Cowboys have reclaimed their status as America's Team

FRISCO, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys have reclaimed the rock star status they had in the 1990s when they dominated headlines and the NFL, winning three Super Bowls.

America's Team is back.

Now, that will probably anger folks who cheer for the New England Patriots or the Green Bay Packers, who have combined to win six Super Bowls since the Cowboys last won a championship.

Pittsburgh Steelers fans will point to their collection of Super Bowl rings -- when not waving their Terrible Towels -- and stake their claim to the title of the NFL's most popular team.

None of that matters. The TV executives have spoken, which is the truest test of who America wants to watch.

The Cowboys will play their second of an NFL-record four straight prime-time games Sunday against the New York Giants.

They have played in four of the five most-watched games in the NFL this season.

On Thanksgiving Day, according to Fox Sports, 35.1 million people watched Dallas play the Washington Redskins, and you can probably guess it wasn't to see Kirk Cousins and Rob Kelley, aka "Fat Rob."

Love them. Hate them. Folks can't take their eyes off the Cowboys.

They own the NFL's best record at 11-1. They have big-time star power in Dak, Zeke and Dez -- dudes are so popular they don't even require last names.

They have the NFL's best offensive line, which gets more attention and accolades than any offensive line in recent memory.

They have an All-American dude and probable future Hall of Fame player in tight Jason Witten, and a juicy storyline in the plight of quarterback Tony Romo, the 10-year starter who now rides the bench because (Dak) Prescott has been too good to replace.

The Cowboys won 12 games and the NFC East title in 2014, but that team had a different feel to it.

Those Cowboys were trying to win a title before Romo, their then 34-year-old quarterback, succumbed to Father Time because his replacement wasn't on their roster.

There was a desperation to their quest because owner Jerry Jones had moved into his 70s and the questions about when his son, Stephen Jones, would take a larger role became more frequent.

That's no longer the vibe.

Prescott and (Zeke) Elliott have given the team an energy it hasn't had since the 1990s, because they seem headed toward stardom and they're at the beginning of their careers.

None of the key players on the offensive line are older than 26, so there is a sense that the best is yet to come for these Cowboys.

"It was as if Beyonce was coming into town. It was if Drake was coming into town. It was all of that," Hall of Fame running back and NFL all-time leading rusher Emmitt Smith said of the Cowboys in the 90s.

"If you wanted the country flavor in Troy Aikman. If you wanted the hard core rock flavor or Michael Irvin. Or if you wanted the R&B flavor of Emmitt Smith, you had it all. It was pretty exciting."

Reclaiming their title as America's Team is not just about the Cowboys winning football games.

It's also about the power of the star, one of the world's most recognizable logos.

Elliott gained 261,024 Twitter followers last month and (Dez) Bryant added 232,815. Elliott and Prescott rank 1-2 in Pro Bowl voting, and four other players -- including kicker Dan Bailey and punter Chris Jones -- lead their positions in voting.

Elliott (1), Prescott (2), Witten (11) and Bryant (14) rank among NFL’s top 15 players in jersey sales.

"This team is very much where we were when we went 11-5 right before we started our Super Bowl run in terms of that energy," Smith said. "In terms of that excitement. In terms of that belief.

"That belief is starting to permeate throughout the entire organization, and people are starting to truly believe that we got another run, we got another shot. I believe this team is poised to do great things going forward."

It would be easy to be distracted, especially for rookies. Coach Jason Garrett won’t let it happen.

He demands players stay in the moment, focusing on the meeting right now -- not the walk-through practice in an hour. It's an approach that works, and for the vast majority of the players on this roster, it's the only message they have ever heard.

The Cowboys don't dabble much in free agency, so Garrett has been the only NFL coach most of these players have ever known.

The downside of all the attention that comes from playing for the Cowboys is that every person you run into has the potential to record your every move and produce a video that could go viral.

Elliott and Prescott were partying at a club the other day. The video wound up on TMZ.

"Going to Mississippi State, a school not known for a lot of football success, and for us to go and have the success we did in the two years I was there," Prescott said, "particularly the year [2014] we went to No. 1, yeah, I mean it definitely showed me what the spotlight does, how to get used to it and prepare for TMZ or whatever it may be out there, yeah."

Maybe, but the excitement America’s Team generates is at an entirely different level.