The Dallas Cowboys play against the New Orleans Saints in the early 1990s. Photo by Elizabeth Grivas

If you’ve been watching NFL football, the No. 1 show on television, you might have noticed that the role of analyst in the broadcast booth is dominated by former Dallas Cowboys stars. No other franchise comes close to producing so many future media pros. Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman and sportscaster Joe Buck, who call ESPN’s Monday Night Football game, are the longest-tenured broadcast team covering NFL football, with 22 years together under their belts.

Cowboys who have been to the Super Bowl are gold as far as celebrity goes. Aikman won three championships in the mid-1990s. Former head coach Jimmy Johnson, who won two of those bowls, is a regular analyst on the Fox network’s general NFL coverage. Running back Daryl Moose Johnston from that Super Bowl era covers games for Fox, and Michael Irvin, the Hall of Fame wide receiver on those Cowboys, delivers his takes on several NFL Network programs.

Tony Romo might not have been able to follow Aikman and company and take the Cowboys to the Super Bowl when he was quarterback, but he is by far the best analyst on the tube, working alongside Jim Nantz on CBS game broadcasts, excitedly anticipating plays like a soothsayer and managing to explain what happened in easy-to-understand language on CBS. Chicago Sun-Times sports columnist Rick Telander describes Romo as the instigator of “the new trend of mumblers, predictors, conversational-type color analysts.”

Jason Garrett, a backup quarterback for Aikman during the Super Bowl run and the head coach for nearly 10 years, including during Romo’s tenure, is a regular on NBC’s Football Night in America and sat in for Cris Collinsworth on Sunday Night Football on Thanksgiving weekend.

Add it all up, that currently puts six former Cowboys in the booth. The second-best-represented team, by my count, are the New York Giants with Phil Simms on CBS, ESPN’s Eli Manning and Michael Strahan, and NBC’s Tiki Barber.

Why the Cowboys? Easy, says Newy Scruggs, sports anchor at KXAS NBC 5 in Dallas-Fort Worth.

“The Cowboys are the most popular and unpopular team at the same time,” he says, and I won’t argue since I wrote a book about the Cowboys in 2011 describing them in the title as “the most hated, best loved football team in America.”

Scruggs notes that no other NFL team is scheduled for prime-time games more than the Cowboys. In August, the team was ranked as the most valuable sports franchise in the world. “The fans do know who the players are, the network executives know who they are,” he says. “You don’t have to introduce them as you would with players on other teams to a TV audience. Credit [owner and general manager] Jerry Jones for marketing the club well. Players have benefited from the massive exposure.”

Jones, who knows a few things about selling popcorn and frequently appears on NFL broadcasts, is merely carrying on tradition. TV is in the Cowboys’ DNA. Tex Schramm, the Cowboys’ founding general manager, came from the CBS network’s sports division after overseeing the first telecast of a Winter Olympics, at Squaw Valley, California, in 1960. Schramm was the one league executive who viewed television as the key to the National Football League’s future, and orchestrated the first league-wide contract with a TV network. Schramm was so fixated on television that he ordered the field at the Cotton Bowl be painted green for the team’s first Thanksgiving Day game against Cleveland, so the setting would look good on TV.

Schramm was also instrumental in creating the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, instant replay, putting a microphone on the head referee to announce penalties, painting the goal posts a vivid yellow, shortening the play clock, developing the wild-card playoff system, and getting NFL Films to hype the franchise as America’s Team.

Those Cowboys’ quarterbacks on TV are following tradition, too. Don Meredith, the team’s star quarterback from the Schramm era, set the table for Cowboys players. A talented actor in high school theater in his hometown of Mount Vernon, as well as skilled at football and basketball, Meredith was imminently quotable, funny, and wild as a player. After retiring in 1968, he moved behind the mic, famously co-hosting Monday Night Football alongside Howard Cosell and Frank Gifford on ABC TV in the 1970s and ’80s when that program became the most watched sports program on television.

Whenever the outcome of a game was assured, Meredith would quote the then-obscure country songwriter Willie Nelson by singing “Turn out the lights, the party’s over.” Cracking wise at the start of one Monday Night Football broadcast from Denver, Meredith famously announced, “Welcome to Mile High Stadium—and I really am.”

The March 2024 cover of Texas Highways Magazine

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