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Sports media: Would television fee dispute ever affect a Patriots game?

Many in Massachusetts missed Cowboys-Eagles on Thanksgiving because of a dispute between Verizon and Cox Media. Matthew Emmons-USA Today
Matthew Emmons/USA Today
Many in Massachusetts missed Cowboys-Eagles on Thanksgiving because of a dispute between Verizon and Cox Media.

The designation as “America’s Team” was first applied to the Dallas Cowboys during the narration of their 1978 highlight film. As pretentious as it sounded to a fan of any other franchise, it might actually have been accurate at the time.

The popular Naval Academy graduate quarterback Roger Staubach led the Cowboys to a Super Bowl XII victory over the Broncos that January, then followed with an agonizing loss to the Steelers in Super Bowl XIII. They were both superb and sympathetic.

In the generations since, the Cowboys have continued to embrace the nickname despite varying degrees of accuracy. It became something of a punchline in the mid-’80s, or right around the time Gary Hogeboom got a turn at quarterback.

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The America’s Team concept was revived in the Emmitt Smith/Troy Aikman/Michael Irvin how-’bout-them-Cowboys heyday in the early ’90s. It faded again right around the time of Jerry Jones’s first apparent facelift.

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Thursday brought the latest status report, and it told us this: The Cowboys aren’t America’s Team. But they are at least our Co-Thanksgiving Team, along with that other annual turkey day participant, the Detroit Lions.

And when we’re prevented from watching the Cowboys game on Thanksgiving?

America — or at least New England — gets angry.

The tradition of rooting for or against the Cowboys on Thanksgiving was interrupted this year by a carriage dispute between Verizon and Cox Media, the latter the new owner of Channel 25, the local Fox affiliate that broadcasts NFC games in this market.

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The Fox signal went dark Thanksgiving morning, leaving approximately 400,000 Verizon FiOS customers in Massachusetts with an unwelcome surprise. Intrepid fans found the Cowboys-Eagles matchup locally on Fox Deportes. But the frustration was palpable and understandable, and while there wasn’t as much drama around the missed Saints-Steelers matchup Sunday, there are a couple of lingering questions:

Will this be resolved before FiOS subscribers miss even more games of consequence?

And perhaps more relevant and alarming in regard to local rooting interests: Is another carriage-fee dispute about to disrupt our viewing habits of Patriots games?

The Verizon/Cox battle has the potential to drag on. But from a New England perspective, the only time it will be a major issue around here is once the NFC playoffs roll around.

The Patriots will not play another game on Fox this season.

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What’s more troubling in the immediate future is another carriage-fee battle.

Lost in the cacophony of Fox’s lost Cowboys-Eagles game was a Thanksgiving Day near-miss over on CBS, which is embroiled in a similar dispute with Dish Network. The two sides reached a short-term extension on their contract-negotiation deadline, which allowed the Lions-Bears game to air on CBS.

But that extension is expected to expire as soon as Tuesday. At least 14 CBS affiliates would go dark on Dish Network if an agreement cannot be reached or another extension — which would be the third since Nov. 20 — agreed upon. Among those affiliates is Channel 4 in Boston, which will broadcast the final three of the Patriots’ four remaining regular season games, plus the AFC postseason matchups.

This is not the first time in recent months that Dish Network has risked drawing the ire of New England sports fans. In August, it dropped Comcast SportsNet New England, the local television home of the Celtics, over a similar carriage-fee dispute. CSNNE has launched an aggressive campaign in an attempt to get customers to call Dish Network and vent their frustrations. Dish Network has countered by accusing CSNNE of attempting to significantly increase rates charged to consumers. Nearly four months later, little has been resolved.

Perhaps it’s a harbinger of what could happen with the ongoing Verizon/Cox and CBS/Dish Network disputes.

It’s hard to comprehend that the NFL would permit such viewership disruptions leaking into the postseason. And fans would not stand for it.

Though it is yet to bring a resolution, the potency of the instant and collective frustration in Massachusetts over the missed Cowboys-Eagles game was impressive enough.

Just imagine the chaos that would happen if any of this corporate wrangling over every last dollar prevents us from watching the Patriots — New England’s team — for even a single Sunday.

Chad Finn can be reached at finn@globe.com.