WASHINGTON — Once upon a time, the marketing minds at the NFL league offices decided to anoint one team “America’s Team.”
So what if no team could actually boast a nationwide following, or that the tagline would be used as a punchline whenever the team visited an opposing city?
NFL lore says that the nickname originated in a 1978 Dallas Cowboys highlight film, narrated by John Facenda. It opens with the line: “They are the Dallas Cowboys, ‘America’s Team.'”
NFL Films honcho Bob Ryan takes credit for the line, claiming: “I wanted to come up with a different twist on their team highlight film. I noticed then, and had noticed earlier, that wherever the Cowboys played, you saw people in the stands with Cowboys jerseys and hats and pennants. Plus, they were always the national game on television.”
Longtime Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm seized on the line and the rest is history. Or is it?
During the Sunday pregame show, former NFL head coach Dave Wannstedt visited the set of FOX NFL Kickoff. There, he set the record straight on how his interview for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ top coaching spot unearthed the real story:
According to Wannstedt (his editorial comments in parentheses):
“When I was the defensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys (1989-92), y’know, we were just getting started. When Coach [Chuck] Noll, the coach of the Steelers, retired, I was one of the guys they called in to talk to about the job.
“I’m going in there and I’m talking about America’s Team, the Dallas Cowboys, and Dan Rooney, who was interviewing me, says ‘Stop right there.’ He says, ‘Let me tell you a little story about America’s Team.’
Dan Rooney, via Wannstedt: “In 1976, we (Pittsburgh Steelers) beat the Cowboys in Super Bowl X. Pete Rozelle was the commissioner, calls up my dad (The Chief, as they called him).”
Pete Rozelle, via Dan Rooney, via Wannstedt: “We’re making a highlight tape. We want to name the Steelers ‘America’s Team.'”
Art Rooney, via Dan Rooney, via Wannstedt: “Pete, let me tell you something: we are not ‘America’s Team.’ We are the Pittsburgh Steelers.”
So there you have it, straight from the horse’s mouth (repeated by his son, told to a third party, and shared with a national broadcast audience nearly 25 years later): the Pittsburgh Steelers were offered “America’s Team” first, and the Dallas Cowboys are just afterthoughts.