I got my copy of Boys Will Be Boys, Jeff Pearlman's recent take on the '90s Dallas Cowboys, on Tuesday...And finished it last night. I know plenty of people have already read the teasers for this book or heard reviews about how awesome it is. I'm not here to disagree with them at all.
This is a fantastic take on a subject that demanded good research and good writing. Pearlman provides both. Though keep the kids away, it's definitely X-rated (and not for the squeamish). Some notes on Boys Will Be Boys:
1. Can you think of a more intriguing subject in NFL history than the 1990s Cowboys? I still remember how in awe I was of them at seven-years old when they were beating up the Bills back in Super Bowl XXVII.
I never thought that team could lose, it was so loaded. I also remembered how much I hated them (and Deion Sanders) in Super Bowl XXX. Maybe these recent Patriot teams were better coached, but few teams, if any, could match that Dallas squad for sheer talent.
2. Jeff Pearlman (famous for the John Rocker interview), an excellent writer, has gradually gotten better. His first effort, The Bad Guys Won, on the 1986 Mets was good, not great. It got good reviews and was a bestseller, but there was something missing (or perhaps I'm nitpicking).
He followed that up with his surreal take on Barry Bonds, Love Me, Hate Me. In my opinion, this is the best Bonds book ever to be written, unless someone shoots him up with truth serum, records his thoughts on everything and he allows it to be on the record.
And Boys Will Be Boys is just a masterpiece. If I have one big criticism of Pearlman, his long-running analogies suck (someone else has to know this). Otherwise, a superb job.
3. Gave a fantastic in-depth look at the triplets. For instance, Troy Aikman was probably the Tom Brady of his time. Nice guy, hard-working, country boy, wants to win a championship.
Emmitt Smith was exposed as an insecure man who craved personal attention more than anyone else. And yet, when the chips were down, he came through (like his performance in the '93 Giants game, running hard with a separated shoulder).
But no one is more polarizing than Michael Irvin. Annoyingly brash, sexual deviant, habitual drug user. But we also see that he was probably the hardest-working person on the team, the proverbial "first to be there, last to leave" kind of guy.
I probably gained a little more respect for him as a football player after I read the book. But it still seemed like he couldn't help himself from trouble (the book opens with a story about how he almost killed a teammate).
4. Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson are both given the full treatment here. Brash, insecure, rude, obnoxious. They both come off as power-hungry buffoons. Make no mistake, Johnson's departure (which probably cost Dallas at least one, and probably two Super Bowls) was the fault of both men.
Whoever deserves more blame is irrelevant. It's amazing how much inner-office turmoil torpedoed all three major sports dynasties of the 1990s (Cowboys, Bulls, and Yankees).
5. The amazing and dizzying ride from 1-15 team to Super Bowl winner is brilliantly chronicled. From the dying days of the Landry years to the rise of a dominant force, we are presented with plenty of angles as to how the dynasty came into being.
Most interesting was the background to the Herschel Walker trade, which almost single-handedly laid the foundation for the Cowboys to build and submarined what could have been an excellent decade for the Minnesota Vikings. Two teams just went on completely different paths.
6. Charles Haley just comes off as an amazingly strange human being. Exhibitionism and public masturbation? This dude had serious issues and no one seemed to be willing to say "Uh, Charles? Maybe you should see a shrink."
Apparently he was on some kind of meds, but when he was off...Watch out. I have always tried to separate the personal/off-field stuff from athletes, but I don't think I'll ever think about Haley the same again. Not that he's a bad guy, he's just so bleeping weird!
7. Speaking of weird acts, the Dallas Cowboys loved sex. I mean...These guys loved sex. You can't go 10 pages in this book without hearing some crazed, orgiastic story.
Apparently not only did the Cowboys love women, but most of them loved more than one at one time, if you know what I mean (and if you don't, good). What was in the water in Dallas during the '90s? Did someone slip in an aphrodisiac?
And, this may come as a surprise I know, but Jerry Jones probably did his thing more than any of his players except Irvin. I'd have to imagine the book's most frequent adjective is "strip" and its most frequent noun is "club." The fact that they had a party place named "The White House" (making Animal House look like a Baptist College) should tell you all you need to know.
8. Barry Switzer. Wow. Not only does he come off as just a horrid football coach, he basically gives validation to every guy who thinks all that's needed to coach a team is good assistants to do all the work.
A terrible game coach who probably partied harder than his players. He only invokes jealousy in those who think that they can do his job. I've always held the understanding that you can win baseball and basketball championships with a lousy manager or coach, but definitely not football because everything is so choreographed (and I think the tradition that a baseball manager has a big impact on his team is overrated, but that's another story for another day).
Switzer's failings make you wonder if coaching really is that easy or if the Cowboys were just that talented. Personally, I'm going with the latter.
9. The Cowboys desire to win took a sharp downturn after Super Bowl XXVIII. Basically, they just didn't want it as much as they had. Part of this can be blamed on Switzer, part of it on complacency.
And yet they still won a Super Bowl and almost went to another (which they would have won). I don't even know if the Patriots of recent years had that collection of talent over a span of time, and I wonder in the modern era if we'll ever see it again.
10. A slight aside, Jeff Pearlman rightly calls out Skip Bayless over his faulty take on the Cowboys, Hell Bent. Shoddy research, blanket statements, shock value...Just plain irresponsible journalism from Skip. He's is probably the worst writer in sports.
Even though I've been writing on here for only a few days, I have no doubt that I would put up anyone's work on this site against Bayless. Him, Stephen A. Smith, and all the morons from Around the Horn (particularly Mariotti, Paige, and Plaschke) are a big reason why I try to watch as little of ESPN as possible.
I know Pearlman contributes to ESPN, though I don't think he and Bayless are colleagues, so he wasn't tied down to the corporate dictatorship that the worldwide leader imparts on its employees (which led to the shameful firing of Jason Whitlock, who is, in my opinion, one of the best sports writers out there).
At any rate, Pearlman doesn't shred Bayless like I'm doing, but he rightfully attacks his journalistic integrity and the terrible book it produced. Should be enjoyable for anyone who hates Bayless. End tangent.
11. The Deion Sanders stuff was really interesting and it definitely helped to debunk the myth that Sanders was as dominant as portrayed. Sure, he was a really good corner. But one gets the sense that the Cowboys could have won Super Bowl XXX without him.
Still, an interesting look at his career, because after his near-suicidal experience, he definitely seemed to become a better player.
There's plenty more. I'd advise you, if your even somewhat of a pro-football fan, to pick up this book. It's an easy read, yet has a lot of depth. And there are few better teams to get this kind of examination than the 1990s Cowboys.