Cowboys rank up there with God, family and country in San Antonio
11:20 PM Thu, Jul 23, 2009
It didn't take Jim Mery long to respond Thursday when asked his thoughts on the love San Antonio and South Texas have for the Dallas Cowboys.
"People pretty much plan their Sundays during the season around Cowboys games, so what does that tell you?" said Mery, who is assistant director of San Antonio's convention and sports facilities department. "You see that even at church.
"I have a cousin, a big Cowboys fan, who either goes to Mass at 8 o'clock or 11 o'clock, depending on when the Cowboys are playing. If they're playing at 12, he'll go to Mass at 8. If they're playing at 3 o'clock, he'll go at 11."
Mery's cousin is not alone. There are thousands of Cowboys fans like him from San Antonio to Brownsville, and that's why team owner Jerry Jones will feel at home when the franchise opens its fourth training camp in San Antonio on July 29.
Given the Cowboys' history in the Alamo City, fans will pass through the Alamodome turnstiles in droves and jockey for position to get photographs and autographs of their favorite player.
"That's one of the key components in why we wanted to have the Cowboys' training camp in San Antonio," Mery said. "People in San Antonio and South Texas love their Cowboys. Call me crazy, but that's how important it was for us to provide this for our citizens."
A "kickoff event" at the Alamodome, where the Cowboys trained in 2002, 2003 and 2007, is scheduled the night of July 28. The team will work out for 15 consecutive days before opening their preseason schedule against the Raiders in Oakland, Calif., on Aug. 13.
San Antonians love their Spurs, but their passion for the Cowboys is, well, different and transcends sports.
"It's a phenomenon," Mery said. "I was talking to my family about that just the other day, trying to explain why people in San Antonio are so fanatical about the Cowboys. You're talking about something that's been there for a long time now. That loyalty is so strong."
San Antonio has been a Cowboys stronghold since the mid-1960s, when Tom Landry's up-and-coming team lost heartbreakers to the Green Bay Packers in memorable back-to-back NFL championship games.
Vince Lombardi's Packers held on for a 34-27 victory in the 1966 title clash and carved out a scoring drive for the ages on a frozen field to prevail 21-17 in the storied "Ice Bowl" a year later.
My memories of watching those two classics on TV with my father have crystallized with time, still incredibly vivid more than 40 years later.
Dubbed "Next Year's Champions" because they came close but couldn't win a championship, the Cowboys finally got the 800-pound gorilla off their back with a 24-3 dismantling of Miami in Super Bowl VI on Jan. 16, 1972. What Cowboys fan old enough to remember ever will forget defensive tackle Bob Lilly chasing down Bob Griese for a 29-yard sack?
Dallas won another Super Bowl under Landry six years later. Somewhere along the way, they went from Next Year's Champions to "America's Team." The name stuck even after Jones, who bought the Cowboys in 1989, ousted Landry and replaced him with Jimmy Johnson.
Dallas won Super Bowl titles after the 1992 and 1993 seasons under Johnson, and captured another after the 1995 season with Barry Switzer at the helm. Although the Cowboys haven't been to a Super Bowl since then, they still remain one of the NFL's marquee franchises.
Longtime San Antonio broadcaster Gary Delaune attributes the Cowboys' staying power to the late Tex Schramm, who was the team's president and general manager from its first season in 1960 until getting canned by Jones in 1989.
"Tex was a promotional genius and molded the Cowboys' image," said Delaune, who worked for the Cowboys as a radio broadcaster during the 1963, 1964 and 1966 seasons. "He understood the way the media worked and had charisma."
Delaune also praised original team owner Clint Murchison, Landry and Gil Brandt, who was the Cowboys' director of player personal from 1960-89.
"Clint Murchison turned it over to Tex and that was a big key to the team's success," Delaune said.
Of course, the best marketing in the world wouldn't have mattered if the Cowboys hadn't won. But Landry molded a consistent winner and Brandt helped him with a scouting system that was ahead of its time.
"The Cowboys were John Wayne, Tom Landry and Bob Lilly," Delaune said. "Landry grew up in Mission, so there was that connection to the Valley and South Texas. I'm sure that had a lot to do with the Cowboys' popularity in this area."
Mery offered more proof of the Cowboys' allure while describing what he saw after the team's iconic star was painted on the Alamodome field this week.
"People kept going to the middle of the field to look at the star," Mery said. "What's that about it?"
- David Flores, Kens5.com KENS5 David Flores Blog