ARLINGTON, Texas—The Dallas Cowboys, by far the most popular NFL team in the Nielsen survey, got there partly through success on the field, winning five Super Bowls, tied for second-most in league history. But they’ve also done it with a combination of hubris, generous geography, a bit of luck and perhaps the biggest sideshow in the league’s history: the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

In 1960, when the Cowboys began playing as an NFL expansion team, Dallas was smaller than Milwaukee, a Central time zone outpost far from the league’s center of gravity. Things quickly changed with the hiring of a former sportswriter-turned-TV-producer named Tex Schramm as the team’s president and general manager.