The Last Dance of the NFL

Stefan Collins, Staff Writer

The Bulls

With no Sports being played to keep us sane during these strange times, ESPN decided that it would be the perfect time to release the Last Dance Documentary. The Last Dance revolves around the Chicago Bulls decade of dominance in the NBA during the 1990’s. A lot of Sports fans like myself have thoroughly enjoyed watching the Last Dance and have eagerly awaited the next episode as if it were a live NBA Basketball game. Even if you’re not a huge basketball fan, it has been a joy to shear never before told stories and see highlights from a team that was so dominant and had such an influence on the fans of their sport. Of course, the most famous player on that team was the man who is widely considered to be the greatest basketball player of all time, the one and only, Michael Jordan. The type of athlete that comes once in a generation. Jordan, thanks to his consistent All-World performances and help from his fellow Bulls such as Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman, with NBA legend Phil Jackson scheming their battle plans on the sidelines, won six World Championships in the 1990’s.

As great as the Bulls were, they did not become the greatest dynasty in NBA history as far as number of championships won. That title belongs to the Boston Celtics of the late 1950s and 1960s, who won 11 championships in that span. While I believe that the Bulls would have beaten any Celtics team head to head, the Celtics still have the greatest grand total of trophies in their cabinet. The Bulls could have been the greatest dynasty in the history of their sport. Instead the dynasty was ended prematurely thanks to internal problems. Much like a dynasty in the NFL, that shared several similarities with the Bulls, which took place in the same decade.

The Cowboys

Whilst Michael Jordan’s Bulls dominated the NBA in the early 90s, something similar was happening in Pro Football in Dallas, Texas. In the years prior to the 1990’s, the Dallas Cowboys became known as America’s team thanks to their incredible success during the reign of Tom Landry and Tex Schram. They went 21 consecutive seasons without a losing record and 20 straight seasons with a winning record. Both are all time records in the NFL. By 1988 America’s team had sunk to the basement of the NFL. But along came an Arkansas businessman, who had recently made himself a multi-millionaire thanks to his Oil business, to save the day. This man’s name was Jerry Jones. Jones hired his old College room-mate Jimmy Johnson to become the second coach in the history of the Cowboys. Johnson had never coached pro football, but he won a National Championship with the Miami Hurricanes in 1987.

What happened between February of 1989 and of March 1994 wasn’t just great, but phenomenal. Jimmy Johnson took the worst team in the league and had the mission of turning them into a team that was very similar to his University of Miami teams. A young and fast team filled with great athletes that had superb football IQ’s and could consistently be play-makers. This was all made possible with a little trade known as the “Great Trade robbery.” Johnson traded his only Pro-Bowl player, 1982 Heisman trophy winner, Herschel Walker to the Minnesota Vikings in October 1989. In return the Cowboys acquired a hand full of players considered to be mediocre and a 1993 first round draft pick. Walker was one of the best Running Backs in the league at the time, so this came as a shock to most. Perhaps if they’d have known that the only player acquired from the Vikings trade would be Ray Horton and the rest of the players would be cut and turned into draft capital that would allow the Cowboys to gain the likes of: Emmitt Smith, Darren Woodson, Charles Haley (via Trade), Kevin Smith, and Russel Maryland, through trades or through draft picks; the fans and media would see it in more of a positive eye.

The Cowboys went from a 1-15 record in 1989, to a 13-3 record in 1992 under Jimmy Johnson. All of the pieces were in place for the next great dynasty but many doubted that they would dethrone the great San Francisco 49ers as the kings of the NFL; the same way that Bill Walsh’s 49ers ended Tom Landry’s Dallas dynasty in January of 1982 (A game which took place in the same stadium). On January 17th’ 1993, Johnson’s Cowboys did just that. Troy Aikman threw a deep slant route to Alvin Harper with the score 24-20 in Dallas’s favor late in the 4th quarter. Harper sprinted down the Niners sideline to the 10-yard line. Aikman threw a touchdown pass to Kelvin Martin on 3rd and Goal and booked the Cowboys a ticket to Pasadena, California for their first of three Super Bowls in four years. In the greatest post game speech in Dallas Cowboys history, which took place in the visitor’s locker room at Candlestick park, Jimmy Johnson concluded with the phrase “And the only thing else I’ve got to say is. How ‘bout them Cowboys?” How about them Cowboys indeed?

Two weeks later at the Rose Bowl Stadium, the Buffalo Bills, who were loaded with Hall of Fame talent on both sides of the ball, were annihilated by a score of 52-17. Everybody was thinking that these Cowboys, the youngest and best team in the NFL, would dominate for a very long time. One year later after cruising to another Super Bowl victory over the same Bills team in Atlanta, Georgia, the world of Pro Football seemed convinced that the Cowboys would have a run far greater than Chuck Noll’s Steelers of the 70’s or Bill Walsh’s 49ers of the 80’s. This was the team of the 90’s and nobody was going to knock them off the mountain. At least nobody outside of Dallas.

The Similarities: The Jerry’s

A couple of Months after winning back to back Super Bowls, Jerry Jones fired Jimmy Johnson and prematurely ended what should have been the greatest dynasty in National Football League history. Mainly for that reason, the Dallas Cowboys of the 1990’s were the equivalent of Michael Jordan’s Bulls. Both dynasties prematurely ended thanks to GM’s named Jerry who had ego problems so large that they were willing to sacrifice their team’s success for the satisfaction of being awarded credit for building those teams.

In Chicago, the Last Dance documentary did a good job of telling the story of how Jerry Krause, the Bulls G.M., who had complete control over the team, openly stated that he deserved

the credit for the (then five) championships instead of Jordan and head coach Phil Jackson. Both Jordan and Jackson, especially Jordan, made no effort to hide their feelings towards Krause. Both called him names and made it known that they thought he was a small and pathetic little man (he was five feet and four inches tall), that owed all of his success to the scheming from Jackson and the astonishing, game in and game out performances that Michael Jordan and co put on throughout the season.

If you have watched the documentary you will know that Krause announced that Jackson’s final season as head coach of the Bulls would be the 82 regular season games plus post season that took place between the Fall / Winter of 1997 to the Spring of 1998. Jordan also made it known that if Jackson were to be fired then he would retire at the end of the season despite still clearly being the best player in the league and having so much more left in the tank. Krause’s thought process, according to Bayless’s report on the Bulls was “To Heck with you, I can win without both of you.” Krause let his ego allow him to believe that he could simply build another championship team without them. Thanks to Krause, the Bulls dynasty would not see the turn of the Millennium like it should have.

A few years prior to the Last Dance season in Chicago, in Dallas, without the presence of their beloved coach Jimmy Johnson, the Cowboys would no longer be as dominant. In the 1993 season, they were right on top of the mountain with nobody in sight. That was until Barry Switzer came into town. After Johnson left, they slowly went down the mountain slope until they were on par with the 49ers. In January of 1995 the Cowboys quest as the first team to three-peat in the Super Bowl era of the NFL, lost to the team that they had beaten with ease in the conference championship game the season before. The Cowboys would go on to win the Super Bowl the following season despite continuing the downward slope. This continued despite having arguably the best Running Back in NFL history in his prime in Emmitt Smith and the other two triplets in Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin, who are both two of the best to ever play their respective positions.

So, who was to blame for the Cowboys premature fall? It was Jerry Jones for firing Jimmy Johnson, who like Phil Jackson did to Krause, would talk negatively of Jones to members of the organization. According to Skip Bayless’s book titled “The Boys”. Johnson talked negatively about Jones because he claimed that he deserved the credit for the team’s success. Eventually Jones pushed Johnson over the edge. According to the Dallas Morning News, he told Johnson in a public bar in Orlando that “There are five-hundred coaches that could win a Super Bowl with this team” and that “I could coach the you know what out of this team.” So, hire one of those aforementioned five-hundred coaches he did. The choice was former Oklahoma Sooners, national championship winning Head Coach Barry Switzer, who already had a relationship with Jerry Jones and quarterback Troy Aikman.

Three Time Super Bowl winning Quarterback and Hall of famer, Troy Aikman, has not shied away from his opinion on Barry Switzer. Visual scenes can be viewed in his “A football

life” but to sum it up in quotations, Aikman stated “Once Jimmy left it felt like we were hanging on. We were not as good in ’94 as we had been in ’93. In ’95 we won the Super-Bowl, but we weren’t as good of a football team in ’95 as we were in ’94. And it continued [to go downhill].” Why did this happen? It happened because of Barry Switzer’s poor coaching. Not from a scheming standpoint but from the leadership standpoint. Let’s not forget that the Cowboys were still a very young team and Switzer’s style of coaching was exactly the opposite of what they needed.

Aikman summarized the difference between Johnson and Switzer, saying “Switzer’s coaching style was far different in the Pros than it was in college” …. “The Barry Switzer that I played for at Oklahoma was not the same Barry Switzer I played for in Dallas.” Further explaining himself, Aikman stated “At Oklahoma, there was a great deal of pressure on him when I got there in 1984. So, I played for a guy that was very intense” Hence why Aikman initially believed that the Cowboys would be just as good under Switzer as they had been under Johnson. However, Switzer was far too laid back and lacked the good-cop, bad-cop coaching style that Johnson had, that involved ripping into players and making it clear that nothing short of excellence was acceptable.

Thanks to Jones’s hiring of Switzer the Cowboys dynasty would also not survive long enough to the end of the decade like they should have!

The Similarities: The Michael’s

In Chicago there was obviously Michael Jordan. In Dallas there was Michael Irvin. Michael Irvin was the rocket fuel of the Cowboys. He was the heart and soul of the team on the field and on the sidelines. He was always the most vocal player in the locker room and he backed it up with his elite play on the field. Irvin could take over games when he needed to. Perhaps he didn’t have the stats that Jerry Rice had, that was because he was on a run heavy team that featured the NFL’s all-time leading rusher and rushing touchdown scorer Emmitt Smith. When Smith was hurt in the 1994 Championship game at Candlestick, it was Irvin’s fire and passion that gave the Cowboys life. His 12 receptions for 192 yards and two touchdowns against arguably the best cover corner in the history of football, Deion Sanders, allowed the Cowboys to come back and almost pull of the 21 point comeback. Irvin’s performance in that game may have been considered the best ever by a receiver in the post season had the Cowboys won. However, Sanders clearly committed a pass interference in the 4th quarter on a pass that would have tied the game up at 35-35 and given Irvin his third Touchdown of the Afternoon. It was those kinds of performances, that attitude, and that kind of burning desire to win and fire up his team-mates that makes me consider Irvin to be the third best receiver of all time behind Jerry Rice and Randy Moss. It was those kind of clutch performances that make me feel no remorse whatsoever in including Michael Irvin in the same sentence as the great Michael Jordan.

That same desire to win and fire up everybody around him that Irvin had was even bigger in Michael Jordan. I won’t sit here and pretend to be an expert in Basketball like I do with

Football because my knowledge when discussing the two sports isn’t close. What I will tell you is that I’ve been around sports long enough to tell you that Jordan’s swagger, pure talent, dedication and “refuse to be anything less than the best” mentality made him the best of all time. The example that he set was followed by his team-mates and that allowed the Bulls to overcome the Pistons and the Lakers in the early 90’s and spark a championship run. I have a better understanding than a lot of people on how hard Jordan worked because I’ve read books and completed the workout designed by his personal trainer Tim Grover. Grover stated that “I would give Michael a number of reps to do and he would do double what I told him”. You might be thinking “So what? I could do twelve reps instead of six”. You’re wrong. The program that he did, Jump Attack, is the hardest explosive workout I have ever come across. The fact that he was able to do double what he was prescribed by Grover makes it unsurprising that he could put on a 60-point performance with the flu. I’m not the least bit surprised he could shoot 60 points with the flu, he has to be the mentally toughest athlete ever.

The Similarities: What could have been

I have expressed on numerous occasions that the Dallas Cowboys of the 1990’s would have been the greatest team ever, had Jimmy Johnson stayed and continued to keep that young team in check. Who was going to beat the Cowboys had they continued to go up instead of down? Steve Young and the 49ers? I think not. George Siefert’s 49ers were a mere red light on the Cowboys road to wherever the Super Bowl was to be played in 2 weeks under Johnson. Brett Favre’s Packers? Don’t make me laugh, those Packers teams never stood a chance of beating the Cowboys at Texas stadium, in fact Brett Favre’s success rate of games won at Texas stadium was zero percent for his entire career. Zero percent was the same success rate of Packers beating the Cowboys in the entire decade of the 90’s, even if the game took place at Lambeau Field during the Packers Super Bowl season. Forget them! I count at least five in a row before free agency takes its toll.

The Chicago Bulls likely would have gone on to win more championships between 1999 and 2001 since the Jordan and Jackson team were still together. I’m not sure how Kobe Bryant and the Lakers would have fared without Jackson, who took over as the Lakers coach shortly after being fired by Krause. Let’s assume that the Lakers make it to the NBA finals anyway. With Jordan at the end of his career in 2002, it wouldn’t be far fetched to suggest that the Lakers would get the better of the Bulls on their third attempt just like the Bulls did with the “Show-time” Lakers in 1991 to capture their first title.

Both teams would have become the best dynasty in the history of their sport. For an example of what might have been look at what happened in my hometown, Manchester U.K. in the same decade. Sir Alex Ferguson built a team that dominated the Premier League in English Football for years. This was because he didn’t have an owner in the Glazer family, or General Manager with a huge ego allow jealousy to get in the way of success. Manchester United went on to win the Premier League a total of 13 times between 1992 and 2013. A very impressive

number and not one that I believe Jimmy Johnson, or any coach could possibly have achieved in the NFL in the salary cap era, but they could have gotten a lot closer. The same can be said for the Bulls in the NBA.

It is fun to speculate but meanwhile in the real world, what the Cowboys and the Bulls accomplished was remarkable and it is clear to that if there were a “Last Dance” team in the NFL it would be the 90’s Cowboys as both left a mark on their sport and both are considered to be one of the best dynasties in the history of American Sports. There are also plenty of similarities, plenty of memories, and plenty of room for speculation