'Boys Will Be Boys' - A Book Review

IRVING, Tex. - After having spoken to author Jeff Pearlman for a total of three hours in his research for the just-released book "Boys Will Be Boys,'' I was excited to receive and review a copy of the work subtitled "Glory Days And Party Nights Of The Dallas Cowboys Dynasty'' for more than just the obvious reason.

Yes, a review of the 1990's Cowboys team that I covered as a beat writer would be a tantalizing read. But frankly, first I rushed to the Bibliography and the Index to see if I'd been mentioned in the book. … and if I'd made a complete you-know-what of myself.

Let me get that issue out of the way: Pearlman does me right. He quotes me four times in the book, and he represents me with complete accuracy. (An aside: I'm usually on the other end of the interview process, so I've had some concern that some twisted quote might result in a nasty phone call from an Aikman or an Irvin or a Jerry.)

On Page 60: "If you could get any of his detractors to spend five minutes with Jerry, he would have zero detractors,'' says Mike Fisher, who covered the team for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "Nobody talks about this stuff, but early on there was a Valley Ranch janitor who died while visiting Mexico. His family couldn't get his body back to the U.S., so Jerry contacted the Mexican government and worked it out. Who does that?

"Unfortunately,'' says Fisher, "back then generosity didn't guarantee wins.''

On Page 170: Aikman kept the week simple. A few days before the (Super Bowl) game, he was driving along the Pacific Coast Highway with Mike Fisher and Richie Whitt of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram when a radio DJ cracked the joke.

… On Page 218: "Jimmy's giving speeches to his players about how everyone's in this together and the value of teamwork, then (Jaguars owner) Wayne Weaver calls to get a recommendation for Norv and Jimmy sells himself,'' says Mike Fisher. … "Jimmy f----d Jerry, he f-----d Norv. While he's telling his team, ‘One for all, all for one,' he's lifting his skirt toward the Jaguars.''

On Page 309: "It (the players' ‘White House') was a frat house,'' says Mike Fisher. … "But most frat houses don't specialize in hookers and cocaine.''

Do I come across as a hobnobbing, Jimmy-loathing, whore-tolerating, foul-mouthed SOB? Yeah, that's all about right.

Anyway, back to the book.

Pearlman's great accomplishment here is flushing out some of the precise details of incidents and habits of the stars that the paying-attention Cowboys fan already knows something about. For instance: Michael Irvin had women in his room? Pearlman tells you that it was a dozen women, and he gives the time and the date. And their names.

Writes Pearlman: "The dean of Dallas decadence was wide receiver Michael Irvin, known as The Playmaker. "Did he love snorting coke? Yes. Did he love lesbian sex shows? Yes. Did he love sleeping with two, three, four, five (yes, five) women at the same time in precisely choreographed orgies? Yes. Did he love strip clubs and hookers and house calls from exotic dancers with names like Bambi and Cherry and Saucy? Yes, yes, yes."

Again, you knew Michael was a womanizer. You did not know their names might've been Bambi, Cherry and Saucy.

Much of the other material about the standout Cowboys, though, seems retold -- though entertainingly-retold – from newspaper accounts (in both my Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Dallas Morning News) and from (you guessed it) "Stars & Strife,'' my 1993 book that chronicled the era as it was happening. Pearlman was obviously diligent in reviewing material written at the time. Still, overall, it is more of a detailed (and X-rated) recap of available information than it is a scoop-filled revelation.

Pearlman does tip his cap to "Stars & Strife'' in his Bibliography, and he does something else akin to the style of my book: He largely tries to let the players, coaches and executives detail the stories and make the judgments, rather than attempting to do so as an outsider.

Strangely, though, while it it obvious that Pearlman conducted dozens of interviews for the book, it seems principles such as Deion, Emmitt, Haley, Aikman, Jones and Johnson did not make themselves very available to him, if at all. As Pearlman has the cache of having been a former Sports Illustrated staffer, that seems odd. Pearlman's answer in attempting to throw dirt in this hole: His book features insights from such non-luminaries as Robert Jones, Antonio Goss and Clayton Holmes. (Who? Who? Who?)

The technique works, in a sense, though; the view of Cowboys life as one big sexcapade certainly has never before been told through the eyes of Joe Fishback. (Who?)

(In a New York Times Q&A, Jeff explains that getting the Clayton Holmeses of the Cowboys world to talk is actually more valuable than getting the Emmitt Smiths to open up. It's different. But more valuable? That's a dubious claim, at best.)

Nevertheless, Pearlman cannot help but inject his own views and impressions into the book.

He makes a huge assumptive leap in detailing the Everett McIver-gets-stabbed-with-a-scissors story and portraying it as the declarative "end of a dynasty.'' He writes repeatedly of "long-legged blondes with large chests,'' to the point where that variety of female seems less a Cowboys obsession than that of the author. (Believe me, there were short girls with dark hair, too.) And he certainly makes Charles Haley's penis seem like, er, the straw that stirred the drink.

That same unavoidable subjectivity will come into play with players, coaches and staffers do the same thing I did – search for answers to the question, "How does it make me look?''

A shortcut to the answers:

JERRY JONES – In addition to re-telling details about Jones' womanizing already printed in a book written by former Jones pilot Todd Cawthorn, Pearlman asserts that in terms of football know-how, Jerry is a "dolt.''

CHARLES HALEY – Haley is (I think) accurately portrayed the way I've portrayed him for years, as a chemically-imbalanced bully. And a really good football player.

EMMITT SMITH -- Emmitt's late-career selfishness is noted, though it is a disappointment that Pearlman relied on "unnamed sources'' to tell that truth. A simple call to one of Emmitt's best friends, Irvin, would've earned Pearlman on-the-record truth.

MIKE FLYNN – The Vikings exec who oversaw the wrong end of the Herschel Walker trade is characterized as a lifelong boob and a non-football man. Oops. Lynn – despite getting hoodwinked by the Cowboys that once – is actually one of the most accomplished men in the history of the sport. He played QB and defensive back for the Steelers, he coached at the highest levels, he built the Super Bowl Vikings of the ‘70s, he built the eventual champion Bears of the mid-80's, he led the Saints to their first successes, and but for a political battle lost, he would've been named commissioner instead of Paul Tagliabue. Oh, and Lynn is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

SKIP BAYLESS – "Evil. Pure evil.''

DALE HANSEN – Based solely on Pearlman's assessment of Hansen's feud with Barry Switzer, the author simply destroys the Channel 8 sports anchor. I'd love to see a Hansen-Pearlman debate right about now.

TROY AIKMAN – Pearlman engages in some near-hero-worship stuff here. The inference here is that all the black players were chasing booty while Troy and the white guys were just playin' football and singin' country songs. The inference would be inaccurate. Troy was, in fact, as much a practicing heterosexual as the next handsome young millionaire.

JIMMY JOHNSON – Jeff falls into the "obsessed with his job'' trap on Jimmy, insisting that he didn't like vacations and spewing the old cliché about Jimmy divorcing his wife in order to be married to the Cowboys. (In fact, Jimmy divorced his wife while at the same time using Jerry's money to buy a house for Jimmy's hairstylist girlfriend, a house just down the block from Jimmy's.)

CLAYTON HOLMES – Pearlman obviously took a liking to the kid; in the Times Q&A, he even mentions Clayton Holmes as one of Jimmy's "successful'' draft stories. Perplexing.

JIM DENT – The accomplished Dallas-based writer is referred to as "legendary.'' Twice!

MARK STEPNOSKI – Through the fog of his pot-smoking, Step comes across as a Jimmy-hating voice of reason.

MIKE FISHER – I don't come across as a complete you-know-what. And that counts for something.

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