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Losing Cowboys still rise to top of Sunday Night Football pecking order

Al Michaels alongside Sunday Night Football producer Fred Gaudelli. NBC photo

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- The Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, hailing from your friendly content provider's native state, rightfully will get their full complement of three games this season on NBC's Sunday Night Football.

But so will the 6-10 Dallas Cowboys, while the 10-6 Tampa Bay Buccaneers have no scheduled appearances on the NFL's primary national showcase.

In fact, only one other losing team from last season, the Minnesota Vikings, has even one game on SNF. The Vikes will play the Chicago Bears on Oct. 16th. Dallas, on the other hand, gets a Sept. 11th road game against the New York Jets, an Oct. 30th face-off at Philadelphia and a Dec. 11th home game with the New York Giants.

How bad then must "America's Team" get before NBC cuts them off -- or at least reduces their exposure on SNF to just one or two games? What if they went 1 and 15?

"The answer's yes, we would still put them on," analyst Cris Collinsworth said without hesitation during NBC's recent session for both SNF and Super Bowl XLVI, which the Cowboys won't be playing in no matter how many wet dreams owner Jerry Jones has.

NBC knows what it's doing, though, as does the NFL. Sunday's 20-7 Cowboys loss to San Diego drew 10.7 million viewers nationally, making it the third highest-rated pre-season game in the last five years on SNF. The most-watched was last summer's Hall of Fame game between the Cowboys and Cincinnati, which had 11.4 million viewers.

Collinsworth elaborated, recalling the Cowboys' constant winning ways under coach Tom Landry when "a lot of us were kids. And there is a carryover to that."

But his SNF partner, the peerless Al Michaels, got to the nub of why any and all networks just can't get enough of the Cowboys.

"There are only two teams in all of sports that I can think of that engender love and hate to that extreme," he said. Namely the Cowboys and the New York Yankees.

"What I find interesting," he added, "is the Yankees were in existence for about 60 years before the Cowboys were even born . . . But something happened in Dallas, and I don't know what it was, when they started to get good. And all of a sudden you loved them or you hated them. And that's a great combination for television, because you want to have some sort of an emotional response to the team that's on the air. And they (the Cowboys) have been number one for us for a lot of years in that regard."

It's relatively easy to understand the "hate." Dallas was the city where President Kennedy was assassinated. When that stigma began to fade, the Cowboys' were grandly dubbed "America's Team" in the late 1970s by NFL Films and then in a CBS game telecast. The Cowboys also had a love-to-hate corporate image under the stoic Landry and love-to-ogle eye candy in the forms of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

But your friendly content provider had one more followup question. Are the Cowboys the Howard Cosell of Sunday Night Football? No sportscaster before or since has triggered more love/hate than the late Monday Night Football mainstay.

"Are they the Howard Cosells? Give him a little. C'mon, give him one," Collinsworth urged Michaels. And so he did.

Summoning his best Cosell impression, Michaels intoned, "You're exactly right. The Dallas Cowboys are the Howard Cosell of Sunday Night Football."

Ah, victory is sweet.

Predictions: The Packers will go 13-3 and return to the Super Bowl. The Cowboys will go 8-8 -- and will not.