Since 1978, when the team’s highlight film first gave them the moniker, the Dallas Cowboys have been known as “America’s Team.” This week, they were named the most valuable NFL franchise for the eighth consecutive year at $3.2 billion. They’ve been named the most popular team in football year after year by Harris Interactive’s poll.
But are they still America’s Team? There are a couple of teams who are seriously challenging them for that title, if not taking the title from them. After all, Jerry Jones’s franchise has won just one playoff game in the last 17 years. Does that level of mediocrity represent America, which many citizens consider to be the greatest country in the world? In the past few years, the only reason the Cowboys are the most-watched team in the league has been because fans can’t wait to see how they’re going to fail next; they’re a trainwreck, and we can’t look away. That doesn’t make Dallas America’s Team; it often makes them America’s laughingstock.
That being said, what team should actually be America’s Team? I ranked my top contenders in each of the Big Four sports. My main criteria were success, history, popularity and likability. America’s Team should have a mix of four characteristics: recent playoff success, a rich history, profitability, and be universally liked by fans. Without further adieu, here are my choices for America’s Teams:
- America’s Team: Green Bay Packers. The Packers nail every category in the criteria. They have recent playoff success, with 12 playoff appearances and two Super Bowl championships in the last 17 years. They definitely have a rich history, with 13 league championships (both NFL championships and Super Bowls) since they were founded in 1919. Some of the most legendary people in the history of the sport have been Packers, with coach Vince Lombardi, quarterbacks Bart Starr and Brett Favre, and founder, halfback and first coach Curly Lambeau leading the way. The stadium named after Lambeau, Lambeau Field, known by fans as “The Frozen Tundra,” is one of the most historic stadiums in sports. The Packers have always been a profitable team despite being in the smallest NFL market; this year, they’re ranked 13th in the league at $1.375 billion. How beloved are they by fans? Well, they’re owned by the fans. They are the only publicly-owned, nonprofit sports franchise in the country. Fans who own stock in the team get a vote for the seven-member board of directors election. They don’t get a return on their investment, but that’s a topic for another day. No other fanbase in sports has such a connection to their team, and that’s something special. The history and tradition of the Green Bay Packers make them America’s Team in America’s game.
- Other candidates: The Patriots have had the most success in the 2000’s, and are the second most valuable team in the league, but don’t have the level of history the Packers have. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are also hated by many, while Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers don’t come close to inspiring the same amount of vitriol. Whatever team Peyton Manning is on is always going to be a contender for our country’s favorite, but once he leaves Denver the Broncos are back to normal. Outside of the Packers, Patriots and Cowboys, there’s really no other serious contender that covers most of the criteria.
- America’s Team: St. Louis Cardinals. When it comes to baseball, the redbirds should be recognized with the title. They’ve had plenty of success recently, making the playoffs 7 of the last 10 years, making the World Series four times over that span and winning it all twice. Their history is one of the richest in the game, with 11 World Series titles and 19 National League pennants. Ten Hall of Famers have gone in wearing a Cardinals cap, including Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock and Ozzie Smith. St. Louis is the eighth most valuable MLB franchise at $820 million, despite being in one of the smaller markets. Finally, the Cards are one of the most respected and beloved teams in the game. Their Midwestern values are shown in every aspect of how they run their organization, from owner Bill DeWitt Jr. on down. They run their team and play the game the right way, and they embody everything America wants in one of their favorite teams. Fans of the game will always have a soft spot for the Cardinals, and they are a worthy America’s Team.
- Other candidates: The Yankees and Red Sox are despised by so many that it’s hard to give either one the honor. The Braves used to call themselves America’s Team because they were the only team to have their games br0adcast nationally on WTBS in the ’80s, but now that fans can watch any team, any time, that has long since been irrelevant. The Cubs don’t have enough success, but when they finally make the World Series again and break the curse they’ll definitely take the throne from St. Louis, at least for the moment. The Dodgers and Giants are also in the mix, but like the Yankees and Red Sox, elicit plenty of hatred from fans across the country.
- America’s Team: San Antonio Spurs. Is this even a debate right now? Not only did the Spurs win the NBA Finals in June, they beat the most hated team in the league to do it. They’ve made the Finals six times in the last 16 years, winning five championships. Tim Duncan is arguably the most respected player in the Association, playing his whole career with one team and never doing anything to disenchant fans who will be telling their kids, grandchildren and their grandchildren about watching him play. Before The Big Fundamental was the Admiral, David Robinson, who is also up there among the most admired players ever. Add in Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, two of the best international players ever, and the Spurs are actually the World’s Team. This is all under the leadership of Coach Pop, who makes the Spurs are nearly impossible to hate; the only haters are jealous Western Conference foes and occasionally David Stern. Owner Peter Holt has built something magical in San Antonio, and he basically built it from scratch. The Spurs have a rich tradition that dates back to the ABA years as the Texas Chaparrals, and they’re the tenth most valuable franchise in the NBA at $660 million. The tradition of success, profitability and immense popularity makes the Spurs America’s Team.
- Other candidates: The Lakers, Celtics and Knicks are the other names that scream out at you when considering our country’s favorite team. All three teams have legitimate cases to be the one, but their recent struggles, combined with the Spurs’ recent run, hurt them a bit. When they’re winning, any of them could be America’s Team.
- America’s Team: Detroit Red Wings. In Canada’s sport, the Red Wings are America’s Team. For the NHL, any team outside of the Original Six should be automatically eliminated from consideration. That makes the Red Wings, Bruins, Blackhawks and Rangers were the finalists. While Detroit is behind the other three in franchise value, they beat them in Stanley Cups; the Red Wings have 11 Cup titles, five more than the Bruins and six more than the Blackhawks and Rangers. The indicator of Detroit’s success that puts them above the rest, however, is their streak of 23 consecutive playoff appearances. The second-longest streak in the NHL is the San Jose Sharks at 10. The 1990 playoffs were the last time the Red Wings weren’t in the postseason, an incredible mark of consistency in today’s era of increased parity in pro sports. The playoff streak and shiny championships make the Wings one of the only NHL teams that is more popular and successful than the NFL, MLB and NBA teams in their city; the Lions, Tigers and Pistons play second, third and fourth fiddle in the Motor City, as evidenced by the nickname of “Hockeytown, USA.” Legends like Gordie Howe, Steve Yzerman and Terry Sawchuck would agree: the Red Wings are America’s hockey team.
- Other candidates: Mentioned previously- Bruins, Blackhawks and Rangers. When the Rangers are winning like they were this season, they are probably Detroit’s biggest challenger.
In conclusion, America’s Teams are the Packers, Cardinals, Spurs and Red Wings. Agree? Disagree? Drop a comment or tweet me @chuckiemaggio to keep the conversation going.