ARLINGTON, Texas –They have an eternally loyal fan base, no matter that the team has posted disappointing season after disappointing season.
They have a home stadium so unique, people come from all over the country just to see a game there.
They also draw lots of fans on the road because of an aura that has lasted for generations. They are beloved no matter how poorly they play.
The Chicago Cubs? No, this is the Dallas Cowboys.
Sunday’s season opener at AT&T Stadium looked and felt like a home game for the visiting 49ers. Of the 91,174 officially announced in attendance, it looked like more than half were wearing red Niners jerseys.
It was even worse after halftime, when the Cowboys were trailing 28-3. Many of the Cowboys fans left by then, leaving barely any to boo the home team.
The Cowboys made the appearance of a valiant effort in the second half, but don’t let the final score of 28-17 fool you. This game was decided in the first half when the Cowboys looked ragged and unprepared.
Can you blame Cowboys fans for not filling their own stadium for the season opener? Or should they be applauded for not supporting what has gone on with the team since the last Super Bowl nearly 20 years ago?
More importantly, does it matter to owner/GM Jerry Jones that he saw a sea of red as he sipped Johnny Walker Blue from his VIP Suite?
"I just pay to attention to the field," Jones said when asked if he was disappointed to see so many red jerseys. "Somebody else asked me that a minute ago. I won’t get into that until sometime during this week when I’ll get any data that we get on it. That’s not something that I would really pay a lot of attention to."
Jones still got a packed house. He still pocketed the money from ticket sales, even if the money came from the Bay Area.
Some would say this is the modern-day NFL, where prices to attend games are so high – and 60-inch HD screens so affordable – that it’s difficult to get local fans to attend. Instead, some NFL games have become tourist destinations.
Instead of spending vacation money on a trip to the beach or Disney World, some fans are opting to visit Jerry World instead.
It’s not a new phenomenon. Even before AT&T Stadium was built, fans of the Steelers famously invaded Texas Stadium for a game. It seems the allure of AT&T Stadium is even greater for opponents’ fans.
But these are the Dallas Cowboys, the "glitz and glamour of the NFL" as Jones himself put it. The fan devotion to the Cowboys has always been legendary, but now it appears the Cowboys are more popular away from their core market.
Just wait until the Saints and Texans arrive in a few weeks. Their fans are close enough that it’s an easy trip. Saints fans showed up in huge numbers for a Thanksgiving game in 2010 and will no doubt do so again.
The Cowboys are still popular enough to retain the nickname of "America’s Team." They still sell a ton of merchandise every year. Their televised games still draw higher ratings.
Despite not making the playoffs since 2009, despite posting three-straight 8-8 seasons, despite not being able to pack their own stadium with their own fans, the Cowboys could have as many as 10 nationally televised games this season.
Like the Cubs, they have become the Loveable Losers of the NFL.
That’s both the power and the dilemma of the Cowboys. They’re too big to fail. No matter how bad things get, they are still rewarded with extra attention. They will always be big news. And make big money for Jones.
It will take more than a stadium full of Colin Kaepernick jerseys to get Jones to make sweeping changes. Ticket and merchandise sales would have to plummet. The TV networks and corporate sponsors would have to shun them.
Everything would have to hit rock bottom for Jones to notice. As bad as the team looked Sunday, and as bad the outlook is for the remaining 15 games, the sad truth is the Cowboys still are a long, long way from rock bottom.