Skip to main content

For decades, the Dallas Cowboys have been the most valuable sports franchise. The team’s estimated value is a staggering $5.5 billion — more than Real Madrid, the Lakers, and the Yankees. The Cowboys’ popularity rests on two factors: star-studded play in the ’90s and owner Jerry Jones’ marketing genius. Those things converged in 1993, with the advent of a phrase now synonymous with Dallas football: “How ’bout them Cowboys!”

Yet many young NFL fans have no idea that this phrase was first uttered by former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson. Let’s look at Johnson’s career, his iconic line, and the team’s run of dominance in the ’90s.

Jimmy Johnson’s Hall of Fame coaching career

Jimmy Johnson of the Dallas Cowboys
Coach Jimmy Johnson of the Dallas Cowboys runs onto the field | James Smith/Getty Images

Johnson spent over three decades coaching collegiately. He famously led the University of Miami’s “Bad Boys” team to a national title in 1987. He finally transitioned to the NFL in 1989, when Jones hired him as the Cowboys’ new coach. Jones and Johnson were teammates back in the early ’60s. Both men played for the University of Arkansas football team.

Johnson ultimately spent six years as Cowboys head coach, leading Dallas to back-to-back championships in 1992 and 1993. Johnson is just one of five coaches in NFL history to pull off the feat of back-to-back titles. Yet Johnson’s relationship with Jones soon became strained, with Johnson finally leaving the team in 1994.

After two years of analyst work with Fox Sports, Johnson took a position as head coach of the Miami Dolphins in 1996. At that time, the Dolphins had a stellar offense featuring quarterback Dan Marino. Yet the team struggled to live up to expectations, underperforming for three seasons before Johnson announced he would be stepping down as head coach.

The Cowboys become ‘America’s Team’

Johnson’s tenure as Cowboys head coach, though short by some standards, was hugely important. Under his guidance, the Cowboys went from a relatively small market franchise to the most recognizable team in the NFL, appropriately dubbed “America’s Team.” While Johnson’s presence was an important part of that equation, so was the Cowboys’ star-studded roster.

At the core of that roster were the Cowboys superstar “triplets”: quarterback Troy Aikman, running back Emmitt Smith, and wide receiver Michael Irvin. Those three players ultimately carried the ’90s Cowboys to three Super Bowl victories (one coming after Johnson’s departure), assuring themselves Hall of Fame berths. Johnson finally joined them there when he was inducted in January 2020.

How ’bout them Cowboys: a catchphrase for the ages

To understand the origins of “How ’bout them Cowboys!” you have to go all the way back to the 1992 season. The Cowboys had put together a dominant 13-3 season that year and confidently dispatched the Philadelphia Eagles in the divisional round. They then went on to face the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game.

Dallas once again put together a dominant performance, scoring 13 points in the fourth quarter and knocking out the 49ers 30-20. That victory meant that the Cowboys were headed on to Super Bowl XXVII, where they would face off against the Buffalo Bills and ultimately win the title. Before that happened, however, Johnson gave a rousing locker room speech in the wake of the Cowboys’ NFC Championship win.

That speech, delivered while standing on a chair, ended with the jubilant Johnson exclaiming, “How ’bout them Cowboys!” Instantly the locker room burst into cheers, and a legendary Dallas catchphrase was born. The only surprising part of the story is that not until 2016 did the Cowboys finally trademark the phrase for their own exclusive use, according to Promo Marketing Magazine.