The Dallas Cowboys are America’s team. They’ve won five Super Bowls and have a long history of success. But what many people don’t know is that the Cowboys were once owned by an oil tycoon who was also one of the most notorious racists in American history.
The How ’bout them Cowboys? is a story about the legendary coach Jimmy Johnson. This book tells the inside story of how he built his winning team in Dallas.
On a Saturday night in early April, they sat quietly at a picnic table at Jimmy Johnson’s favorite Italian restaurant along Highway A1A in the Florida Keys.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame coach was joined by Troy Aikman, his Hall of Fame quarterback, three of his former assistant coaches (defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt, offensive coordinator Norv Turner, and offensive line coach Tony Wise), his agent, Nick Christin, and Rich Dalrymple, the University of Miami and Dallas Cowboys public relations chief. Some of their spouses were also present.
There was one more tale to tell after a day spent fishing and sharing stories aboard Johnson’s boat.
It was about the 1992 NFC Championship Game between the Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco 49ers, which Dalrymple dubbed “the Cowboys’ greatest hour” after former English Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
On one side, there’s a picture of Johnson smiling and holding a towel with the words, “How ’bout them Cowboys?” Dalrymple presented those in attendance with a double-sided framed photo, and on the other, there’s a picture of Johnson smiling and holding a towel with the words, “How ’bout them Cowboys?”
As Johnson prepares for his Hall of Fame induction on Saturday in Canton, Ohio, many will remember how he rebuilt America’s Team with the help of the Herschel Walker trade, drafting Aikman and running back Emmitt Smith and inheriting Michael Irvin as the famed “Triplets,” and led the Cowboys to back-to-back Super Bowl victories. Others will criticize him for his calculated tactics and arrogance.
The inner story behind “How ’bout them Cowboys?” is revealed by Jimmy Johnson, 78, to ESPN. ESPN’s Mary Beth Koeth
But, more than defeating the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowls XXVII and XXVIII, Johnson’s career is characterized by the Cowboys’ 30-20 victory against the 49ers at Candlestick Park on Jan. 17, 1993.
“I’m not trying to put a damper on things. No, no, no, but you do realize we still have one game left to play,” Johnson told his players after the victory, as caught by CBS cameras inside the locker room. “Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow, wow, wow, wow, wow Each and every one of you. I’m not just referring about the final 60 minutes. I’m referring about quarterback camps, minicamps, the offseason, and the training camp in Austin when it was hot and you were exhausted. The entire shebang. Everyone, you performed a fantastic job.
“And the only other thing I have to say is, ‘How about them Cowboys?’”
Since then, the slogan has characterized the Cowboys and has become a significant part of NFL history.
“It may not have been the most pivotal moment,” Aikman said. “However, that was our crowning achievement.”
Aikman has been reminiscing on his career and the April weekend with his closest friends, enjoying pizza, spaghetti, beer, and red wine, as he prepares to introduce Johnson at Saturday’s Hall of Fame ceremony. It resurrected a golden period in Dallas Cowboys history.
“During that period of time, personally, I was so determined to not just be the best, but to become better,” Johnson, 78, said in several interviews with ESPN.
“As a result, we probably didn’t have as much fun as we should have.” Of course, we’re playing in the Super Bowl as soon as that game is done, and as soon as the Super Bowl is over, you’re trying to get ready for the following season and the draft, since I was in charge of personnel. I needed to rebuild the squad and prepare for the next season. We were really motivated to keep improving.
“I never took the time to appreciate the victories.”
He can now. And he can enjoy every second leading up to and after the game in 1993. He noted the slippery areas where the fresh sod was put on a sheet of paper during Saturday’s walk-through at Candlestick Park field. He advised Turner, Wannstedt, and special teams coordinator Joe Avezzano on which runs, blitzes, and returns to avoid.
This was intended to be a coronation for San Francisco 49ers quarterback Steve Young, who took over for Hall of Famer Joe Montana. The Cowboys were still tormented by the ghosts of Dwight Clark’s catch from the 1981 NFC Championship Game.
But this was a different era for the Cowboys, who had gone 1-15 in the previous four seasons.
“How ’bout them Cowboys?” was born on this day.
Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin remarked, “I wonder where coach got it from since he had it in his pocket.” “‘If we win, I’m going to say something,’ he had in his pocket. It was also well timed.”
How about those Cowboys, now that the band is back together? @TroyAikman thx JJ @JimmyJohnson pic.twitter.com/IM2s0OXGB8
April 11, 2021 — Coach Wannstedt (@CoachWannstedt)
The locker room interior
The players got ready at the visitors’ clubhouse, which was also used by the Giants’ opponents. As a reminder, there was a portrait of Roberto Clemente on the wall at the door. There was hardly enough space for a bigger football roster since it was designed for a baseball club. With the coaches, support staff, sports trainers, and other guests who had made it into the locker room to celebrate, it was even more crowded.
Former Cowboy Nate Newton, a five-time Pro Bowl guard, described it as “a tiny mud hut.” “Candlestick Park, home of the San Francisco 49ers, could be a better facility. But, like [Washington’s stadium] RFK, it was a baseball stadium. There were a lot of men that couldn’t fit in there.”
Before Johnson addressed the squad, Aikman cradled his colleague Jim Jeffcoat’s kid, Jackson, in his arms after the game finished and inside the cramped locker room.
“There was no lollygagging about when Jimmy called everyone up,” Aikman remarked. “He made it obvious from the start. It was critical that everyone settle in before he went up to talk. I just scooped him up to make sure he wasn’t going around when Jackson came rushing up, Jimmy screaming.”
In the 1992 NFC Championship Game, quarterback Troy Aikman and coach Jimmy Johnson celebrate a 30-20 victory against the San Francisco 49ers. Susan Ragan/AP Photo
Johnson sat on a blue equipment trunk, tall enough to view everyone in the packed room.
Johnson grinned and added, “You don’t know, I’m quite an athlete.” “It swayed a little, but I didn’t lose my equilibrium.”
A CBS Sports crew was in the locker room for the first time to capture the victorious coach’s remarks. Johnson had no idea the cameras would be there beforehand.
“I was thinking there would be a lighter time during the week before the game and I’d ask him if it was OK [to let the media crew] because I was scared he’d say no,” Dalrymple said. “That opportunity never presented itself. I was simply playing a game of chance. That’s when the phrase ‘How ’bout those Cowboys?’ was coined. Consider how much ink and T-shirts would have been wasted if CBS hadn’t been there.”
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Those who were inside the dressing room recall the exhilaration to this day. Daryl Johnston, a former fullback, is 55 years old. He is immediately 26 again whenever he watches a video of Johnson standing on that small table.
“The locker room went wild after,” Johnston recalled, “because you’ve got a lot of young players in there for the first time in that scenario.” “As a young child growing up playing football, wondering whether you’ll ever play in a Super Bowl, that’s your dream.” So, you’re on your way out now.
“And it’s important to remember that we were 1-15 only four years ago. Many people questioned if Jimmy had the grit required to coach in the NFL.”
“Man, when he let out that, we screamed, and you’d think we had 100,000 people in that room,” Newton said.
In 1992, the Cowboys’ Darren Woodson was a rookie safety.
“In college [at Arizona State], I was in a position where I didn’t go to a bowl game,” Woodson said. “So, at 22 years old, you can picture being a rookie. It just erupted being in the locker room with those guys and Jimmy saying it. It was f—-ing amazing to have that vibe in that locker room, with the alpha dogs in there, headed by an alpha dog head coach.”
Larry Brown, a former cornerback, was in his second season with the Cowboys. He would go on to win Super Bowl XXX against the Pittsburgh Steelers three seasons later as the MVP.
Brown stated, “Jimmy was constantly talking about what they claimed we couldn’t do.” “They aren’t of legal drinking age. They are the NFL’s youngest squad. They’re not up to par. They have little chance of beating the 49ers at Candlestick. They have little chance of beating Buffalo. So he’d never said, ‘How ’bout them Cowboys?’ before, but we knew what he was getting at when he did. ‘How about these men, who everyone thinks have no chance?’”
Jimmy Johnson had no clue CBS sports cameras would be filming his postgame statement as he made his way to the victors’ locker room on Jan. 17, 1993. Getty Images/James Smith
Johnson said, “The 49ers were arguably a superior team, but they weren’t on that particular day. We knew we’d receive a Super Bowl ring if we defeated the 49ers.”
The Cowboys had their ultimate moment two weeks later, thrashing the Bills 52-17 in Super Bowl XXVII at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, to celebrate their return to glory.
But, while the Cowboys’ Super Bowl VI victory in 1971 put an end to the notion that they were always “Next Year’s Champs” under previous coach Tom Landry, the 1990s Cowboys’ victory against the 49ers was a watershed event.
“It legitimized the Dallas Cowboys again at that point after that victory,” Wannstedt said. “And it included everyone connected with the organization, including players, coaches, owners, and anybody else who fell under the Cowboys’ umbrella. They seized the opportunity and ran with it.”
“How about those Cowboys?” says the narrator. Before moments could become viral, they became viral. None of them expected it to grow to such proportions. Not even Johnson, who quipped that he should have registered the term as a trademark.
He laughed as he remarked, “Could’ve earned some money.”
The Cowboys were the first to trademark it in 2016, and they pay a $525 annual fee to keep the slogan under their control for licensed clothing.
“Many times when I sign autographs, they want me to write ‘How ’bout those ‘Boys?’ on them. And I believe that to Cowboys supporters, it’s simply a label.”
Dak Prescott, quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys
It’s impossible to avoid it.
Johnson, his assistant coaches, and his players can’t get away from the “How ’bout them Cowboys?” slogan 30 years later. They don’t want to since it reminds them of when they were the greatest in the world.
Woodson remarked, “I’ve personally said that at least a million times.”
Woodson and his wife were on vacation on Italy’s Amalfi Coast when he heard “How ’bout them Cowboys?” in an unlikely place.
He said, “We were at this small Italian food restaurant.” “It’s a stunning location. There is a little town nearby, and just behind it is a small restaurant. Maximum capacity is about 30 persons. It’s very little. This tiny elderly woman, though, was with her family. They were the only owners of the property. It’s possible that her nephew, son, or one of her grandchildren informed her who I was. ‘Someone instructed me to tell you, ‘How ’bout those Cowboys?’ she asked with a thick, deep Italian accent. It was very amusing.”
Johnson owns a restaurant of his own.
“Many years ago, we were in the Bahamas, namely Marsh Harbor,” Johnson recalled. “I was accompanied by several pals, and we boarded a boat to this little island off the beaten path. ‘Jimmy Johnson’s here,’ said a man who couldn’t believe it, and he glanced over at me and said, ‘How ’bout those Cowboys?’”
Later, the guy requested Johnson to sign a trading card he was carrying.
“I replied, ‘Sure, yeah, send it over,’ so I handed it over to my wife, Rhonda, who was sitting next to me and said, ‘Let me have the card,’” says the author. Johnson remarked. “For a little while, she fiddled with the card. ‘Rhonda, what did you do?’ I said. ‘I drew a mustache on you,’ she said.”
Has anybody ever spoken the famous remark to Jimmy Johnson’s face in a bad way? “I don’t believe anybody would dare to say that.” ESPN’s Mary Beth Koeth
Wannstedt and a guy who works at Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, Florida, where the former Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins coach now resides, have a running joke.
Wannstedt said, “He’s one of the cart guys here at the club and he’s as big a Dallas Cowboys fan as any in the world.” “It’s a race to see who can say it first, ‘How ’bout those Cowboys?’ whenever he’s out there and I see him. If I don’t say anything, he will. If he doesn’t say something, I will.”
“How ’bout them Cowboys?” someone shouted as Newton walked past the National Museum of American History and Culture in Washington.
“That’s some hilarious s—-,” Newton remarked, “because all these [Washington Football Team] supporters looked around with contempt.”
Newton travels throughout the United States mostly by vehicle or van. He enjoys driving on the open road.
“Butte, Montana,” says the narrator. “I have a buddy up there, and I went to see him,” he said. “He brought me to this run-down joint, and everyone is staring at you because you’re so huge.” Then someone recognized me and said, ‘Hey, are you Nate Newton?’ Yeah. ‘How about those Cowboys?’ says the narrator.
“I’m not sure whether it was a fan or one of the bartenders who demanded our money.”
Nate Newton, a Cowboys guard from 1986 to 1998, says he’s heard “How ’bout them Cowboys?” in a variety of locations. Getty Images/Mitchell Layton
What might the future hold for ‘those Cowboys’?
Since 1995, only the Dallas Cowboys, Detroit Lions, and Washington Football Team have failed to reach a conference championship game. Since then, the Cowboys have reached the playoffs ten times, losing in the divisional round in both 2014 and 2016 (Dez Bryant’s overturned catch and Aaron Rodgers’ third-and-21 pass). Since their most recent Super Bowl participation, they’ve had eight losing seasons and five seasons with an 8-8 record.
“How ’bout them Cowboys?” has taken on a new meaning with all of the losses.
“Whenever the Cowboys do anything terrible, someone like [ESPN’s] Stephen A. [Smith] says, ‘How ’bout those Cowboys?’” In a sarcastic tone, Irving said. “As a result, it may now be used in both ways.”
Newton has also heard it. While he is aware of the club’s history, he is nonetheless amazed that a franchise that hasn’t won a Super Bowl in so long can captivate so many fans.
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“How about a youngster who has never seen the Cowboys play in a Super Bowl, who is 25 or 22 years old, yelling, “How ’bout them Cowboys?” That’s what irritates me “Newton said. “How about those Cowboys, for example? They haven’t won in almost a quarter-century.”
It has never been done adversely to Johnson’s face, no matter how many times it has been spoken to him.
“I don’t believe anybody would dare to say it,” the coach snickered.
As the NFL season in 2021 gets underway, there’s always hope. Irvin is taken back to the visitors’ locker room inside Candlestick Park every time he hears Johnson’s remarks.
“And then it makes you want to hear it again in the same light as when you first heard it,” Irvin said. “As you can see, there are a lot of iterations.” When we aren’t doing properly, they utilize it…. However, you’d want to hear the original version again.
“How about those Cowboys?” says the narrator.
Dak Prescott, the quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, was born only six months after Johnson’s famous remark (on July 29, 1993), but he grew up a Dallas fan and understands what it means.
“It’s safe to assume he said that after winning a big one, right?” Prescott remarked. “That has always stayed with me.” Many times when I sign autographs, they want me to write ‘How ’bout those ‘Boys?’ on them. And I believe that to Cowboys supporters, that’s simply a label. Every team has a catchphrase that has stayed with them. And I believe it is significant.
“I know I want to be in the locker room with him and say it just as he did. Then it’ll have a lot more meaning for me.”
Frequently Asked Questions
When did Jimmy Johnson say how bout them Cowboys?
Jimmy Johnson said How about them Cowboys? on November 27th, 1989.
What did Jimmy Johnson say about the Cowboys?
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Is Coach Jimmy Johnson in the Hall of Fame?
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