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Before we start, let’s define “so many,” shall we? In a politics-focused September 2010 survey commissioned by City Paper and The Kojo Nnamdi Show, only 6 percent of respondents named the rival Dallas Cowboys as their favorite NFL squad. A far more sports-centric Washington Post poll released a few weeks later pegged Cowboy support at 11 percent. So while the District is hardly overrun with Tony Romo devotees—official D.C. Cowboys bar Mezza Luna on any given NFL Sunday excluded—they’re certainly here. But why?
Transience. Nearly every NFL franchise maintains a sizable presence in the always-changing District, and the Cowboys are no exception. Dallas’ admittedly-under-threat reputation as “America’s Team”—or, alternatively, its place alongside the New York Yankees, Chicago Bulls, and Duke Blue Devils in the bandwagon pecking order—means that many current D.C. residents grew up well outside Redskins territory, sporting jackets featuring a big blue star.
Winning (at the right time). From time to time, Washingtonians have faced a strong temptation to break with geographic allegiance. Historically, “more and more games were being televised in the ’50s and ’60s when the Redskins where legendarily horrible,” says Kevin Ewoldt, managing editor of Hogs Haven, a popular all-things-Redskins blog. The books don’t lie: The Redskins didn’t have a winning campaign between 1956 and 1968, and Dallas won the division every year between 1967 and 1971. In the modern age, the Cowboys’ run of three Super Bowl championships in four years in the mid-’90s did wonders for their cachet; in turn, Washingtonians have had little to brag about since the team’s last title in 1992.
Race relations. Racial tension is one of the most cited reasons to explain Cowboy support. Redskins owner George Preston Marshal steadfastly refused to integrate the team until 1961, nine years after every other team in the league. His segregationist delay coincided with a boom in D.C.’s black population, which by 1960 represented 54 percent of the city. How better to express disapproval, the logic goes, than by cheering for the team’s archenemies? Unfortunately, the dates on this theory don’t quite add up: The Cowboys only began NFL play in 1960, one year before Washington’s integration—and well before the rivalry’s 1970s-era birth. Moreover, nearly two-thirds of D.C.-area black residents said before the 2011 season that they had a favorable opinion of the Redskins; longtime black residents support the team in even greater numbers.
Overexposure. Are casual sports fans—a plurality in this area—driven away by the constant refrain of “Hail to the Redskins?” It sure doesn’t help. “I think in every NFL market, you get an unusually large number of people rooting for the archrival, just because that team is a part of the public consciousness, and it’s a way to get noticed,” says Washington Post sports writer Dan Steinberg.
Dan Snyder. Duh.