ARLINGTON — On Thursday afternoon in the Rangers clubhouse, Michael Young was asked this question: Could he ever imagine a time when his team would supplant the Cowboys as first in the hearts of local sports fans?
Young, despite his club’s current ascendance, didn’t hesitate.
“No,” he said. “I don’t think that will ever happen.”
“They are the Dallas Cowboys,” he said. “I don’t care what we do. We could go on an eight-game winning streak right now and that’s never going to happen. And we’re fine with that.”
Around the Rangers clubhouse, in their front office, and among the most seasoned Metroplex sports watchers, there was consensus on that same question. There is nothing the Rangers (or the NBA champion Dallas Mavericks, or the Dallas Stars, for that matter) could do to topple the iconic football team from it’s traditional perch.
Or almost nothing.
“The Cowboys would have to be wretched, not average, wretched, for a prolonged period of time,” said Brad Sham, the veteran radio voice of the Cowboys who also did Rangers broadcasts in the 1990s. “While at the same time, one of the other franchises would have to be not only perpetually but enormously successful.”
Sham compared local sportsdom to cities like Boston, where the Patriots and Celtics are beloved, but the most primal passions are reserved for the Red Sox. In St. Louis, the football Rams could win three consecutive Super Bowls, but that city will always be a baseball town.
“The essence of our area is that football is our most popular sport and it’s always going to be,” Sham said. “Any way we measure that — TV ratings; jersey’s sold; vociferous callers to talk radio stations — when you cut to the bone, most of the blood that will be spilled will be football.”
Last year, for example, when the Rangers played the Rays in the American League Division Series at noon on a Sunday, the game drew 251,000 local viewers. The Cowboys played the Titans later that same afternoon and drew 893,000 local viewers, according to the Nielsen Company.
Given recent events, it’s hard not to compare the fortunes of local franchises and at least wonder about the pecking order. A clutch effort by Dirk Nowitzki and his Mavericks teammates electrified the nation last spring when they knocked off the Miami Heat to win the NBA Championship.
The Rangers advanced to last year’s World Series, steamrolled into this year’s playoffs, and then beat Tampa Bay to move into the American League Championship Series.
On the other hand, the Cowboys’ first four games have featured two epic meltdowns, the most recent one Sunday against the Detroit Lions.
The team’s last Super Bowl victory in 1996 is an increasingly distant memory.
“It’s a unique time in the Metroplex,” Rangers president Nolan Ryan said Thursday, watching the grounds crew prepare for the ALCS that begins today against Detroit. “It was just pretty interesting for us to get into the World Series and then to have the Mavs win everything like they did. I think it’s way too early to predict the kind of season the Cowboys are going to have this year, even though I’m sure they’re not where they’d like to be right now.”
And Ryan also concedes that Texas is a football state.
“All you have to do drive through any rural town and see that one of the biggest structures is the high school football field,” he said.
For decades in the earlier part of the 20th century, Southwest Conference football, featuring stars like Bobby Layne, Doak Walker and Sammy Baugh, was at the heart of the state’s sporting culture. After their creation in 1960, the Cowboys capitalized on that DNA and then some. Star-Telegram columnist Randy Galloway now compares “America’s Team” to Guys and Dolls or West Side Story.
“What the Cowboys have become is an American standard,” Galloway said. “Last year they were 6-10, but they’re in a national spotlight TV game on four networks, more spotlight games than the Green Bay Packers who won the damn Super Bowl. These TV cats, they don’t care about records. They want games that attract people. There is an old saying in New York, ‘When in doubt, put the Cowboys on.’
“My explanation for that is not exactly scientific,” said Galloway, who has covered Metroplex sports for four decades. “It’s just because.”
As they prepared for today’s Game 1 against the Tigers, the Rangers weren’t complaining. Fans fought through record heat to set a home attendance record this year. Ryan said that if the weather cooperates and the team continues to win next season, the franchise could move into baseball’s upper levels in ticket sales.
“We’re really kind of an organization that’s come into its own,” Ryan said. “We feel like baseball in the Metroplex is developing a lot of new fans with what’s happened in the last few years.”
Some anecdotal evidence even suggests that the baseball team has temporarily defied the laws of local sports culture. Lawyer Drew Stasio leads an Arlington Bible study of 500 men on Monday nights. About five percent of the group was absent on the recent night when the Cowboys played the Redskins, he said. The next Monday, when the Rangers played the Rays, 15 percent failed to show, and those that did were surreptitiously keeping up with the baseball game on their phones.
“That surprised me,” Stasio said. “I’ve always thought this was a football town.”
It still is.
“If you put a Cowboys game against a Rangers game or a Mavericks game, and all three were in the playoffs, the Cowboys would draw twice the audience,” Galloway said. “That’s just a fact.”
But in the Metroplex, which was aflame during the Mavericks’ championship run and is again now for the Rangers, there seems plenty of sporting passion to go around.
“They are America’s Team,” Rangers pitcher Derek Holland said Thursday. “We’re just trying to be a part of it.”
Young, in fact, is a Cowboys fan himself.
“I don’t make the rules,” Young said. “I like playing here. Our fans are great. We’re having tons of impact here. Our fans are excited. The way we have it lined up right now is completely fine with me.”
Tim Madigan, 817-390-7544
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