Old beef still sells. Just ask the Cowboys and Jimmy Johnson

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As long as the nostalgia of 1990s beef still sells, I’ll never feel old. I was but a child then. A child who looked at box scores in the Chicago Sun-Times and followed the daily drama of the 1997 Chicago Bulls contract negotiations. Even as a youngster I recognized that Jimmy Johnson and the Dallas Cowboys parting ways after consecutive Super Bowl championships was strange. But 1994 was still a bit early for me to recognize the egos of men like Jerry Reinsdorf and Jerry Jones.

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Fast forward to 2023, I am a sports writer in my mid-30s, the Bulls and Chicago White Sox are uninteresting, at best, and Jones and Johnson have both been enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That illustrious Cowboys Ring of Honor, though, is missing the head coach responsible for two of the franchise’s five Super Bowl championships. The coach who was willing to trade one of the most recognizable faces in football — that guy who tried to be a senator in Georgia last year — to build one of the most dominant teams in NFL history.

Johnson being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame before the Cowboys Ring of Honor is a wrong that can never be fully righted, but at least he is receiving his flowers from the franchise now on national television. On Saturday, at halftime of Cowboys vs. Detroit Lions, ABC will air the ceremony — with Troy Aikman as the emcee — of Johnson being inducted into the ring of honor.

The network decided to scrap its halftime report to show a group of people hugging who have not worked together since before Google was invented. A decision that any logical programming department should make after the success of The Last Dance.

Of course, that was early in the pandemic when there was little else to watch, but the documentary reverberated for years. In 2021, Scottie Pippen went on a publicity campaign to promote his bourbon and a forthcoming autobiography. He created weeks of content by airing out his frustrations with Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan that were brought back to the front of his mind by The Last Dance.

Since then, Isiah Thomas has taken every opportunity to remind the world that he “met the criteria” to be considered one of the greatest basketball players of all time. Personally, I always have considered him a legend, but seeing Jordan get all that shine resulted in some haterade being guzzled by the greats.

While there are millions of sports fans who are not old enough to have retrieved one of the old Year in Sports VHS tapes that served as YouTube for sports fans during the 1990s, those old conflicts generate attention as if they happened last week.

The Bulls are debuting their own ring of honor in January. The franchise rebuild that the Reinsdorf and the late Jerry Krause deemed necessary in 1998 is still ongoing. All of the great Bulls of the past already have their jerseys retired and Phil Jackson and Krause have banners in that same section of the United Center. But the Bulls have more nostalgia to sell, because they know it is still valuable.

There are sports fans in 2023 who don’t even remember Tony Romo fumbling the snap on a field-goal attempt in the playoffs in 2007. Last season, the average age of NFL players was just over 26. That means most players currently in the league were not even a thought when Jones and Johnson won their last Super Bowl together in 1994. The stadium that game was played in — the Georgia Dome — was not even two years old at the time. It was demolished six years ago.

People still have an appetite for what happened 30-plus years ago, so the leagues might as well keep feeding us. The Bulls’ and Cowboys’ efforts to rebuild champions after their decade of dominance is still a work in progress. However, capitalizing on the success of the past is a guaranteed profit that requires no work in the present.

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