When Tony Romo was growing up in Burlington, Wis., he didn't exactly regard the Cowboys as "America's Team."
Now the NFL team's Pro Bowl quarterback, Romo back then had a rather complicated relationship with his current club.
"I actually grew up in Wisconsin, so I kept learning every year that they would knock the Packers out of the playoffs in the '90s," Romo joked Wednesday. "That was basically what I remembered. The Cowboys aren't a very indifferent team. You either really like them or you really don't. But most people have an opinion."
Few know that better than Romo, who is alternately praised and scorned by the fan base, which has consistently high expectations for a franchise that boasts five Super Bowl titles, second to only the storied Steelers.
The spectacle that is the Cowboys comes to town Saturday night, when Dallas visits Raymond James Stadium for a game against the reeling Buccaneers. The venue has been sold out just one other time this season, but a full house is expected despite the Bucs' 4-9 record and current seven-game losing streak.
The contest will be a nationally televised game certain to produce strong ratings. Meanwhile, the Bucs' public relations staff is struggling to find enough press box seating for all the Dallas-area media that chronicle the team's every move.
For all these reasons, playing or coaching for the Cowboys is one of the most scrutinized jobs in sports, especially when the results have been what they have lately.
Dallas (7-6) enters the game in need of a win after consecutive losses to the Cardinals and Giants, both games in which the Cowboys held fourth-quarter leads. Two weeks ago at Arizona, Dallas coach Jason Garrett was widely criticized for his decision to call a timeout and "ice" his own kicker before a potential winning field goal. Kicker Dan Bailey missed a 49-yarder in the final seconds of regulation and Arizona won 19-13 in overtime.
Now the Cowboys are trying to fend off the Giants in the NFC East and could miss the postseason.
And at every turn, Romo and his teammates are reminded that the championship legacy that preceded them has been offset by the fact Dallas has just one playoff victory since 1996.
That's considered subpar for a franchise that claims 19 Hall of Famers.
"I grew up around the time when they were great, when they had the Triplets," said Bucs defensive tackle and Dallas native Frank Okam, referencing former stars Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin.
"When you set a standard like that — and you can go all the way back to the (Roger) Staubach era — that's a really storied tradition. The only thing I think is similar is Green Bay. People really expect a lot of that team, and when they don't live up to those levels or get close to a championship, it's (considered) a failure for that organization."
There's an allure surrounding the Cowboys that seems to draw in even fans who don't have obvious ties to the team. That was once true of Bucs coach Raheem Morris, who spent his childhood rooting for the Cowboys in, of all places, northern New Jersey.
"I think it was my dad. It was peer pressure," Morris said. "He was a Cowboys fan growing up. He loved Staubach, he loved Drew Pearson. He was a 'Bullet' Bob Hayes guy. So, growing up with my pops, he put me right into a Danny White jersey and I quickly became Drew Pearson out playing street football in Irvington.
"One of my better friends was also a Cowboys fan. We'd walk around and talk trash. Another one of my friends liked the Giants and a couple of my friends liked the Redskins. So we had the NFC East pretty much locked up. It was a nice little war."
As for today's Cowboys, the pressure is, as usual, intense. Owner Jerry Jones gave Garrett the dreaded vote of confidence this week. Of course, no such affirmation is needed unless things have gone awry. And, remember, Jones did the same with Wade Phillips last season, two months before he fired him.
Garrett has tried to stay the course while ignoring the obvious.
"I would argue that the NFL, in 32 different cities, there's pressure to have success and there's pressure for every coach involved," Garrett said. "I think there's certainly some franchises that are more high-profile than others."