Last night, my husband watched his Boston Celtics take on the Orlando Magic in game seven of the series. He proudly wore his New England Patriots t-shirt.
I marvel at how lucky he is to have grown up with strong ties to teams who clearly represented the area where he was from. The New England Patriots, formally known as the Boston Patriots, are currently the only team in the league to not have a specific state in their team name.
All of the 31 other teams do.
My husband grew up in Rhode Island, so I guess that he is an exception to being born into a state-specific NFL team family. I’ve been told the default loyalty is either to go with your state’s team or you inherit it from a family member.
Or you choose the family rival.
From the earliest I can recall my dad loved the Redskins. When I was old enough to think to ask him why, he responded, “Well, ‘cause we’re Indian and they’re the closest team to us!”
He was a great sport about the rivalry and liked to purchase fan apparel for each of us to wear. His favorite Redskins trucker hat read: My two favorite teams are the Washington Redskins and whoever is playing the Dallas Cowboys.
I’d sit on his lap on Sundays at the age of five and was fascinated by his passionate love—hate relationship with the Redskins and their battles with the Cowboys. He loved what his team accomplished in the '80s and hated how the Cowboys were always there to foul—up their playoff hopes.
After doing some research of the rivalry between the Redskins and Cowboys, it is easy now as an adult to see what fueled his hatred for the Cowboys.
In the years between 1970 and 1979, Dallas visited the Super Bowl five times, winning only twice, and the Redskins went to the Super Bowl only once to lose to the undefeated 1973 Super Bowl champion Miami Dolphins.
No wonder he was so bitter about this team I was born to love.
Much to the chagrin of my dear father, it was his taunts against this rival team of the Washington Redskins that made me even more curious about them.
From the age of five and on, I began absorb more of what my dad was watching and that’s when the tables turned for the Redskins.
Visiting the Super Bowl three times between 1980 and 1989, and losing only once, it was clear that they had tipped the scales in their favor for this decade that preceded my most impressionable years as a young fan of the Dallas Cowboys.
These early years for me started with my interest in the Cowboys’ coach, Tom Landry—the serious brooding gentleman in his trademark fedora. I was captivated by this intriguing figure that paced along the sidelines of the field, barely cracking a smile. I loved his seriousness and admired his religious—like dedication to the game.
I am sure it was the notable battles between these two teams that infuriated my father more.
The 1983 season opener for the Cowboys in a Monday Night game against the defending Super Bowl champion Redskins enraged many a Redskins fan when after a lead of 24-3, the Cowboys took the wind out of their sails with an impossible victory at the hands of a previously disregarded Danny White.
The Cowboys threw down the gauntlet that year by coming back to defeat the Redskins 31-30, an ego crushing game for the defending champions. The Redskins went to the Super Bowl that year, only to lose to the Raiders.
The Cowboys again kept the Redskins out of the playoffs in 1988 with the help of rookie wide receiver Michael Irvin.
In 1989, I was a freshman honors student in high school. It was during this time I was drawn deeper into the enticing fandom of the elaborate and unyielding excitement of the NFL.
However, my world became completely shattered when the longtime coach and icon of the Cowboys was given his walking papers by the new owner Jerry Jones.
I was confused and hurt. I was now starting to understand the emotional distress my dad had with his own team.
The magnitude of Tom Landry’s tenure with the Cowboys seemed irrelevant to this oil tycoon who felt that this team needed a rebuilding. Jerry Jones made his smartest yet most controversial move and hired Jimmy Johnson to replace Tom Landry, and boy did things change in Big D.
It took me a year to recover, but I was soon convinced that change was a good thing. What can I say? I was young and impressionable.
With the signing of Troy Aikman in 1989, it only took two seasons to get this team back into the swing of things. A Johnson led team with the rookie Aikman at the helm took the first year in stride, a 1-15 disappointment. The solitary win the Cowboys got in 1989 was against Washington.
This solitary win marked the second time in two years the Cowboys had prevented the Redskins from going to the playoffs.
Cue the screams and curses from my dad sitting in his recliner.
In 1990 it appeared the football gods were rewarding Jones for his tricks and this team turned a one-win-season into an 11-win season, only slightly shadowed by the Redskins' Super Bowl victory that year.
Thank goodness this is when I started to really pay attention to my team, because this would be the last exciting decade where my Cowboys have shined in the postseason.
Troy Aikman quickly grew to become my favorite QB and my childhood memories of Roger Staubach and Danny White were upgraded with new memories created by this new, flashier team.
With the extreme polar opposite of Landry in the perfectly coiffed Johnson, this team was led to victory three more times in the '90s-during my most impressionable teenage years.
Not only did this improved team provide the foundation for my renewed interest in the Cowboys, it also gave me a lot more fuel in the fire between the father and daughter rivalry.
I fell in love quickly with the players who would become known as the triplets, Aikman, Irvin and Smith. The let-downs were less and the wins were filled with incredible comebacks that will live forever in my heart.
By 1993, I had relocated to South Florida and the contest between my dad and I did not diminish due to the separation in miles.
He had to swallow his pride many times in the years between 1993-1996 and call me with a weak “congratulations” each time we beat the Redskins, and soon reverted to not answering the phone for days following ensuing record-breaking Super Bowl victories.
By this time I was well versed in NFL statistics and easily relayed to him the number wins between the Cowboys and Redskins with each new contest. Between the two clubs in the 90s, Redskins had visited the Super Bowl once and the Cowboys had smashed the Super Bowl record of most wins in four years by winning it three times.
The glory now belongs to me, and all the bad seasons I had suffered are worth it.
Unfortunately, the last 13 years have been a bit of a let-down for me, which I would bet is my father's greatest victory. Once Jerry Jones fired Jimmy Johnson and has since made other unimpressive decisions that have affected this team, each new season brings new emotions.
All these facts have also brought to light the fact that my daughter could possibly become a fan of a rival team. If so, she may end up a fan of the Eagles or Giants.
Of course our parents always warn us that our kids will turn out just like we did.
On a sad note—my father nearly died last week following what was expected to be a normal surgery.
This man who was not only my best friend but also my sports mentor almost slipped away too early. He is currently in ICU in Duke Medical Center and I can only hope that I will not only be able to see him pull through this, but also to tell him what his passion has instilled in me, and helped me to strive to become.
It will be great to see him laugh again and say, “Well, I never wanted you to become a COWGIRLS fan!”