FOXBORO, Mass. — Whether or not you care about the “America’s Team” label, it’s hard to deny that playing against the Dallas Cowboys used to mean something because of their nationwide popularity.

Now, it’s a different story, right?

Well, it depends on who you ask. The Cowboys have made the playoffs only once in the last five seasons. They’ve won just three playoff games since their last Super Bowl victory (1995 season). Yet, as the New England Patriots prepare for Sunday’s game in Arlington, Texas, there’s still some extra buzz related to the Cowboys’ past mystique.

“The Cowboys, they’re the Cowboys,” Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich, an Illinois native, said Wednesday at Gillette Stadium. “From the ’90s, when I was a kid, all the great teams that they had. I can remember being more of a Cowboys fan when I was a kid because the Bears at the time weren’t doing so well in Chicago.

“So again, very good football team, very good organization, and they (just) haven’t had a lot of success over the last 20 years.”

The Cowboys first were labeled “America’s Team” back in 1978.

“They appear on television so often that their faces are as familiar to the public as presidents and movie stars. They are the Dallas Cowboys, ‘America’s Team,’ ” NFL Films said at the time.

It was a fair assessment of the team’s standing, and Dallas’ three Super Bowl wins in the 1990s definitely added to the reputation. A lot has changed over the last two decades, but those memories remain fresh for some, mostly because of personal experiences involving the Cowboys and that public perception.

“I don’t have a lot of experience playing against this team — it’s only my second time playing against them in my career — but obviously the tradition, America’s team, I think most of my family is Cowboys fans,” Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater said Wednesday. “So I understand that and I respect what that organization has been able to do. But all of that doesn’t really mean much to us. We just have to prepare for Sunday’s game and go out and try to execute on Sunday.”

One could argue the Patriots have surpassed the Cowboys as “America’s Team” based on their success and the widespread infatuation with New England — both positive and negative — in recent years.

We’ll leave that for you to judge, though. Either way, both teams remain popular, even if they are trending in opposite directions as far as intangible aura is concerned.

Thumbnail photo via Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports Images

Thumbnail photo via Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones