The Dallas Cowboys are one of the most popular and successful teams in the National Football League (NFL). Nicknamed “America’s Team”, the Cowboys have a storied history going back to their founding in 1960. Based in Dallas, Texas, the Cowboys play their home games at AT&T Stadium in nearby Arlington. They compete in the NFL’s National Football Conference (NFC) East division.
The Early Years (1960-1964)
The Cowboys were founded by Clint Murchison Jr. and Tex Schramm in 1960 as an expansion team. The new franchise struggled in their early years, failing to post a winning record until 1966. Head coach Tom Landry and his innovative 4-3 defense helped turn the team into a contender. Key players like quarterback Don Meredith, running back Don Perkins, and defensive tackle Bob Lilly formed the nucleus that would lead to success in the late 1960s.
The team originally played at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas before moving to Texas Stadium in Irving in 1971. The Cowboys wore blue jerseys at home during their first few seasons before switching to white, which would become their trademark. Their logo, a blue star representing Texas as the Lone Star State, is one of the most recognizable emblems in all of sports.
First Super Bowl Appearances (1965-1978)
After breakthrough seasons in 1965 and 1966, the Cowboys became consistent winners. They won the NFL’s Eastern Conference in 1966 and 1967 but came up short in the NFL Championship game. The NFL and AFL merged in 1970 and Dallas won the NFC Championship that year, advancing to Super Bowl V. Although they lost to the Baltimore Colts, it marked the beginning of Dallas as an NFL powerhouse.
Landry built a dominant defense led by defensive tackles Jethro Pugh and Bob Lilly. Offensive stars like quarterback Roger Staubach and running back Calvin Hill led a potent attack. The Cowboys went on to win their first Super Bowl in 1971, defeating the Miami Dolphins 24-3 in Super Bowl VI. After a couple down years, Dallas drafted defensive end Ed “Too Tall” Jones and won another NFL title in 1977. Their 27-10 triumph over Denver in Super Bowl XII gave them their second championship in seven years. They returned to the Super Bowl in 1978 but fell to the Pittsburgh Steelers 35-31 in an epic battle.
America’s Team Dominates the 1980s
Dallas remained among the NFL’s elite teams throughout the 1980s. Led by coach Tom Landry and such stars as Tony Dorsett, Randy White, Ed Jones, and Danny White, the Cowboys made the playoffs almost every year. They appeared in three straight NFC Championship games from 1980-1982. Their rivalry with the San Francisco 49ers intensified during this era as they faced off with the Niners in the title game three times in four seasons.
In 1981, Dallas defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 38-0 in the NFC Divisional round in what would be their last playoff win under Landry. They advanced to Super Bowl XVI but lost 26-21 to the 49ers on Dwight Clark’s dramatic touchdown catch. The Cowboys returned to the NFC Championship game in 1982 and 1983 but were edged out both times by Joe Montana and the 49ers. As the 1980s went on, the team’s performance declined. After 20 straight winning seasons, the Cowboys experienced their first losing campaign under Landry in 1986.
New Ownership, New Glory (1989-1996)
Jerry Jones purchased the Cowboys in 1989 and made big changes right away. He fired legendary coach Tom Landry and replaced him with Jimmy Johnson from the University of Miami. Jones and Johnson traded running back Herschel Walker that year to the Minnesota Vikings for five players and multiple draft picks, one of the most significant trades in NFL history. With an infusion of young talent like Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin, the Cowboys quickly rebuilt into a powerhouse again.
After a 1-15 record in 1989, the Cowboys improved to 7-9 in 1990. They went 11-5 in 1991, winning a wild card playoff game. In 1992, Dallas finished 13-3, with their stingy defense allowing the fewest points in the league. They defeated the Buffalo Bills 52-17 in Super Bowl XXVII, their first title in 15 years. The Cowboys became the first team to win a Super Bowl after losing it the year before. Dallas reinforced their status as an NFL juggernaut by winning a second straight championship in 1993, again defeating Buffalo 30-13 in Super Bowl XXVIII.
Barry Switzer Takes Over (1994-1997)
Head coach Jimmy Johnson shockingly resigned after the Cowboys’ second consecutive title. Jerry Jones replaced him with former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer in 1994. Dallas went 12-4 that year but failed to make the Super Bowl after losing to San Francisco in the NFC Championship game. In 1995, the Cowboys roster may have been the most talented in NFL history. With Hall of Famers Aikman, Smith, and Irvin leading the way, Dallas went 12-4 and defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-17 in Super Bowl XXX to capture their fifth world title.
Switzer stepped down after the 1997 season. Discipline issues and off-field problems had begun to hurt the team’s performance. The Cowboys went 6-10 that year, beginning a downslide after a decade of unprecedented success.
The Cowboys in the 21st Century
Dallas hoped new coach Chan Gailey would return the Cowboys to glory in 1998. Led by the “Triplets” of Aikman, Smith, and Irvin, Dallas went 10-6 but was knocked out in the playoffs by Arizona. After 8-8 and 5-11 campaigns under Gailey, he was replaced by Dave Campo in 2000. The Cowboys struggled during Campo’s three seasons, failing to post a winning record. Prior to the 2003 season, Jerry Jones lured Bill Parcells out of retirement to coach Dallas. Parcells helped rebuild the team into a playoff contender, ending their five-year postseason drought in 2003. In 2005, the Cowboys finished 9-7 but missed the playoffs.
After Parcells retired, Jones hired Wade Phillips as head coach in 2007. Dallas went 13-3 that year, winning the NFC East for the first time since 1998. However, they were upset in the playoffs by the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants. Disappointing playoff exits the next two seasons sealed Phillips’ fate, as he was fired after a 1-7 start in 2010. Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett took over as interim coach before being promoted to the permanent job.
Dallas continued to be a middling team under Garrett, going 8-8 from 2011 to 2013. They finally broke through in 2014, winning the division with a 12-4 record. Led by quarterback Tony Romo and receiver Dez Bryant, the Cowboys defeated Detroit in the playoffs before a controversial loss to Green Bay. After Romo was injured in 2015, rookie QB Dak Prescott took over in 2016 and led Dallas to an NFC-best 13-3 record. They lost a close divisional round game against Green Bay when Aaron Rodgers threw a late touchdown.
Dallas regressed to 9-7 in 2017 when RB Ezekiel Elliott was suspended for six games. After Prescott was hurt in 2020, the team sank to 6-10. Mike McCarthy took over as coach in 2020 but has so far been unable to get the Cowboys deep into the playoffs. After many disappointing endings, fans are hoping McCarthy can lead Dallas back to its former glory. With stars like Prescott, Elliott, and linebacker Micah Parsons, the future remains bright for “America’s Team.”
The Cotton Bowl (1960-1971)
The Cowboys originally played their home games at the historic Cotton Bowl in Dallas from their inception in 1960 through 1971. Located in Fair Park, the stadium opened in 1932 and hosted the annual Cotton Bowl Classic game. The NFL Cowboys struggled in their early years at the Cotton Bowl, not having a winning record until their 7th season in 1966. Interest grew as the team improved and became a contender.
Texas Stadium (1971-2008)
As the Cowboys ascended to become “America’s Team”, a new more modern stadium was desired. Texas Stadium was built in the suburb of Irving and opened in October 1971 at a cost of $35 million dollars. The stadium’s signature feature was its hole-in-the-roof dome, with part of the field being open air. Seating capacity was 65,675. Texas Stadium hosted some of the Cowboys greatest moments as the team won multiple Super Bowls in the 1970s and 90s. After falling into some disrepair in its later years, Texas Stadium was demolished in 2010 after the Cowboys had moved on to AT&T Stadium.
AT&T Stadium (2009-Present)
As Jerry Jones sought to further enhance the Cowboys brand and revenue, he decided a new ultra-modern stadium with a retractable roof was needed. AT&T Stadium was built in Arlington and opened in 2009 at a cost of over $1 billion. With a capacity of 80,000 expandable to 100,000, it is one of the largest stadiums in the NFL. It contains a massive 160 x 72 feet HD video board that hangs over the field, as well as many luxury amenities in the state-of-the-art facility. While the Cowboys have not reached a Super Bowl there yet, the stadium has hosted many marquee events including the NCAA Final Four.
Tom Landry (1960-1988)
Tom Landry was the franchise’s original head coach, guideing the Cowboys for their first 29 seasons. Hired in 1960, he struggled early on as the team lost most of their games the first few years. However, Landry built a disciplined, defensive-minded squad that soon developed into a powerhouse. Known for his trademark fedora hat, Landry led Dallas to two Super Bowl wins in the 1970s. His innovative flex defense changed defensive schemes around the league. Landry led the Cowboys to 20 straight winning seasons from 1966 to 1985, a remarkable display of sustained success. He was controversially fired when Jerry Jones bought the team in 1989.
Jimmy Johnson (1989-1993)
When Jones became owner, he surprised everyone by firing Tom Landry and hiring his former college teammate Jimmy Johnson. Johnson had won a national championship at the University of Miami. In Dallas, he took over a 3-13 team and rebuilt them into a champion through brilliant drafting, including his massive Hershel Walker trade. Johnson led the Cowboys to back-to-back Super Bowls in 1992 and 1993, with the latter coming after his acrimonious split with Jones. His teams displayed a brash attitude, typified by his “How ’bout them Cowboys!” catchphrase.
Barry Switzer (1994-1997)
Barry Switzer was hired as a surprise choice to replace Jimmy Johnson after Dallas’s second straight title. He had led Oklahoma to three national championships but had been out of coaching for five years. With much of the same core players like Aikman, Smith, and Irvin, Switzer’s Cowboys won Super Bowl XXX in 1995. However, the team’s performance dropped off toward the end of his tenure as discipline and off-field issues grew. They went 6-10 in 1997, leading to Switzer’s resignation.
Jason Garrett (2010-2019)
A former Cowboys backup QB, Jason Garrett took over as interim coach after Wade Phillips was fired in 2010. He eventually was hired as the permanent head coach, leading Dallas for nine full seasons. Garrett’s teams were known for their inconsistency, routinely starting hot before fading down the stretch. He led Dallas to three NFC East titles from 2014 to 2016 but only won two playoff games in that span. Coaching blunders often doomed his teams in key moments. Garrett failed to reach the Super Bowl and was let go after the 2019 season.
Mike McCarthy (2020-Present)
Mike McCarthy was brought in 2020 to replace Jason Garrett after a 13-year stint coaching the Green Bay Packers, including a Super Bowl win in 2010. McCarthy’s tenure in Dallas has gotten off to a rocky beginning. After a promising debut year where the Cowboys won the NFC East despite injuries, Dallas regressed to a 12-5 record in 2021 with another early playoff exit. Entering his third season in 2022, McCarthy will need to guide the talented Cowboys deeper into the playoffs to get off the hot seat.
Roger Staubach (1969-1979)
The Hall of Fame quarterback led Dallas to four Super Bowls in the 1970s, winning twice. Nicknamed “Captain America” and known for his comeback drives, Staubach made the Cowboys “America’s Team.” He led the NFL in passer rating four times and his scrambling ability made him one of football’s most exciting players. Staubach’s late touchdown pass to Drew Pearson in a 1975 playoff comeback win over Minnesota gave birth to the “Hail Mary” term.
Emmitt Smith (1990-2002)
The NFL’s all-time leading rusher with 18,355 yards, Smith was the engine of Dallas’s dynamic offense in the 90s. A tough inside runner with great vision and balance, he punished defenders and almost never fumbled. Smith won four rushing titles with Dallas and led the league in touchdowns three times. His best year came in 1995 when he ran for a then-record 25 touchdowns as the Cowboys won the Super Bowl.
Michael Irvin (1988-1999)
One of the most physical wide receivers ever, Irvin was Aikman’s top target on three Super Bowl winners. At 6’2″ and 207 pounds, he used his strength to overpower defensive backs. Irvin set Cowboys records with 750 receptions and 11,904 receiving yards. His passion and fiery leadership was a driving force on the team. Irvin’s playing career ended due to injury in 1999.
Deion Sanders (1995-1999)
“Prime Time” was one of football’s biggest stars in the 1990s. Signed as a free agent in 1995, the two-time Super Bowl winner solidified Dallas’s defense with his elite cover skills. With his incredible speed and flair, Sanders changed games both on defense and special teams. His jawing with receivers and high-stepping style made him a fan favorite. Sanders was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011.
Daryl Johnston (1989-1999)
While Emmitt Smith got the accolades, bruising fullback Daryl “Moose” Johnston did the dirty work paving the way. Johnston blasted open holes and protected his backs. He rushed for over 2,000 yards while helping Smith set the all-time rushing record. Johnston’s blue-collar approach and bone-jarring blocks endeared him to fans. He retired after winning three Super Bowls in Dallas.
Since their founding in 1960, the Dallas Cowboys have risen to become one of the most recognizable and valuable franchises in all of sports. They have appeared in a record eight Super Bowls, winning five. Their five titles tie them with San Francisco and New England for the second most behind Pittsburgh’s six. The Cowboys have also won 22 division titles and made a record 33 playoff appearances. With an estimated value over $8 billion, Dallas is currently the most valuable NFL team according to Forbes.
The Cowboys helped revolutionize the NFL’s appeal on television in the 1960s and 70s. Head coach Tom Landry and general manager Tex Schramm recognized the power of television and pioneered innovations like instant replay and cheerleaders. Landry’s exciting teams and national TV appearances made the Cowboys “America’s Team”, beloved across the country. Quarterback Roger Staubach and the Doomsday Defense dominated as Dallas grew into a ratings juggernaut. Their annual Thanksgiving Day game starting in 1966 became a national tradition still going today.
After down years in the late 80s, new owner Jerry Jones and coach Jimmy Johnson brought the Cowboys back to glory in the 1990s. With future Hall of Famers at quarterback (Aikman), running back (Smith) and wide receiver (Irvin), Dallas fielded teams that may have been the most talented ever. Their brash style and penchant for drama made them either loved or hated by football fans. The Cowboys won Super Bowls in 1992, 1993 and 1995 to regain their status as an elite franchise.
In their six decade history, the Cowboys have never had a losing season for more than two years in a row, a testament to adaptability and consistency across ownerships and coaches. They have come up short in big moments in the 21st century so far but remain heavily followed and draw TV viewers in huge numbers. The star logo and silver and blue uniforms are among football’s most iconic images. As they move into a new era, the rich tradition of “America’s Team” endures as the Dallas Cowboys continue to be one of the premier franchises in sports.