Touchdown Traditions: Get Your Fall Football Fix in Dallas-Fort Worth

From Friday Night Lights and fantasy leagues to Cowboys games and college rivalries, this football season proves the game is much more than a sport in Texas.

They say everything is bigger in Texas, and somecould argue that the gridiron game is the biggest of them all. Whether or not you're a football fanatic, it's impossible to ignore the sport's rich legacy and impact in North Texas.

The Dallas Cowboys, "America's Team"

The Dallas Cowboys didn’t officially join the NFL in 1960, with Tom Landry as head coach and Cotton Bowl Stadium as their home turf. They won zero games that season, finishing with a record of 0-11- 1. The Cowboys’ first winning season in 1966 commenced a still-existing tradition of televising their Thanksgiv- ing games, making them a national household name in professional sports. Quarterback Roger Staubach led the team to its first Super Bowl victory just five years later, ushering in a tradition of winning. In fact, the Cowboys didn’t have another losing season until 1985 – the longest consecutive streak of winning seasons in NFL history.

Roger Staubach Dallas Cowboys

Rising football star Staubach, whose nickname “Roger the Dodger” was popularized during his col- lege football years at the U.S. Naval Academy, made history himself when he threw the first-ever “Hail Mary” during the 1975 conference championship game. Drew Pearson caught the haphazard pass, running it into the end zone for a touchdown to defeat the Vikings and solidify the Cowboys’ Super Bowl spot.

“We were a wild card team that year against the Vikings and a big underdog,” Staubach recalled during an interview in 2000. “It was 14-10 at the time and time was running out ... After the game, I told the press I closed my eyes and said a ‘Hail Mary.’" Although they lost the championship game, the name for the desperation play stuck.

The Dallas Cowboys' Drew Pearson completes Roger Staubach's Hail Mary pass in 1975

The Cowboys returned to the Super Bowl in 1977 with the motivation to win their second title, and they did. Meanwhile, the team’s popularity grew nationwide. “They appear on television so often that their faces are as familiar to the public as presidents and movie stars,” said narrator and NFL film editor Bob Ryan during a 1978 highlight film. “They are the Dallas Cowboys — America’s Team.” 

DEEP-ROOTED RIVALRIES: TEXAS-OU, ARKANSAS VS. A&M

The Texas-OU rivalry game at Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas Texas

The origins of American football can be traced back to the late 1800s, long before the Dallas Cowboys and the NFL ever existed. Nearly half a century before legendary Dallas quarterback Roger Staubach was born, organized high school and college competition was well underway. Founded in 1893, The University of Texas’ football team catalyzed a trend that quickly circulated the region, with the University of Arkansas forming its team in 1894 and the University of Oklahom a year later. High schools in Texas soon followed suit, and today the league is arguably the most competitive in the nation. Texas produces more starting college and NFL quarterbacks than any other state, with the highest concentration of players picked from the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

University of Texas and Oklahoma fans split the 50-yard line at Cotton Bowl stadium in Dallas
This season, some of the most established rivalries in college football will go head- to-head in the Metroplex. Among the most notable is the 112-year-old Southwest Classic on Sept. 26, a showdown between Texas A&M and the University of Arkansas at AT&T Stadium, the $1.2 billion venue built by Arkansas alum and longtime Cowboys franchise owner, Jerry Jones. The other matchup is Texas-OU, another rivalry that predates both World Wars. To level the playing field, so to speak, the game was moved to Dallas for its neutral location, and has drawn diehard fans to Cotton Bowl Stadium every year since 1937. Finally, there's the longtime rivalry game between local private universities SMU and TCU on Sept. 19, a contest well-attended by both students and alumni that quite literally pits Dallas against Fort Worth.

 The offensive line during the annual SMU vs. TCU rivalry game

FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS

Not far from the DFW Metroplex, two small town teams will face off this season for the “Battle of the Axe,” the oldest continual rivalry in the state of Texas. While it wasn’t just Texas high schools adopting the football movement, it was the Lone Star state’s athletic programs that upped the ante on competition and elevated high school football to more than just a game. The largest-ever attendance for a high school game in Texas reached 54,347 during the 2013 state championship, held at AT&T Stadium. The second-highest attendance occurred the next year in 2014, when more than 52,000 specta- tors crowded the stadium to watch Allen, a DFW suburb, take home the championship title. It’s a telling statistic when compared to 43,483, the average attendance of NCAA bowl games that year.

CONTINUING THE LEGACY

Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys

With Texas native Dez Bryant – arguably one of the best receivers in the league – looking to lead a high-octane offense alongside a dominating offensive line and veteran quarterback Tony Romo, the upcoming season looks hopeful for Cowboys fans and fantasy footballers alike. The team faces the New York Giants on Sept. 13 for its first home game, followed by another against the Atlanta Falcons Sept. 27 and an Oct. 11 showdown with the Patri- ots. Cowboys fan or not, the energy and excitement that permeates the stadium is an experience worth having be- cause it celebrates heritage. And after all, Texas means football, and vice versa.

Jaimie Siegle
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