Want to be an NFL analyst? Be a Cowboy — Dallas is cradle of commentators

As a sometimes respected person in sports media, I am occasionally contacted by youngsters interested in landing top positions in this business.

“I am a big fan of your work, Mr. Rosenbloom,” they will write. “What citadel of higher learning will best prepare and position me for the sports media job of my dreams? Should I go to Northwestern? Syracuse? Ball State?”

The answer, of course, is the Dallas Cowboys.

To the musical question “Where have all the Cowboys gone?” the answer is more than a few have landed in media.

The Dallas NFL franchise may or may not still be considered America’s Team. It clearly is America’s cradle of NFL commentators, however.

Not every former Cowboy becomes an NFL analyst, but for reasons that defy easy explanation, quite a few do seem to find their way to the front of the line.

Troy Aikman, Cowboys quarterback from 1989 to 2000, has been Fox’s No. 1 analyst for 16 solid years.

Tony Romo, Cowboys quarterback from 2003 to ’16, is in his second season as CBS’ No. 1 analyst.

Jason Witten, Cowboys tight end from 2003 to ’17, is in his first season as ESPN’s No. 1 analyst.

Not a lot of diversity.

In the case of Romo, who has been very good, and Witten, who hasn’t, the networks gave them headsets and lead commentator positions immediately after their retirements.

Witten’s shaky start has had many second-guessing ESPN’s decision to throw him into such a high-profile spot, forcing him to learn on the job under the superheated prime-time scrutiny that goes with being on “Monday Night Football.”

How was ESPN to know Witten would have trouble with the ins and outs of working in TV? He may have been thrown into the deep end of the pool with no experience and millions of people watching, but he is a former Cowboy.

What else in the name of Dandy Don Meredith’s ghost does a would-be NFL analyst need on a resume?

Not all Cowboys get top jobs right away, however.

Aikman had to sweat out a whole season working secondary games until getting the A-1 opening John Madden left when he departed Fox for ABC’s “Monday Night Football” in 2002.

Chalk it up to the fact there are only so many No. 1 jobs — and NBC went with ex-Bengal Cris Collinsworth, if you can believe it — that some former Cowboys still haven’t snagged top NFL TV slots yet.

Daryl Johnston, Cowboys fullback from 1989 to ’99, for example, is a few notches down Fox’s depth chart. He’ll be working his second Bears game in a row when the Lions visit Soldier Field on Sunday.

(The familiarity almost certainly guarantees Johnston and play-by-play man Chris Myers won’t refer to the Bears’ Matt Nagy as “Mike” or Kyle Fuller as “Kurt” this week.)

Fox’s de facto No. 2 game commentator is Charles Davis. He didn’t play in a regular-season game for the Cowboys, who signed him as an undrafted free-agent defensive back out of Tennessee in 1987. Coach Tom Landry cut Davis in training camp, encouraging him to go back to grad school.

And mamas, don’t let your Cowboys only do TV.

Another quasi-Cowboy, Brian Billick, was slated for commentary on Amazon Prime’s “Thursday Night Football” live stream. Billick signed with the Cowboys as a free agent in 1977, but he too was cut before seeing any real action.

Add national radio broadcasts, and Brian Baldinger, a Cowboys lineman from 1982 to ’87; Danny White, a Cowboys quarterback from 1976 to ’88; and Hank Bauer, whom the Cowboys signed as a free agent and then cut in 1976, will work NFL games as analysts this week.

Never mind studio TV shows with Cowboys alumni such as NFL Network’s Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders, ESPN’s Darren Woodson and former coach Jimmy Johnson on Fox.

On the field, the Cowboys have seen better days. This is a franchise that hasn’t won a Super Bowl since President Bill Clinton won a second term in the White House. The Bears have one more NFC championship in the last two decades than the Cowboys.

Fox’s Aikman said this week in an interview with Dallas’ KTCK-AM he thinks “there has to be a compete overhaul of the entire organization” to turn it around.

But off the field, in NFL broadcast booths and network studios, the Cowboys are as formidable as ever.

philrosenthal@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @phil_rosenthal

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