Forgive me if I bypass the normal breakdown of who made a nice catch and who looked quick in 7-on-7 drills. I have some notes from the morning session and some interviews for more features — I'll get those submitted in the days ahead. In the meantime, here are some random thoughts without any attempt to construct a journalistic story. Consider it something of a journal entry:
So I was inside. The structure is (was) a sort of rubber-coated canvas tarp stretched over a skeleton structure of metal pipe — each a few inches thick. I've been in there during rains storms before, and because of the cavernous size and hollow structure of the facility, it's always kind of loud, but I've never heard it anything like what happened Saturday. Think of any war movie you've ever seen, when there's a big fight scene with machine guns going off constantly — that's what it sounded like. It was so loud I literally couldn't hear the guy next to me, and he was maybe five feet away.
It was sheer luck that I was near the door. Normally, when weather drives practice inside, the media is required to stand behind the end zone closest to the door. Because this was a mini-camp, we were told we could walk up and down the far sideline to try to take closer pictures, because the lighting inside the thing is poor, so to have a chance at any useable pictures, you have to get close. I walked up and down the sideline a couple of times, but as some of the lights went out, I was unable to get any useful pictures, so I headed back to the end zone area where the media normally stood.
When the rain got particularly loud, I looked out through the windows. The sky was virtually black, and the outdoor practice fields were virtually submerged in water. People talk about driving rain "blowing sideways," but that usually means the water is coming down on a diagonal trajectory, maybe a 45-degree angle from the ground. Saturday's rain was literally blowing sideways, completely parallel to the ground. It looked like someone was shooting off a collection of water cannons or fire hydrants.
I looked up, and was a little amused to see a few drops of rain leaking in through the roof, which had five rows (the entire length — 120 yards — of light fixtures. when the light fixtures started to swing, I got more nervous. The lights were mounted on the ceiling with some kind of metal plates, presumably screwed into the metal piping behind the tarp material. The first time I got nervous was when one of them popped free and dangled down, with the metal plate swinging maybe a foot below the ceiling by an electrical cord. Every lesson I'd ever heard about water and electricity immediately came to mind, and I crowded with the other media near the door.
I've lived in Dallas for more than 20 years — and there are some serious storms here — and when I looked out through the windows again, I was sure I've never seen a storm like this.
At that point, I looked back inside. Nobody was paying attention to the drills that the players and coaches were conducting on the field. The media and support staff and guests were watching the ceiling, watching the lights swinging, and looking at each other. Nobody was saying much — everyone looked terrified.
I then saw two walls of this thing start to buckle inward, and I took off for the door. I'd love to have some eloquent statement about how I contemplated the meaning of life or thought of my mom, but that would be a lie. I was scared to death and ran like hell. I didn't have a cosmic thought of dying, or anything that finite. I was scared and I was running.
When I got to the door, it didn't move, like someone was on the other side, pushing back. I took a few steps back to get a running start, and before I got back to the door, it buckled. The door was made of metal and glass, and bent before I hit it, with the glass breaking out. I ran out into the rain. When I turned to look back, huge pieces of the steel framework of the facility crashed down on either side of me, so I ran further into the rain.
When I looked back, the bent door had slammed shut (sort of) behind me. The tarp part of the building was torn in several places, though, and people came out — players, coaches, media, support personnel — and when people started screaming "tornado!" I got out of there, running for the main building at the Cowboys' facility.
Who knows if running out into the storm was the right thing to do. I've never been in a tornado, but I it's always said you're supposed to find a strong building and stay inside, right? Technically, Saturday's storm wasn't a tornado. It was something called a "microburst" (no, I'd never heard of that, either). The difference between the two, from what I could piece together from people afterward, is that a tornado blows in a circular motion, and the winds Saturday at Valley Ranch were blowing in a straight line. The other difference was that the winds reportedly topped out at 64 miles per hour — storms are classified as tornadoes only when the wind reaches 65 miles per hour. Correct me if I'm wrong, but that means the difference was ONE mile an hour.
So what was the right move? Who knows? Run out into the storm and get blown into a fence by the ridiculous winds? Stay inside with know way to guess what would fall, or how fast? Like I said, I didn't think — I just ran.
I headed to the closest door of the Cowboys' main building, which happens to bee the building through which the players enter every day. As always, the door was locked, with a security guard inside. I pounded on the door until he let me in, wanting to know who I was and what I wanted. I just told him "call 911 — the practice facility collapsed. Call 911."
That was the first time I started to think about what happened. I actually went to the men's room to towel off a little, as if paper towels were going to help with my shirt, jeans and shoes completely waterlogged. Almost as soon as the security guard called 911, the sun peeked through the clouds, and the rain almost stopped. At that point, I went back to see if there was any way I could help anyone. I had no idea how I would, but wasn't given the chance, anyway, as all media were steered away from the scene as emergency medical personnel already were there and doing their thing.
We were shuttled into the press conference area of the Cowboys' facility and asked to conduct a media headcount. I went to the car to see if I had a dry sweatshirt in the trunk (I didn't — dammit). By that time, emergency vehicles and media were all over the place, and I was interviewed by four TV stations, which gave me a newfound respect for the players and coaches I interview, as it's much more comfortable being the one behind the camera or asking the questions.
The team was amazing. Everyone, from the media relations staff with whom we normally deal to the equipment guys to the players and coaches themselves, did more — far more — than their own jobs. They did everything from moving debris to clearing traffic so ambulances could get through to getting towels and t-shirts for those of us who were in the facility when it collapsed. Mini-camps normally are mundane days of watching no-name rookies as they try to learn new terminology and catch a coach's eye in hopes of earning a training camp invitation, but every member of Cowboys personnel I saw shifted into another gear of energy and attentiveness to help in as many ways as possible. In many ways, they were as heroic as the police and fire and medical personnel who responded so quickly.
The ride home was long and cold. When I got home, I wasn't even sure what to do. The beer in the shower wasn't the best idea (thankfully it was in a can, not a bottle), but it helped … a little. I had no interest in writing last night, so I just called my family and then had a couple of drinks with a friend — no TV, no internet, no nothing.
I actually do have some notes from the morning practice session yesterday, and I guess I'll write them up tomorrow, although in the grand scheme of things, they're not that important. Yesterday afternoon's storm was as dramatic and scary as anything I've ever seen, and there are some folks with injuries, but in hindsight, it could have been much, much worse. Personally, I'm grateful that nobody was killed, and that I got out in one piece.
From inside the practice facility …
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