Boys Will Be Boys
Jeff Pearlman
HarperCollins, 2008
Buy: Amazon US, Amazon UK

This is one of those books that you almost end up reading aloud. Anyone within earshot will eventually get fed up with you continually saying to them “No, wait, listen to this bit!” Actually, they probably won’t get fed up because the stories are insanely good. If the Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s were incredible on the field, they were downright implausible off it.

Pearlman opens with star wide receiver Michael Irvin stabbing a teammate in the neck with a pair of scissors and things get wilder from there. The stories about ex-49er Charles Haley alone are horrifying and compelling:

“‘Charles used to beat off in meetings while talking graphically about players’ wives,’ says Michael Silver, who covered the 49ers for the Santa Rose Press Democrat. ‘It got to the point of ejaculation.’

“Haley was socially awkward and unflinchingly vicious. He’d been prescribed medication to treat manic depression, but would take the pills one day, then skip them the next two or three. Haley once exposed himself to reporter Ann Killion of the San Jose Mercury News, a pathetic attempt at gender intimidation.”

And we haven’t covered Haley urinating in a teammate’s car through the sunroof or trying to strangle his 49ers coach, George Seifert. The phrase “socially awkward” is working very, very hard in Haley’s case.

Elsewhere, the team sets up a house where they can entertain women away from the view of wives and girlfriends, Michael Irvin turns a charity basketball team into a personal money-maker and Troy Aikman records a country album.

I’ve never been especially interested in the Cowboys, so I put off reading this book for some time. Once I did start it, I was riveted. If anything, my previous lack of interest helped because I hadn’t heard most of these stories. Dedicated Cowboys fans might be familiar with much of what the book covers, but the stories are told so well that I would still recommend giving Boys Will Be Boys a read.

What happened on the field could scarcely match the team’s antics off it but it comes close. Jerry Jones – a very hard man to like based on this portrayal – starts the ball rolling after he buys the team by immediately ditching Tom Landry – the only head coach Dallas has ever had. In Landry’s place comes Jimmy Johnson, a star college coach, who is brash and aggressive where Landry was quiet and calm.

Johnson and Jones knew one another in college and Jones appears convinced that they were practically best friends. In fact, Johnson isn’t keen on his former college buddy and is even less keen on Jones’s meddling in football matters and his attempts to take credit for the team’s success.

Johnson, who divorces his wife to focus on the team and largely ignores his children, isn’t much more likeable than Jones. Still, he turns around a long-time losing franchise, wins a Super Bowl and is promptly sacked by Jones. Johnson’s replacement is Barry Switzer, a mediocre coach whose most attractive quality is that he doesn’t mind Jones taking the credit for everything. The team that Johnson built has enough momentum to win another Super Bowl but the wheels were already coming off and it’s not long before it crashes spectacularly.

In the 22 seasons since winning Super Bowl XXX, the Dallas Cowboys have won three playoff games, never advancing beyond the Divisional round. It’s not clear how much Jones minds – his main concerns appear to be money and his ego, both of which he has in abundance. His incompetence as a team owner is apparent only if you consider winning championships to be the key benchmark.

Brilliantly written, meticulously researched and full of riveting stories, Boys Will Be Boys is an essential read.

Photo: .sanden.


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