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Interview: Gary Myers

Gary Myers has covered the NFL for more than 40 years. He has written for the Dallas Morning News, the New York Daily News and was a long-time contributor to HBO’s Inside The NFL. He has written several NFL books: The Catch (2009), Coaching Confidential (2012), Brady vs Manning (2015) and My First Coach (2017). His most recent book, How ‘Bout Them Cowboys (2018), returns to the team that he covered for years in the 1980s.

Gary Myers

Tell me a little about how the book came about. What made you want to return to the Cowboys as a subject so many years after leaving the Dallas Morning News?
Even when I moved back to New York to work for the Daily News in 1989 as the NFL columnist, I wrote a lot about the Cowboys. They were a big story, with Jerry Jones buying them in 1989 and teaming with Jimmy Johnson to tear the team apart and build it back with the Herschel Walker trade. They won back-to-back Super Bowls in their fourth and fifth years together, Jimmy left, Jerry hired Barry Switzer, and then won the Super Bowl in Switzer’s second season. In those days, I was more of a national columnist — the decline of the newspaper industry resulted in me doing predominantly Giants and Jets columns in my final 15 years with the paper – so I stayed in touch with everybody in Dallas.

I did a book “The Catch,” which came out in 2009 about the great 1981 NFC Championship Game between the Cowboys and 49ers that centered around Dwight Clark’s catch and how it changed the fortunes of two franchises. In doing the research, I reconnected with many of the players I covered during the time I spent in Dallas from 1981-89. That was the first book I wrote. After writing three more, including the NY Times bestseller “Brady vs. Manning” in 2015, I was intrigued with the prospect of doing a big picture look at the Cowboys in the Jones era. Once Jerry agreed to sit down for an interview, I was all-in on the project. We had had three sessions spanning five hours. Even though it’s been over 20 years since the Cowboys have been in the Super Bowl, they are still the most popular and valuable sports team in the world.

You know plenty of Cowboys stories from your time covering the team and your work covering the NFL but were there things you learned in the process of writing the book that you didn’t know? If so, what were they?
I could just say: read the book and you will find out. But sure, I learned a lot. And I figure if I learned a lot, then there was plenty of new material for the readers. Mainly, it was quite evident to me that the Cowboys are really a $5 billion Mom and Pop operation. Jerry and his three kids are all deeply involved in the day-to-day details. I think I provide a pretty good picture of how they interact. I also learned a lot about the relationship Jerry had with Bill Parcells. It was much different than you might think.

One other thing to note: the animosity Jones felt towards Roger Goodell after Ezekiel Elliott was suspended six games in 2017 was real. He claims the commissioner told him Elliott would not be suspended and changed his mind. Goodell told me that is not accurate.The exchange I had with Goodell was newsworthy. One another thing to mention: I have really entertaining play-by-play from the Cowboys draft room from 2014 when Jerry wanted to take Johnny Manziel in the first round but nobody in the room supported him.

Do you have a favourite anecdote from writing the book?
My second interview with Jones was on the phone on a Saturday around noon in January of 2018. He was at home in Dallas and I was in my office at home. I set up two tape recorders – with key interviews that I know are irreplaceable I often use two, just to be safe – next to my cell phone. I put the phone on speaker, put my feet up on my desk and would ask questions every five minutes or so when Jerry came up for air. Jerry is colorful and expansive. We spoke for two hours and he would have kept it going but I felt I had taken up enough of his time.

It’s been a long wait for Cowboys fans to return to a Super Bowl. Do you think they’re getting closer to becoming a dominant force in the NFL again, as they were 20 years ago?
I think the 2018 season could be the start of big things for them. They won the NFC East, beat the Seahawks in the wild-card game at home before they couldn’t stop the run and lost to the Rams in the divisional round in Los Angeles. In order to take the next step, they need more consistent play from quarterback Dak Prescott. They have enough pieces to win the division again and there is not a dominant team in the NFC. This could be their year.

Thinking of all the books you’ve written, what’s your writing process like? And has it remained more or less the same or has it evolved with each book?
I’m a deadline person. It comes from 40 years in the newspaper business. I often do my best work when the pressure is the greatest. But I would like to alter my process somewhat and give myself more time to write. I find it hard to start writing until I have done all my research and interviews, and the reporter in me often dictates that I make one more phone call. Now that I am no longer with the Daily News, I am looking forward to my first book project when I am also not writing four or five columns every week.

I’ve completed books from beginning to end in nine months and also taken as much as three years. I think the ideal time is two years – one year researching, one year writing. The writing process for the Cowboys book was two months. I didn’t feel pressure because I was so comfortable with the topic.

What are your favourite and least favourite parts of the book-writing process?
When I first starting writing books, an author friend of mine advised, “Just let it breathe.” In other words, there was no need to rush through a passage or an anecdote in order to make it squeeze into an 800-word newspaper column. That was the biggest adjustment for me. I had been conditioned for so long to be concise. Book writing lets you air it out, so to speak.

Researching and doing the interviews is my favorite part or the process. The absolute worst part? Transcribing the tape of the interviews. I like to transcribe myself rather than give it to a service because I take notes as I go along and try to recreate the mood. That’s difficult to do if somebody else is transcribing. But… transcribing is so time consuming and tedious. I am obsessed with transcribing word-for-word, so it can take a long time.

What’s been the most memorable interview you’ve done for any of your books, and why?
One clearly stands out. When I interviewed Tom Brady for “Brady vs, Manning”, I was given a choice by the Patriots public relations director: I could sit down with Tom after practice in the quarterback meeting room or I could drive with him from Gillette Stadium in Foxborough to downtown Boston, where he lived at the time. Initially, I thought the meeting room would be better. I would have Brady’s undivided attention rather than him obviously having to concentrate on driving in rush hour Boston traffic. The PR person told me if we did it in the meeting room that Tom was likely to limit it to 30 minutes because he would be anxious to get home to be with his kids. He also told me that Brady was great at driving and doing interviews – he did it all the time on his conference calls with out-of-town media.

I opted for the drive-and-interview format and was hoping for lots of traffic so I would get plenty of time. He was terrific answering my questions and keeping his eye on the road. When we reached our destination in Boston, we sat and talked in the car for a few minutes as he asked me questions about the book writing process. He was genuinely interested. It was a crucial interview for my book and certainly the most unique.

Without giving away anything you might be saving for yourself, is there a football story that hasn’t been written that you’d like to see as a book?
My goal has always to be imbedded with a team for a year and write a diary of the season from the inside. My all-time favorite sports book is “Ball Four,” by Jim Bouton. It was so insightful and hilarious. He had an advantage — he was still playing and had unlimited access. That’s hard to duplicate.

And moving on to football books in general, what’s the first one you remember reading?
“Seven Days to Sunday,” an inside look at the New York Giants during a week of preparation. It came out in 1968.

What’s your favourite football book, and why?
I really enjoyed “The GM,” by Tom Callahan and Ernie Accorsi. I really like the behind the scenes type books, as you might have imagined by now.

Which football book would you consider an overlooked gem? How would you convince someone to read it?
I’m not trying to sound egotistical here, but I did a book in 2017, “My First Coach,” which details the relationship between NFL quarterbacks and their fathers. There is a life lesson in every chapter as each of the relationships are so different. I believe it would be so educational for moms and dads and their sons and daughters who are athletes to pick up this book.

Finally, on the subject of books in general. What are the five books you would want on a desert island?
Anything written by John Grisham.
All The President’s Men (I read it when it first came out and I’ve been meaning to read it again).
Profiles In Courage [John F Kennedy].
To Kill a Mockingbird [Harper Lee].
Tuesdays with Morrie [Mitch Albom].

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