SPORTS FOCUS: What happened to the NFC East?

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The decade of the 1980s was the golden era for the National Football League’s NFC East division.

Actually, the division’s dominance extended into the 1990s when the re-purposed Dallas Cowboys, who deposed head coach Tom Landry after the 1988 season and hired University of Miami head coach Jimmy Johnson in 1989, won three Super Bowls between 1992 and 1995.

The 1995 Cowboys won the Super Bowl under head coach Barry Switzer, who was essentially window dressing. Dallas, a well-oiled machine behind a monster offensive line and a vaunted defense, was on auto pilot and went on to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Big Game.

Since then, the NFC East has become the NFC Least.

Sure, the New York Giants were “accidental” NFL champions in 2007 and 2011. And, in 2017, the Philadelphia Eagles eased the pain of numerous post-season disappointments of the past by laying claim to their first Super Bowl title in 2017 behind a backup quarterback.

In 1981, Joe Gibbs was hired on as the Washington Redskins head coach to turn around a franchise that had been lagging behind after the phenomenal show put on by the Over the Hill Gang in the early and mid-1970s.

Washington was a proud organization, and tried to live up to its name as the true America’s Team, seated firmly in the capital of the United States, Washington, D.C.

Emboldened by the NFC East’s trademark strength, the offensive line and a punishing running game, Washington won three Super Bowls between 1982 and 1991.

Meanwhile, when Washington was down, the New York Giants emerged as the Beast of the East, winning Super Bowl championships in 1986 and 1990.

In all, the NFC East claimed eight NFL titles in a span of 14 seasons. Washington and Dallas each won three Super Bowls. The Giants won a pair.

The power shift in the NFL that began in the latter part of the 1990s was a sign of the times. The game changed, especially in the 2000s when Tom Brady became the face of the league and the New England Patriots became the new America’s Team.

The NFL has become defined by personalities, not teams – entertainment, not competition. Even though sports leagues are composed of teams, it’s individuals – promoted by the leagues in order to maximize fan bases, bring in ridiculous amounts of revenue and, perhaps most importantly, promote the league by encouraging cities to fund the construction of new stadiums for billionaire owners, whose ownership of teams is merely window dressing and not the reason they became billionaires.

The NFC East is in shambles. The New York Giants are abysmal. Washington doesn’t even have a name. The Cowboys and Eagles are in the playoffs but probably don’t stand a chance when compared to teams like Green Bay and, yes, the Tom Brady Buccaneers.

Like Bogart said in Casablanca, “We’ll always have the ’80s.”

Lee Goodwin writes about sports for Local.News. His column, “Sports Focus,” appears Fridays.