By Joshua Runyan
As a kid, I could never understand why the Dallas Cowboys, apparently having been born under a lucky blue star, were ever memorialized by that most obnoxious of monikers: America’s Team. When the phrase was coined, reportedly by an NFL Films producer in 1978, I wasn’t even a baby.
But as I came into my own, there it was on every national broadcast featuring the Cowboys, even when they played my beloved Philadelphia Eagles. When it was uttered by an announcer, it made my skin crawl.
According to the story, the NFL producer who invented the term was working on the final edits on the Cowboys’ highlight film from the 1978 season — which officially ended for them at Super Bowl XIII, losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was struck by how, no matter where the Cowboys played their away games, he would always see fans in various Cowboys-related paraphernalia. Calling the Boys “America’s Team” seemed a fitting tribute.
I wonder what he’d say today.
It’s been more than two decades since Dallas’ NFL team has even made it to a Super Bowl, and at Dec. 16th’s surprise victory by the Eagles over the Los Angeles Rams, more than one commentator remarked how much that city’s Memorial Coliseum sounded like Lincoln Financial Field, given the substantial crowd of green-bedecked faithful chanting the Eagles’ fight song.
Granted, I’m biased, but the Eagles could lay at least as good a claim on “America’s Team.”
Should our Super Bowl LII MVP, the sainted Nick Foles, run the table on this season’s two remaining games — while the Cowboys inevitably blow theirs, like they did last weekend against the Indianapolis Colts — I’d say the Eagles should now and forever more be deemed the country’s standard bearer.
But in arguing for the Eagles’ new nickname, I am not making a case for the athletic prowess of such notables as Fletcher Cox, Michael Bennett, Zach Ertz and the like. That case could be made, of course, but great athletes do not America’s Team make.
I’m not even relying on the miraculous nature of Foles’ Hollywood story — which improbably began a year ago at the Coliseum when he took over for the injured Carson Wentz and led the team to the history books.
Even though we stand at the cusp of the dramatic sequel to that glorious drama, getting there will take more than threading the needle; the team’s fate is in the hands of a handful of teams who must also lose their matchups.
No, what I’m referring to when I state that today, in 2018, the Eagles are most definitely America’s Team is that their story, through its ups and downs, is very much American. That the team, over the last two years, has managed to deliver its best precisely when its back is against the wall, when it is seemingly down and out, is as quintessentially an expression of the American DNA as is the 19th century’s embrace of Manifest Destiny.
Not every American is an underdog victor, but the American spirit is just as much about grit and determination as it is about patriotism and self-sacrifice.
After the game’s nail-biting finish, Foles told NBC sideline reporter Michele Tafoya the secret of his success. He harkened back to what his father taught him as a kid playing basketball. Don’t look at the scoreboard, Foles said. Don’t think about the games ahead. Just focus on what you need to do — and then do it.
At one extreme, such advice has the tinge of the live-in-the-moment, devil-may-care ethos of the selfish excesses of the 1980s.
At the other, its emphasis on laser-focused dedication to a particular task, to the exclusion of all else, can be a recipe for disaster if impossible perfection becomes the goal instead of progressive, measured achievement.
But there’s also something inspiring — and very Jewish — about making success contingent on keeping the distractions at bay. Whatever life’s challenges, where you start from is just a positional proposition. It doesn’t define you.
On Dec. 16, at least, Foles got it. And his teammates got it.
Now is the time for this country to get it. Our greatness doesn’t depend on one person, it isn’t rooted in what we did before and it isn’t blocked by the mistakes we’ve made along the way. It does, however, require us to focus on the tasks at hand — fixing our infrastructure, reducing poverty, improving health outcomes and at lower cost, being a beacon to the world, providing an education for every citizen truly befitting a first-world country, etc.
Whether or not the Birds snatch ultimate victory from the jaws of what bookies the nation over have determined is probable defeat, their story and struggle — and what it can mean for us — should remind us all of what makes this country and its people great.
Joshua Runyan is the editor-in-chief of the Jewish Exponent. He can be reached at [email protected]