4th of July History Lesson: How the Dallas Cowboys Earned the Nickname “America’s Team”
As we enter the long holiday weekend celebrating the Fourth of July, let’s also celebrate a piece of American sports history with a re-telling of the story of how the Dallas Cowboys became known as “America’s Team”.
The nickname “America’s Team” is one of the few strokes of marketing genius that cannot be credited to the late, great Hall of Fame member Tex Schramm, the former Cowboys team president & general manager. Sure, Tex loved the moniker and got as much mileage out of it as possible, but the credit for coining the phrase “America’s Team” belongs to NFL Films.
NFL Films has produced end-of-season highlight videos for each team for decades. In 1979 when NFL Films editor-in-chief Bob Ryan was working on the Cowboys’ highlights from their 1978 season, he needed to write some extra copy for the video’s narration. While editing video, he noticed that during road games there were people in the stands with Cowboys jerseys and hats.
“I saw all these fans in away stadiums,” Ryan told NFL Network. “Hey, they’re the most popular team in the country. How can I use that? Why don’t we call them ‘America’s Team’?
Ryan included “America’s Team” in the title of the highlight video. He also wrote these opening lines which were voiced by narrator John Facenda at the start of the video: “They appear on television so often that their faces are as familiar to the public as presidents and movie stars. They are the Dallas Cowboys, ‘America’s Team’.”
The term was then picked up by broadcasters and used on game day telecasts early in the 1979 season. The nickname stuck, much to the delight of Cowboys fans and management.
As a Cowboys broadcaster, I find it ironic that the moniker originated just a few miles from the home of the Philadelphia Eagles, one of the Cowboys’ arch rivals. You see, NFL Films’ headquarters is in Mt Laurel, New Jersey…just across the river from downtown Philadelphia and right in the heart of Eagles territory. Seriously, it’s a Philly suburb.
Ryan’s clever copy point remains a polarizing topic for football fans. There’s not much middle ground when it comes to the Cowboys who engender love ‘em or hate ‘em emotions.
“It’s probably one of the most high profile nicknames for a team in history,” said Ryan, now retired from NFL Films. “Whenever the Cowboys are playing, the nickname comes up again. I’m fine with it, really. I love the name.”