On the Enduring Mediocrity of the Dallas Cowboys

On January 28, 1996, your Dallas Cowboys beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-17 in Super Bowl XXX.  Since that day, this so-called "America's Team" of missed opportunities, lost seasons, and unearned hype has never advanced past the Divisional round of the NFL playoffs.  Not once.

There are 31 other teams in the NFL, many of whom since January 1996 have experienced considerable (and consistent) post-season success while all the while the Cowboys shuffled along on reputation alone, often entering seasons with high Super Bowl expectations - often pushed by the snake-oil salesmanship of Jerry Jones, the only General Manager in the NFL who will never be fired by his Owner boss no matter how crappy his team performs - that fans foolishly fell for time and time again. We're like Charlie Brown goaded by Jerry-as-Lucy into kicking that ball just one more time, hearing assurances that this time it's going to be different, only to have it yanked away yet again.  The Dallas Cowboys have languished under a variety of head coach misfires: no-name, clueless folks like Chan Gailey and Dave Campo; supposed geniuses who consistently showed a lack of necessary fire and grit like Jason Garrett and Wade Phillips; and one Hall of Fame coach in Bill Parcells who did the best with what he had but (understandably) finally just gave up.  Some of those seasons were disasters, a few were surprisingly successful, but all ended with playoff flameouts and ultimately squandered the talents of Pro Bowl players like Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray, Jason Witten, Dez Bryant, and Demarcus Ware.

On the eve of what we hope will be the unceremonious ejection of Jason Garrett, who should have been fired years ago, let's look at the other teams that have found ways since 1996 to string together wins and devise game plans good enough to beat other good teams consistently enough to advance in the playoffs and contend for Super Bowl titles.

Let's first remember the teams who have won the Super Bowl and hoisted the shiny Lombardi Trophy. Since January 1996...

The Baltimore Ravens have won two Super Bowls*
The Denver Broncos have won three (and lost one) Super Bowls
The Green Bay Packers have won two Super Bowls*
The Indianapolis Colts have won one (and lost one) Super Bowl
The Los Angeles Rams have won one (and lost two) Super Bowls
The New Orleans Saints have won one Super Bowl*
The New England Patriots - as we all know - have won six (and lost three) Super Bowls*
The New York Giants have won two (and lost one) Super Bowls
The Philadelphia Eagles have won one (and lost one) Super Bowls*
The Pittsburgh Steelers have won two (and lost one) Super Bowls
The Seattle Seahawks have won one (and lost two) Super Bowls*
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have won one Super Bowl

Wow.  That's a long list (parity!) with zero mention of Dallas.  These twelve teams out of 32 represents 38% of all NFL teams.

Now let's look at the teams that made it to the Super Bowl (which means they won their conference) since 1996 but didn't win...

The Arizona Cardinals lost one Super Bowl
The Atlanta Falcons lost two Super Bowls
The Carolina Panthers lost two Super Bowls
The Chicago Bears lost one Super Bowl
The Oakland Raiders lost one Super Bowl
The San Francisco 49ers lost one Super Bowl*
The Tennessee Titans lost one Super Bowl*

Now if you add the 12 winners with these 7 losers, you end up with 19 NFL teams that got all the way through the playoffs to appear in a Super Bowl.  Nineteen teams that each had a chance at football glory.  Now we're up to 60% of all of the 32 teams.  

Still no Dallas Cowboys.

Okay, so let's look at the teams that - since 1996 - got to their conference title game but lost.  These are the franchises that were just one win away (or, even worse, one play away) from the Super Bowl.

The Jacksonville Jaguars lost the 2017 AFC title game
The Kansas City Chiefs lost the 2018 AFC title game*
The Minnesota Vikings lost the 2017 NFC title game*
The New York Jets lost the 2010 AFC title game

At this point we are up to 23 NFL teams that - since 1996 - have all advanced to at least their conference title game, if not the Super Bowl.  That's 72% of the NFL.  Still no Cowboys.  At this point, the law of averages should give the Cowboys help, but chance has nothing on poor decision-making of the Cowboy front office.

In fact, at this point in this study all we're left with is a collection of consistently going-nowhere NFL franchises that since 1996 either lost in the Wild Card round or in the Divisional round.  These teams never got close to the conference title games, much less the Super Bowl.  It is amid these dead-end teams that we finally find the supposedly proud, legendary, fierce Dallas Cowboys.

Below is a rundown of when these teams most recently made a playoff appearances.

The Buffalo Bills lost a Wild Card game in 2017*
The Cincinnati Bengals lost a Wild Card game in 2015
The Cleveland Browns lost a Wild Card game in 2002
The Dallas Cowboys lost a Divisional game in 2018
The Detroit Lions lost a Wild Card game in 2016
The Houston Texans lost a Wild Card game in 2018*
The Los Angeles Chargers lost a Divisional game in 2018
The Miami Dolphins lost a Wild Card game in 2016
The Washington Redskins lost a Wild Card game in 2015

What unwelcome company.  But this is where Cowboys fans find themselves.

Do we think a new coach will help change the fortunes of the Dallas Cowboys?  We hope so, but we doubt it.  It's more than just the curious game day intransigence of Garrett - it's the culture of the organization, which means it's the culture of Jones and the way he makes decisions based on PR rather than Xs and Os (he pushed hard to draft Johnny Manziel in the first round!), the way he undermines his coaches at every turn (always with the postgame interviews! why?) thereby spoiling discipline, the way he spends more time on big picture NFL and Cowboy strategies that he can't possibly focus on the day-to-day needs of the club, the way he so hypes and spins the Cowboys that players can't help but develop big egos and baseless entitlement, the way he stubbornly clings to bad ideas and decisions at the risk of admitting his own errors.  Anyone who tunes into Dallas sports radio can see the problems.  Until Jerry is gone, the Cowboys will not succeed.

* These teams - unlike the Dallas Cowboys - made the 2019-20 playoffs so their place in this list could change.

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