Growing up in Dallas, there is nothing better than living in Washington, D.C., on “Misery Monday”—the Monday after the Dallas Cowboys have whipped the Washington Redskins. And believe me, yesterday was a whipping with the Cowboys defeating the Redskins 44-17.
In fact, over the past few years, rather than being a bit blue about having to go back into work on Monday after a weekend, I’ve quite enjoyed working my way in from the suburbs, listening to the local sports radio talk shows in the car, and hearing the immense amount of complaining, bellyaching, and shear disgust at how poorly the Redskins have played. And while Cowboy’s owner and general manager Jerry Jones has to be one of the most embarrassing owners of a major sports team in the country, he appears Churchillian when compared to Redskins owner Daniel Snyder. At least, under Jones’s watch, the Cowboys have won three Super Bowls, while Snyder has the dubious distinction of having had 8 different head coaches in the decade and a half he has owned the team.
Of course, having lived in the D.C. area now for more than 30 years, there have been those terrible moments when the Redskins have been good and the Cowboys lousy or, even more devastating, when the Cowboys have been good but have been beaten by an even better Redskins team. Perhaps the worst moment in my NFL adult life was the December 9, 1984, 30-28 victory by Washington in which the Cowboys led at half 21-6—a lead that allowed me to be the ugly Dallas fan at a neighborhood party then get my deserved comeuppance when the Redskins outscored the Cowboys 24-7 in the second half ―and the Redskins pushed the Cowboys out of the playoffs.
Yesterday’s victory, however, reminded me of something else that I’ve noticed over the years about the Cowboys-Redskins rivalry. The Redskins’ stadium was full of Cowboy fans. Now, some of that can be the result of Redskins ticket holders, disgusted with how bad the team has played this year, selling their seats to fans from other cities that have come into town to watch their team play. This happens all the time in other cities when getting tickets to watch your team is actually easier when it’s on the road playing a team that is well out of the playoff picture: a point suggested by the TV crew covering the game.
But that doesn’t fully explain the number of Cowboys fans at the stadium. Nor does it explain the large number of Cowboys fans in the D.C. area—of which a good percentage are African-American. The Cowboys have quite a following in the area among the Black community that’s tied to the fact that the Redskins were the last NFL team to integrate and only did so, the story goes, when their longtime owner, George Preston Marshall, was told by then Kennedy administration that unless he signed a black player it would revoke the Redskins’ lease to play in the just built D.C. Stadium, which sat on federal land. Marshall then reluctantly in 1962 drafted Ernie Davis, the all-American halfback from Syracuse, who then made it clear he wouldn’t play for Marshall, forcing the Redskins to trade him to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for African-American and future Pro Football Hall of Famer Bobby Mitchell.
Marshall held out as long as he did not only because of his own racial prejudices but also because, until the decision of the NFL to expand to Dallas in 1960 and, later, Atlanta, he believed the Redskins “natural” market was everything south of D.C., including the Deep South. This was not news to the local African-American community and, when Dallas came into the NFL and began drafting and signing black players such as “Bullet Bob” Hayes, Mel Renfro, and Don Perkins without a second thought, there sprung up in D.C. a fan base for the Cowboys that lives on even now. Add on the fact that the Cowboys became a winning football franchise before the Redskins finally found success and it’s no surprise the seed was planted for what obviously became, among a segment of D.C. Blacks, a family tradition of rooting for the team from Texas.
That said, one would have thought that this D.C. Cowboy fan base would have pretty much faded by now. After all, Marshall stopped running the team in the early 60s and the team was fully-integrated in short order. Yet the fan base persists.