alex Ferguson, no player managed by him, or by the Man U managers since he retired in 2013, has ever won the World Cup. (Juan Mata won it with Spain in 2010, but he was with Spanish club Valencia at the time.)

Only 1 has even won the European Championship while under contract to Man U: Peter Schmeichel, goalkeeper for the Denmark team that won in 1992 -- and they weren't even supposed to be in the tournament, invited after Yugoslavia was disqualified due to their war crimes in Bosnia.

What about Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani, whose Portugal just won the Euros? Neither ever won anything for Portugal while with Man U.

To be fair, many of United's best players have come from countries whose hope of winning a major tournament are not good, although Mark Hughes' and Ryan Giggs' native Wales did reach the Semifinals of the recent Euro 2016. But Denis Irwin's and Roy Keane's Republic of Ireland, Nemanja Vidic's Serbia, and Ole Gunnar Solsjaer's Norway aren't exactly in position to seriously challenge for honors.

But what about those players who do come from major footballing powers? Considering how much hype United's English players have gotten, you'd think they'd have won something. But England haven't even reached the Semifinal of the World Cup since 1990, nor of the Euros since 1996 (and that was on home soil).

France won Euro 1984, and then the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000. In between was the entire career of "King" Eric Cantona, and France won nothing. France haven't won anything since (although they reached the Finals of the 2006 World Cup and the recent Euros), despite Man U's Patrice Evra and Mikael Silvestre.

They've had van Nistelrooy, Jaap Stam, Edwin van der Sar and Robin van Persie from the Netherlands: Nothing since Euro 1988 (and none was with Man U yet). Tim Howard was with Man U when he helped the U.S. win the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2007, but that tournament isn't on the same level as the Euros, let alone the World Cup.

You see, without English referees to protect them, United players can't win the big one. They get exposed as either not nearly as great as you think they are (this is also true for Cristiano at Real Madrid), or bang average (Beckham, Rooney, the dirty and non-singing Neville brothers).

2. Their fans are like rats: They're everywhere. (Also, they smell like sewage.) The Cowboys' 1970s and 1990s successes mean that they've got fans in places that ordinarily should hate them.

New York and North Jersey, which is Giants and Jets territory, has lots of Cowboy fans. Philadelphia and South Jersey, which is Eagles territory, has lots of Cowboy fans. Maryland, the southern and western part of which is Washington Redskins territory, and Virginia, all of which should be Redskins territory, has lots of Cowboy fans. This is in spite of the Giants, Eagles and Redskins being NFC Eastern Division rivals of the Cowboys.

Before the New England Patriots got good in the mid-1990s, the most popular football teams in Boston were as follows:

1. Notre Dame, because of the Catholic influence.
2. Dallas Cowboys.
3. Boston College.
4. New York Giants: The closest pro football team before 1960, they still had influence then.
5. Harvard, even among people with no chance in hell of being accepted there.
6. A local resident's high school's team.
7. Holy Cross, located in nearby Worcester.
8. Boston University, which dropped its football program in 1997.
9. New England Patriots.

Who knows, because of their successes in the 1960s, '70s and/or '80s, the Green Bay Packers, Pittsburgh Steelers and San Francisco 49ers might've even been more popular than the Pats in New England.

How does this compare to Man U? The joke is that everyone from Manchester is actually a Manchester City fan. Whenever they play at Old Trafford, it's a long drive home to London, or Surrey, or Cornwall, or Wales, or to Liverpool and then on the ferry to Ireland. This gets extended to the games that Man United play in London: Their fans have a shorter ride home on the Underground (subway) than the home team's fans.

The irony is, neither team actually plays in the city for whom they're named. The Cowboys began their existence in 1960, at the Cotton Bowl, in the City of Dallas, 2 miles east of downtown. They've been getting further and further away. In 1971, they moved to Texas Stadium, 11 miles northwest of downtown, in Irving. In 2009, they moved to AT&T Stadium, 19 miles west of downtown, in Arlington.

Since 1910 (but with significant renovations making most of the stadium far newer), Man U have played at Old Trafford, in the Town of Salford, in the Metropolitan Borough of Trafford, in "Greater Manchester" but not in the City of Manchester itself, 3 miles west of downtown. There's also a separate stadium named Old Trafford Cricket Ground, half a mile away, home of Lancashire County Cricket Club.

3. Their fans are stupid. Their fans believe their team doesn't cheat, but that everyone else's teams do. And they're sure that they never lose, time just runs out on them. (To be fair, the first team I heard that said about was the football team at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.)

But it's worse than that: Just as lots of Man U fans think Eric Cantona, David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo still play for them, you can find lots of Cowboys who think that, if Tony Romo gets hurt (which happened this preseason), Troy Aikman will step in at quarterback.

Is it really that bad, in either case? Not really. But they are stupid enough to think that "history" began at a certain point, and that everything before that point doesn't count.

For Cowboy fans, it's 1967, the calendar year of the first Super Bowl. Cowboy fans will tell you that they've won 5 Super Bowls, and their putative arch-rivals, the Washington Redskins, only 3. The truth is, the Cowboys and Redskins have won the same number of NFL Championships: 5. But 2 of the Redskins' titles were in the pre-Super Bowl era.

This is why it was such a good thing that the Steelers have now won 6 Super Bowls: It means that idiot Cowboy fans can no longer say they rank ahead of everybody because they've won the most Super Bowls. (For the record, the Green Bay Packers have the most NFL Championships, with 13, 4 of them coming in the Super Bowl era; the Chicago Bears, 9, but just 1 as a Super Bowl; the Giants, 8, 4 as Super Bowls.)

For Manchester United fans, it's 1992, the year England's Football League Division One became the Premier League. This enables them to say that the teams they hated the most had never won the Premier League: Liverpool haven't finished first since 1990, Leeds United haven't since 1992 (the last season of the old League), and, until 2012, Manchester City hadn't since 1968. So whenever Liverpool fans talk about their history, Man U fans tell them that anything before 1992 doesn't count.

Unless, of course, you're talking about Man U's pre-1992 League titles and their 1968 European Cup: Apparently, those count, while Liverpool's pre-1992 achievements, including 4 of their 5 European Cups, don't.

4. Their fans are front-runners. Nobody outside their home region would root for them if they didn't win. If, with their recent riches, Manchester City were permitted to buy United's history and give them their own, anybody outside Greater Manchester who was a United fan would switch to being a City fan.

Same with the Cowboys: With the exception of the 1997-2001 interregnum between the move of the Oilers and the debut of the Texans, Houston has also had pro football since 1960, but if the histories of the Cowboys and the combined records of the Oilers and Texans were switched, there'd be an awful lot of Houston fans out here -- and if it had happened before 1996, maybe the Oilers wouldn't have had to move. Maybe, instead of the Oilers, the Cowboys would have become the Tennessee Titans.

As the late Bum Phillips, who coached the Oilers to Playoff berths in the late 1970s, said, "The Cowboys may be 'America's Team,' but the Oilers are Texas' team." There's also people, in Houston, in San Antonio, in Austin, and even in Fort Worth, close to Dallas but resenting the larger, richer city, who like to say, "Dallas is not in Texas."

Lots of people not from Greater Manchester had United shirts, but switched to Chelsea, or Man City, or maybe now even Leicester City shirts when those teams won the League. I'm sure lots of Cowboy fans from outside North Texas, after 1996, switched to Green Bay, then Denver, then New England jerseys. Whoever wins the Super Bowl in this season will have lots of people known to have once been Cowboy fans saying, "I've always rooted for the (Packers, Panthers, Seahawks, whoever it turns out to be)!"

5. They are the most-loved team in their league, but even more people hate them. Yes, I know, this also brings up the comparison to the Yankees. And the Los Angeles Lakers. And the Detroit Red Wings. And Notre Dame football. And Duke basketball.

But it's true. And, as the legendary actor John Houseman said in those commercials for Smith Barney in the 1980s, the Dallas Cowboys and Manchester United came by this hatred the old-fashioned way: They earned it.

In case you're wondering: There is no actual crossover between the teams. There have been people who've owned teams in each league, including the Glazer family owning both Man United and the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has nothing to do with any soccer franchise.

Dallas native Lamar Hunt founded the AFL and the Kansas City Chiefs, and was a key figure in U.S. soccer development. But while AT&T Stadium has hosted games with national teams and European club giants, Jones hasn't gotten involved in the other "football." Nor did previous owner Clint Murchison.

While the Cowboys played preseason games at the old Wembley Stadium in London in 1986 and 1993, and a regular-season game at the new Wembley in 2014, they haven't played at Old Trafford. (Indeed, no NFL team has.) And while Man United have toured America several times, they have never played in any stadium in the Dallas-Fort Worth "Metroplex."

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