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Canadian Cowboys fan discovers where it all began for Jimmy Johnson

(Editor’s note: The 2020 class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame was to be inducted Aug. 8 in Canton, Ohio. That has been rescheduled for Aug. 7, 2021, along with the 2021 induction class due to the coronavirus pandemic.

 As the U.S. began to face a pandemic debilitating traffic and commerce, Canadian Brian Cusack would not be slowed down.

On March 13, the same day President Donald Trump declared a national emergency against coronavirus, Cusack paid a visit to Port Arthur’s Museum of the Gulf Coast to pay homage to one of the city’s native sons, the man who led his favorite National Football League team to two Super Bowl victories in the 1990s.

The active Canadian army member experienced no delays on his route to Houston from St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, the easternmost city in Canada.

“None. In fact, I couldn’t believe how smooth it was,” he said. “There was no delays. There was nothing. It was just bing, bang, boom.”

The visit was not Cusack’s first to Port Arthur.

He first came in March 2018, finally scratching an item off his bucket list to see where Jimmy Johnson grew up. He recalled a feature article in an August 1992 edition of Sports Illustrated on Johnson, the Thomas Jefferson High School graduate who first made it big on the coaching scene as Oklahoma State University’s head man, then led the University of Miami to a national championship in the 1987 season and had gotten his opportunity with the Cowboys for the 1989 season thanks to his University of Arkansas teammate and newly minted team owner, Jerry Jones.

“I was in grade 6 when [Johnson] took over the Cowboys,” Cusack said. “That’s when I got into it. I remember Tom Landry was fired, and that was a huge deal. Long story short, when I was in high school, the Cowboys won back-to-back Super Bowls, and he was the head coach. So, I just became a huge fan.”

Cusack would get his hands on any story about Johnson, including those that were written in The News, which covered Johnson and the Cowboys heavily at the time.

In an email almost a month before his visit, Cusack explained:

“As a fan of Jimmy, and the Dallas Cowboys, I decided right then and there, that I would visit PA someday. I was only 14 at the time.”

Cusack visited by way of Dallas in 2018. The visit two years later carried added meaning.

Cusack, now 42, was celebrating Johnson’s induction in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which is now rescheduled for 2021 in Canton, Ohio. Johnson was selected in January as one of 15 members of a special Centennial Class to celebrate the NFL’s 100 years in existence.

Cusack planned his return trip to Port Arthur eight months before Johnson was honored, and he did so to see a friend he met during his first visit — museum volunteer Stephanie Orta. She showed Cusack the permanent exhibit of Johnson’s, which drew extra attention following Johnson’s selection to Canton.

“I think it reminded everyone of the amazing exhibit that we already do have and that has been dedicated to Jimmy’s amazing football career for decades now,” said Orta, now assistant director at The Art Studio Inc. in Beaumont.

Said Cusack: “I could spend hours in here, easily.”

Orta recalled Cusack “demanding” to see Johnson’s bust 30 minutes before the museum closed one afternoon during his first visit. Cusack’s enjoyment brought emotion to her.

“We’re pen pals,” she said. “He recently survived two different blizzards in Newfoundland. So, we keep up with each other’s weather. Sometimes, I send him glorious pictures of the water. And he’s like, ‘Yeah, we’re still in snow.’”

Dallas’ customary Lone Star helmet and the Cowboys’ ability to draft future Hall of Famers including Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith caught Cusack’s attention while living in Prince Edward Island, which like Newfoundland is not home to an organized American football team, Cusack said.

“Lo, and behold, within a few short years, they were winning Super Bowls,” Cusack said. “Some people would say, ‘Oh, you’re a bandwagon fan.’ I said, ‘If I were a bandwagon fan, don’t you think I would have abandoned them by now? They haven’t won a Super Bowl in 25 years.’”

But if by any stretch of imagination Cusack wanted to move south, going someplace where Cowboys are rooted on more often than the nearby Houston Texans would make more sense to him.

“I never gave it much thought, but if I did, this would be the region I would want to come to,” he said.

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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