His four words defined this’ 90s dynasty, such as “What about them, the cowboys ?!” Has become a rallying cry for fans ever since
DALLAS – His four words defined a dynasty.
For the past 30 years, Cowboys fans have greeted each other with a common phrase. And Jimmy Johnson is the reason.
“What about those Cowboys?!?” Johnson screamed after the 1992 NFC Championship game, as the Cowboys clinched their first Super Bowl spot under the spirited fourth-year head coach. They would go on to win the next two Super Bowls, cementing the Cowboys as the team of the ’90s.
Johnson built a monster, a Cowboys team that dominated the NFL… and yet left so many assumptions.
The first days
He inherited from a sleeping giant, a once proud Cowboys franchise that had gone through tough times. And he rejuvenated him with his unique blend of intensity and negotiation.
“I said if we just take the same old Pro Football ‘let’s take the best player available’,” Johnson said, “we’re so bad we’re never going to get anything good.”
His job as Herschel Walker changed the sport. In a despicable trade, the Cowboys cut off the players Minnesota gave them and instead ended up with the Vikings’ first and second round picks in 1990, 91 and 92, plus a third round pick.
“I got hold of Mike Lynn and I said ‘Mike, I’m going to cut all of these players. I want all of your picks,” Johnson said.
Dallas used those choices to take on Emmitt Smith, Darren Woodson, Russell Maryland, and others.
“It was the last phone call,” Johnson said, “I’ve ever had with Mike Lynn.”
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Build a champion
Johnson’s intensity was legendary. From a breathless kicker – “Asthma my a **,” Johnson shouted during windsprints one day, “go over there on that other ground and get asthma!” – to retain meals on the plane after a loss.
“I don’t care what they think of me,” Johnson said. “When they lose I want them to suffer. I don’t care if it’s a meaningless game, I want them to feel nauseous.”
They didn’t spend a lot of time feeling nauseous, because they didn’t spend a lot of time wasting. After a 1-15 campaign in Johnson’s first year, Dallas improved to 7-9 in the second year, then pulled off three straight seasons of success, with 11-5, 13-3, 12-4.
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This weekend Johnson, 78, enters the Hall of Fame.
“This will be the first time,” said legendary Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman, “that Cowboys fans will have the chance to truly celebrate what he means to the teams we were a part of.”
Aikman will present Johnson for the dedication on Saturday. And Aikman knew Johnson long before the Dallas days.
“We’re going back a long way, and there were some pretty tough times for him and me,” Aikman said.
Johnson tried to recruit Aikman on several occasions.
“I thought he was coming to the state of Oklahoma, and at the last minute he changed and went to Oklahoma,” Johnson said. “Then when we played him, when I was in Miami, we broke his leg. And I said, ‘hey, he’s going to be transferred,’ so I tried to get him transferred to Miami. … well, he went to UCLA. So I tried to get him half a dozen times. “
Then, in his first act as head coach of the Cowboys, he drafted Aikman in 1989.
“When I drafted it I knew I had it,” Johnson said with a laugh.
But there was also a brief glitch at the start of the Cowboys era, when Johnson drafted Steve Walsh that same year, which sparked some dissatisfaction. But Johnson says he always knew Aikman was his guy – he played Walsh just to support his business value, so they could return him for more players and choices.
But whatever issues may have briefly existed between the two, they’ve long since become quite close, with Aikman even tearing apart during the Fox telecast, when Johnson was told he would be going into the Hall.
“It’s probably a huge shake-up that I’m the one nominating him for the Hall of Fame,” Aikman said with a laugh. “If anyone was there during that time, they wouldn’t have expected this to happen.”
Of course, it’s not Aikman who Jimmy had his most famous dusting with … it’s Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
Jerry and jimmy
“I think Jerry and I could have communicated better the past few years,” Johnson said. “We communicated well the first year or two, when we were losing. When we started winning a lot of games, the communication stopped.”
Back-to-back Super Bowls, the potential for so much more … and then it all exploded.
At the Cowboys State of the Team press conference last month, Jones addressed the controversy, as he has done at various times over the years. But it was a bit more frank, as he described an exchange with Barry Switzer, who took over after Johnson left.
“Barry Switzer said ‘I just wanted to poke both of you little holes on that couch, and ask you both, how could you fuck that up?” Jones called back. “This is Switzerland.”
Four consecutive Super Bowls? A ten-year dynasty? What could have been …
“Our team would have improved,” Johnson said. “Selfishly, I think we would have won a few more. You know, but who knows? “
Jimmy Johnson spent just nine years coaching in the NFL. But it didn’t take long to leave a legacy in the Hall of Fame.
“You can’t tell the story of the NFL without talking about the Cowboys in the ’90s,” he said. “And so, if you want to tell this story, you have to say something about Jimmy Johnson.”
And you’ll start by saying four little words.