Of the Dallas Cowboys of the 1990’s I remember little. What I do remember wasn’t great, good or even a good effort.
I missed out on the “Good Ole days” of Aikman, Smith, Irvin and Johnston. But I don’t know if should even call them the “good” days after reading Jeff Pearlman’s book “Boys Will Be Boys: The Glory Days and Party Nights of the Dallas Cowboys Dynasty.”
The book shed light on an era I and probably every other Dallas Cowboy fan romanticizes thanks to the three Super Bowl wins and multiple NFC Championship game appearances.
Having been born in 1991, when the dynasty in question was taking off, my earliest memories revolve around the fallout. I don’t remember any of the rivalry between Dallas and San Francisco. But I sure do remember watching Irvin being carted off the field with temporary paralysis in 1999 as “Philadelphia’s fans stood and cheered” what a former managing editor of a Philly newspaper called “as big a win as we’d had in Philly since the 1980 World Series.”
Stay classy Philly.
I didn’t know Emmitt Smith, who was the first player I ever owned a jersey of, held out for the first two games of the 1993 season for a new contract thinking he was worth as much as Barry Sanders (Jerry Jones initially offered him the same contract as Sanders, which Pearlman said was “widely regarded as one of the league’s worst.”).
But I do remember Smith and his infamous “Diamond surrounded by trash comment” in 2003, before winding up in Arizona for the last two years of his career.
I did know Aikman had a long list of injuries, most notably concussions. But I did not know Aikman attempted to have a singing carer on the side in the early days of the dynasty with teammates and former Cowboys recording a country album called “Everybody Wants to be a Cowboy” and a song called “Oklahoma Nights.”
Yes, it’s real:
Pearlman, a former SI writer, interviewed 146 former Cowboy players, coaches and staff for the book, including Jones, Jimmy Johnson, Irvin and others. From information in the biographies of Johnson, Aikman, Barry Switzer, recordings of games, the archives of the DFW area’s many columnists and enough outside sources to garner a 3.5 page bibliography, Pearlman retells the story of rebuilding and then collapsing.
One of the interesting parts of Pearlman’s reporting is he also interviewed the nobodies of the dynasty. Second, third and fourth-string players who were with the team for brief moments before being cut or traded. I don’t know how many times I read “…said so-and-so, a backup quarterback.”
This reflects some of the advice Pearlman gives out regularly through Twitter Q/A’s. While the high-profile players may remember moments vividly, the unheralded players will potentially remember event the smallest moments with clarity because it meant more to them.
It also means we’re given even more details on the debauchery the Cowboys devolved into as their success piled up. The drugs, alcohol and women piled up, impacting the play of some while rolling off the backs of those who fed off it, mainly Irvin.
It was a situation that was allowed to worsen through the “leadership” of Barry Switzer. Switzer was another figure of the dynasty I wasn’t familiar with, assuming he was good enough of a coach to lead Dallas, seeing as he has the “head coach” moniker for a Super Bowl win and two NFC Championship games.
However one of the ideas presented is while Switzer was a player’s coach, anyone with a pulse and the ability to hold a clipboard would have had success during the years immediately following Jimmy Johnson’s departure for the world of TV.
Pearlman shows a work place environment where the head coach and even the owner took the same liberties as their players, chasing as many women and drinking as much alcohol.
Though reading chapter after chapter of a football team’s party and drug habits might seem repetitive, Pearlman has a clean, precise and humorous writing style that keeps it from getting bothersome and gives the reading experience a healthy pace.
He also finds the hidden gems of stories that show the good that was present amid all the dreck in Dallas, including Aikman running for a touchdown in a meaningless game and giving the ball to a terminally ill boy, who would soon afterward be buried holding the ball.
The brightest story for my money revolved around Larry Brown, the veteran defensive back who lost a prematurely born baby to brain damage during the 1995 season. Switzer told him to take as much time off as he needed to regroup, but Brown played in the Cowboys very next game against the Raiders. The team supported Brown by playing the rest of the season with the initials of the child on their helmets with Brown finishing his season by being named the MVP of Super Bowl XXX.
Would I recommend “Boys Will Be Boys”? As a book lover and a journalist, absolutely. Pearlman’s depiction of a team that played 20 years ago as it found glory before devolving into teammates getting stabbed in the neck with a pair of scissors is a memorable read. While being published in 2008, it sheds light on problems that continue to plague “America’s Team” to this day.
Knowing this as a life long fan of the Cowboys, “Boys Will Be Boys” makes me want to stare out a window into the distance and sigh heavily.