The Dallas Cowboys have a long and storied legacy as one of the most iconic teams in the NFL. That legacy was cemented through the contributions of superstar players like quarterback Troy Aikman, running back Emmitt Smith, and wide receiver Michael Irvin. Today it can be easy to forget that there was ever a time when the Cowboys weren’t a top-tier franchise.
Yet at one point in time, the Cowboys were nothing more than an experiment in league growth. And for a short time in their pre-history, they almost missed their chance to become a team at all.
The early years of professional football in Dallas didn’t involve the Cowboys
The history of professional football in Dallas began in 1952, according to SportsTeamHistory.com. That year, the Dallas Texans spent a single season in the city, before the franchise was moved to Baltimore and renamed the Colts.
From basically that point on, two wealthy oilmen — Clint Murchison Jr. and Lamar Hunt — were both determined to bring professional football back to Dallas.
Hunt eventually grew frustrated dealing with the NFL, and instead founded the American Football League in 1959. His team, also known as the Dallas Texans, spent four years in Dallas before moving to Kansas City and changing their name to the Chiefs. Meanwhile, Murchison continued to negotiate with the NFL to found the league’s first expansion team in Dallas.
Problems with the Washington Redskin’s owner
Initially, the NFL seemed receptive to Murchison’s proposal of a Dallas expansion team. For one thing, the league was enjoying increasing popularity and felt ready to start pushing into new markets. For another, the NFL didn’t want to lose ground to the recently formed AFL, which they were worried would soon establish a monopoly in southern cities.
There was just one impediment to Murchison’s plans: Washington Redskins owner George Preston Marshall. Marshall didn’t want to cede his position as the only franchise located in the southern United States.
To make things more complicated, in 1958 Murchison had almost purchased the Redskins, only for the deal to fall apart when Marshall tried to change the terms at the last minute.
Those factors combined were enough for Marshall to exert his power and oppose granting Murchison an expansion team in Dallas. Murchison likely would not have prevailed, were it not for one extremely shrewd business move.
Using business leverage to create the Dallas Cowboys
Murchison wasn’t the only person with whom Marshall had bad blood. He also had a huge falling out with the Redskins’ one-time band leader Barnee Breeskin, who composed the Redskins’ iconic fight song, “Hail to the Redskins.”
When Breeskin heard about Marshall’s plan to block a Dallas expansion team, he approached Murchison with a business proposition.
According to American Football Database, Breeskin offered to sell Murchison the rights to the Redskins’ fight song — an offer that Murchison and his business partner Bedford Wynne quickly took him up on. As soon as the legal rights were theirs, the two men contacted Marshall and threatened to block him from using the fight song at Redskins games.
Marshall knew that the song was an integral part of the Redskins experience and that he had no choice but to back down in his opposition to a Dallas-based NFL team. With Marshall out of the way, the NFL quickly approved the team. Known initially as the Steers — and then the Rangers — the franchise settled on calling themselves the Cowboys in March 1960.
The most interesting part of the story is that, for the next several years, Dallas was home to not one but two professional football teams: the AFL’s Texans and the NFL’s Cowboys. Finally in 1963, recognizing that Dallas was not large enough to support two franchises, the Texans made their move to Kansas City.