The Story Of America's Team
By Martin Rogers
Whatever happens to the Cowboys on Thanksgiving Thursday – even if a season of mishap produces another lowlight – chances are that the Dallas players will spend the latter part of the evening enjoying some sort of turkey and fixings combo.
However, during the franchise’s most prolific glory years during the 1990s, such routine expectations as a postgame meal could not always be counted on, as relayed this week in a nostalgic and entertaining festive conversation between iconic coach Jimmy Johnson and legendary quarterback Troy Aikman.
Ahead of the Cowboys’ Thanksgiving clash with Washington (4:30 p.m. ET on FOX), Johnson told Aikman how he had zero patience for anything perceived as less than maximum effort as he and the team beat a swashbuckling path towards initiating a Super Bowl dynasty.
Which is how, after a midwinter matchup (also against Washington) nearly three decades ago, the best and most dynamic team in the NFL … went hungry.
“We had already clinched the playoffs and we played them in a so-called meaningless game, and we lost,” Johnson said. “We got on that plane and the (attendant) starts to serve the food and I said no. ‘No, you are not serving any food, they don’t deserve to eat.’
“So, they didn’t serve any food on the plane. I walked back there and I had some choice words for some guys. I told (defensive coordinator Dave) Wannstedt, ‘I don’t care if they hate me. When we lose, I want them to be sick to their stomach. I want them to be just nauseated. When we win, they can do whatever they want to do.’”
In the video above, Troy Aikman and Jimmy Johnson reflect on when they knew their Cowboys were a dynasty.
The game Johnson remembered was on Dec. 13, 1992, sandwiched between the holidays. The response was overwhelming. Whether prompted by hunger, either the nutritional or motivational kind, the Cowboys never looked back.
Storming through the remaining two regular season games, Dallas was unstoppable in the playoffs, culminating in a 52-17 Super Bowl beatdown of the Buffalo Bills. From the moment his squad’s stomachs started grumbling, Johnson’s team outscored their opposition 184-78 and signaled a new dominant force had taken over the National Football League.
For Aikman, the most cherished moment of his Hall of Fame career came in that season’s NFC Championship game, a 30-20 road victory over the favored San Francisco 49ers that set the tone for what would evolve into one of the league’s most tenacious rivalries.
“We were a young, talented football team,” Aikman added. “But we just didn’t really quite know how good. Once we won that game it made it clear in all of our minds just how good we were. It was a fun period. That was the game that I think solidified us and where we stood - and what ultimately we went on to become and accomplish.”
In the video above, Troy Aikman and Jimmy Johnson discuss their favorite moments from the Cowboys' dynasty.
Flushed with the confidence of having knocked off Steve Young, Jerry Rice and company, Johnson said he “knew” without question that they’d beat the Bills, despite Buffalo being the favorite in the biggest game of all for the third straight time. That assurance resonated throughout the group and Aikman, notoriously a poor sleeper the night before games, dozed like a baby on Super Bowl eve.
The arrival of the most calorific time of year also elicited some memories for the pair of the team’s unforgettable Thanksgiving defeat to the Miami Dolphins during the 1993 season. Leon Lett, who had already gone down in infamy for his Super Bowl snafu the previous campaign, slid in the uncharacteristic Dallas snow and mistakenly touched the ball after the Cowboys had blocked Miami’s game-winning field goal attempt.
The error allowed the Dolphins to recover and kick again as time expired, but despite facing pressure to cut Lett following that infamous error, Johnson instead accepted personal blame for putting the giant defensive tackle in an unfamiliar role on special teams. Lett, at the time largely a backup, would go on to become a two-time Pro Bowler.
“That was the last game I ever lost in Dallas,” Johnson said.
In the video above, Troy Aikman and Jimmy Johnson relive their most memorable Thanksgiving game.
Two months later the team repeated as Super Bowl victors, again downing the Bills, but it was Johnson’s swansong following several differences of opinion with owner Jerry Jones. Barry Switzer led the Cowboys to another title during the 1995 season, before the start of a drought that has seen the team manage just four playoff wins in the last 24 years.
“What we had in Dallas was the right place and the right time for so many people,” Aikman said. “Maybe none of us truly appreciated what we had at that time. It was so early for us, it came together so quickly. Great relationships, great memories - it was a great time in my life.”
Both Aikman and Johnson have been bemused by the current Cowboys situation, which is about as bizarre as these times that we live in. Despite an awful campaign filled with dismal performances and the horrible ankle injury suffered by Dak Prescott, Dallas can go on top of the historically bad NFC East with a win on Thursday and put itself in position for a home playoff game. Washington, also 3-7, is in an identical spot.
For the Cowboys, eliminating mistakes, an elusive concept to this point, is going to be critical, words Johnson has lived by his entire coaching career.
In the video above, Troy Aikman and Jimmy Johnson preview the Cowboys vs. Washington Thanksgiving game.
“Defensively they have been getting better,” Johnson said. “If they won’t be put in bad positions with turnovers they can hold it together. Offensively they have got to somehow protect QB (Andy Dalton) and give him enough time to get the ball to those talented receivers.”
The current Cowboys are a world removed from the days of the Johnson and Aikman era, but thanks to a confluence of circumstance, all is not lost ... far from it.
No one is suggesting confiscating dinner but with time running out, the number of second chances dwindling, and yet everything still to play for – it is time to get hungry.