Boys Will Be Boys: The '90s Dallas Cowboys Dynasty and a Q&A with Jeff Pearlman
The following is an exclusive story from Pigskinheaven.com. I'm the original author and with permission, I've brought the story over for the benefit of the Bleacher Report community.
Jeff Pearlman is an ESPN.com columnist and New York Times best-selling author. Pearlman has written about Barry Bonds in Love Me, Hate Me, and the 1986 New York Mets in The Bad Guys Won!. Now he covers football with the 1990s Dallas Cowboys’ dynasty in Boys Will Be Boys.
Jeff was gracious enough to sit down with Pigskin Heaven and discuss his book, which is in stores now and can be found at various places where books are sold.
I spent time reading the book and preparing questions to grill Pearlman with. He answered questions about the relationship between Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson, the wackiness of Charles Haley, the comparison between the current Cowboys and the teams of the '90s, and Jeff’s on-air encounter with the NFL’s All-Time rushing leader, Emmitt Smith.
You can read my review of Boys Will Be Boys following the author Q&A. Following that is a perspective look at the Cowboys' dynasty team and how it compares to the current Dallas team.
The following is my discussion with Jeff Pearlman:
Nino: The way Jerry Jones acted was real interesting. He did great things for the people in his organization, like providing gifts to his players and of all things, getting the body of a deceased Valley Ranch Janitor who died in Mexico back to his family. But he also did a lot of rotten and selfish things, specifically the way he got rid of Jimmy Johnson and how he refused to give Emmitt Smith a new contract when his team needed him. He did a lot of good things that you don’t hear about. Was it just a matter of his ego getting in the way when the spotlight was on him?
Jeff: There's no such thing as a completely black and white human being. Jerry's like all of us—he has his great moments, his bad moments. To be honest, when I saw the depth of your questions tonight I thought, 'Hmm, maybe I'll just blow them off.' I'm being honest about that. Now am I a dickhead? My wife would say no. But it would have been a majorly dickheaded act. So I think Jerry's kindness was true, and I think his greed was true. He's just human.
Nino: Jimmy Johnson comes off as a real maverick and sometimes a cold human being, but I think it’s fair to say he was the mastermind behind the whole dynasty. He pretty much assembled the talent and molded those teams to win games, despite the collection of egos and personalities. He was sent packing out of Dallas rather unfairly, but given his personality, was it really a shock? It seems like he was a real jerk, even when he wasn’t “coaching.”
Jeff: He was a jerk, but that's what made him a great coach. Little compassion, little decency toward his players. Was it shocking that he was dumped? I'd actually say yes, because few owners would rid themselves as the coach who won the last two Super Bowls. But Jerry tired of Jimmy—of his attitude, his cockiness, his swagger, his cruelty. Just tired.
Nino: The relationship between Jones and Johnson was described as “like but not strong like.” How did they go from having a relationship of mutual respect as teammates and co-workers, to pretty a messy divorce?
Jeff: Well, they were never as close as the media indicated at the time, so it wasn't like they started as the world's closest buddies. It's like any business run by two power-hungry egomaniacs who initially convince themselves the marriage can work, then realize, oops, maybe not. Jerry wanted to be involved in every football decision. Jimmy thought Jerry was a grid moron. Jimmy wanted to be known as a lone ranger. Jerry loved the whole 'Two guys from Arkansas' storyline. In a sense, it's amazing they lasted five years together.
Nino: To play on these Cowboy teams, you almost had to be a dysfunctional person in some way. It seems as if they had an entire team of “real Cowboys” as you put it. Do think that idea was on purpose or did the culmination of obscure personalities just start with a few, but grow into many?
Jeff: No, it wasn't on purpose. But you had guys like Irvin, Harper, Nate Newton partying like Aerosmith, and others joined in. Look at it this way: You're a fifth-round pick who makes the Cowboys. You see the stars smoke pot, **** around on their wives, drink to excess five nights per week. Well, what are you supposed to do? That's how it morphed from one, two, three players to 20, 21, 22 ...
Nino: How much parallel does this team have to the current group of Dallas Cowboys? Tony Romo is sort of in that Aikman-like mold and now he has his own Lorrie Morgan and Jay Novacek. There were no shortage of different and explosive personalities in the '90s Dallas teams, and there certainly aren’t shortages of them on the current Cowboys. It seems as if, in a way at least, that Jerry Jones has tried to rebuild the old Cowboys with his “Sign anyone, no matter the consequences” attitude. Jimmy Johnson did most of the work on that team, and Jerry seems to have his hands on the current one, did he apply that method from Johnson?
Jeff: I don't think it's on purpose, and the comparisons probably wouldn't be made were they two different franchises. The TO-Irvin comparison is fair and understandable, but Tony Romo has to do a lot more to be placed in Aikman's class, and Marion Barber is a solid runner—but no Emmitt. Really, with the exception of Owens, the modern Cowboys lack the charisma, the cohesion, the skill of the '90s dynasty. But I understand why people draw the parallels—it's convenient and sort of fun.
Nino: The whole story really came full-circle with Michael Irvin, who starts the book out by stabbing a teammate and ends it going into the Hall of Fame. How does someone act like such a rotten human being by cheating on his wife and doing drugs, but also act like the gold-standard as far as a football player and a teammate goes?
Jeff: That's the beauty of Michael Irvin. Right now you could take 100 diehard Cowboys fans and ask them who they love more: Mike or Emmitt, and 98 would say Irvin. He just has something about him—charisma, aura, pizazz; something that makes people love him. And, factually, he was a great teammate. Dogged worker, extremely positive, never missed a meeting, skipped a workout, dissed a teammate. Again, it's the whole black-white thing. We all have flaws, we all have strong points.
Nino: Things changed with Barry Switzer. Jay Novacek said the team needed that change because Jimmy Johnson was wearing thin. But that wasn’t the best thing in terms of long-term success, was it? Would Jimmy Johnson have won with that group of players, or would he have made changes in order to keep his team hungry?
Jeff: Well, free agency is free agency and aging is aging, so one can only do so much. Do I think Jimmy could have pulled out one more Super Bowl in 1994? Probably. But the truth is, he had worn out his welcome, and players were sick and tired of his act. You can take screaming and screaming and screaming, but eventually you're going to bite back. Same with all the mind games Jimmy used—eventually, it's no longer a mystery, it's just hackneyed bull****. Jimmy hadn't 100 percent reached that point, but he was awfully close.
Nino: Emmitt Smith made a snide remark towards you on an Outside the Lines feature. Compared to some of the other people that were covered in detail, Emmitt didn’t really look that bad, aside from turning into a very selfish human being. What do you think possessed him to make the “keep writing books” comment?
Jeff: I think he sees the '90s Cowboys as his team, and who was I—an outsider—to delve into such a topic? I've seen it before with other athletes, and I understand it. They take legacy very, very personally and don't want people messing with it.
Nino: Charles Haley has to be the craziest individual to every play the game of football. How much did his personality embody his team’s collective image?
Jeff: Not as much as you'd think. Haley was a single Fruit Loop in a box of Honey Nut Cherrios. Yes, the Cowboys were extreme and wild and crazy and often unbalanced. But Haley was, quite frankly, myriad screws short of a tool set. He was out there, so much so that I believe his personality didn't embody the team's image at all.
Nino: Is it safe to say, a team like the '90s Cowboys, a group that was heavily involved in drugs and promiscuity, would not be able to survive in today’s NFL? Both in terms of media coverage and the way the game is played, where talent is on every NFL team and you can’t simply throw your helmet onto the field and win?
Jeff: I don't think talent's the issue, because there are still teams that have more than others. But as far as the media, it'd be tough. Those Cowboys were the last dynasty before YouTube and Deadspin and 800 other blogs and sites just waiting to show a video of a football star throwing $100 bills at a three-nippled hooker. Now, with every cell phone including a camera, we're all reporters. All that stuff that seemed hidden back in the day would be everywhere. Absolutely everywhere.
Boys Will Be Boys - The glory days and party nights of the Dallas Cowboys dynasty
The Dallas Cowboys of the early 1990s was quite the group of personalities.
And now, we finally have a book that explains just about all of them.
Boys Will Be Boys covers everything about the dynasty that was the '90s Cowboys. From its egotistical owner Jerry Jones to the man that signaled the beginning of the end in Deion Sanders. Every player, coach, and moment leaves you saying the same thing when all is said and done, “This team won three Super Bowls?”
They did, and the one word that could describe the collective group would be “unbelievable.” They were unbelievable in a sense of unbelievable talent and unbelievable personalities.
It started with the man that got rid of a living legend in Tom Landry. Who would have the audacity to fire the man who was the soul of the Dallas Cowboys? The same man who would bring in the mastermind that would guide the Cowboys to three championships. Jerry Jones, of course.
Jones was an Arkansas oil driller with the boyhood aspirations of owning a professional football franchise. When he finally did, his first and probably most brilliant move was to hire his Arkansas football teammate, Jimmy Johnson.
Johnson was the mastermind behind the entire operation. Coming over from the University of Miami, after winning a National Title, Johnson had the daunting task of turning the Cowboys into winners.
The tough as nails, no-nonsense, and completely driven coach would build a winner rather quickly—thanks in part to the trade of Hershel Walker. He assembled football players that had talent only matched by the magnitude of their off-the-field vices and problems.
One of those players was Charles Haley, acquired in a trade with the San Francisco 49ers. Haley wore out his welcome in San Francisco, but his naked locker room escapades were welcomed by Jones and Johnson because he helped them do one thing...Win.
That was the ultimate goal for everyone that was a part of this dynasty. To win and win again. Personalities and problems be damned, Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson both understood what had to be done to win.
But only Johnson could make it all work.
After Jones’ complete takeover, which resulted in the firing of Johnson, Barry Switzer took the reigns of a wild and exhausted team. The change was one that gave the Cowboys a second wind to win another title, but it was also their eventual doom.
Jeff Pearlman covers every base of the Dallas Cowboys dynasty in his new book.
Pearlman uncovers little known stories about players like Haley and Michael Irvin, including the stabbing of Everett McIver by the Hall of Fame Receiver and Charles Haley’s numerous pranks that included the male anatomy.
There are also the side-stories, perfectly woven into the main storyline of the Cowboys’ run: The relationship between quarterback Troy Aikman and radio analyst Dale Hansen; the constant battle Johnson carried with his players that weren’t superstars; the backgrounds of those non-superstars like Robert Jones and Derrick Lassic; and the beginnings of everyone, including Jerry Jones, Jimmy Johnson, Troy Aikman, and everyone else that played a big part in the Cowboys success.
Boys Will Be Boys also takes you inside the huddles of the teams that were the victims of the Cowboys' success. The Buffalo Bills and their repeated losses and the upset-minded Pittsburgh Steelers, who were a Neil O’Donnell interception away from disrupting the dynasty.
Whether they knew it or not, those teams were overcome by a superiorly-talented bunch, one that also had a lot of excitement off the field. A team that had their very own “frat house” called The White House.
From Jerry Jones’ purchase, to the induction of Michael Irvin, Jeff Pearlman ties up every end in Boys Will Be Boys.
You may know the Cowboys won a few Super Bowls’ in the 1990s, but do you know how?
It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t pretty, and thanks to Pearlman, we know it wasn’t clean.
An in-depth look at the current Dallas Cowboys and their comparison to the '90s dynasty:
“We’re the Dallas Cowboys, and we’ll do whatever we damn well please.”
Perhaps this quote from Boys Will Be Boys, the Jeff Pearlman authored book about the 1990s Dallas Cowboys dynasty, is the motto that Jerry Jones lives by today.
Jones has done his job of assembling a group of dysfunctional personalities and off-the-field antics. Granted, there is no Charles Haley running naked through the locker room, at least to our knowledge, and Tony Romo doesn’t have a relationship with the Cowboys’ radio analyst. But, you cannot deny the eerily similar approach Jones has taken towards building his current team.
Jimmy Johnson took the “if you can play, you can play for the Cowboys” approach when he put together the teams of the 1990s. He didn’t care if you were a screw-loose like Haley or an apparently lazy bum like Tony Casillas. If you could play good football, you could play Cowboy football.
Jerry Jones wanted credit for what Johnson built, so when he didn’t get it from him and ran Johnson out of town, perhaps he figured he’d adapt his approach to assembling a team.
His star wide receiver is a flashy touchdown catcher that wants the ball. Terrell Owens is by no means the teammate that Michael Irvin was, and he probably doesn’t have the off-the-field demons that Irvin had, but you can’t deny the wide smile and glamorous personality.
Tank Johnson has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor weapons charge, been suspended from the NFL for those same acts, and arrested for weapons possession at a nightclub. The Chicago Bears sent him packing after he was caught speeding.
He landed in Dallas and was welcomed by Jones.
Adam Jones has been the poster child for Roger Goodell’s crackdown on NFL players and getting in trouble. So really, are we shocked that Jones went out and took a chance on him, too?
It isn’t just picking up players that are in trouble or that have different attitudes. Jones has somehow built a duplication of the nucleus that made the '90s Cowboys successful.
His quarterback isn’t Troy Aikman, but he has the media circus of the Hall of Famer. Tony Romo is involved in a well-publicized relationship with singer Jessica Simpson. Aikman was involved with country singer Lorrie Morgan at one point in his career. Aikman was a media darling. Romo has become the same.
One of his better friends is the quiet, but extremely talented, tight end. Jason Witten is in the Jay Novacek mold, an athletic tight end that can run down the field and make the great catch.
Was all of this on purpose? No, Jerry Jones didn’t plan on having his quarterback date a pop-singer or any of that stuff. But it certainly is funny to see how it’s playing out.
The difference between the team that Jimmy Johnson created was that he could get his teams to play. Wade Phillips isn’t a disciplinarian, and he certainly isn’t going to burst into the locker room and cut someone like Miles Austin for dropping a pass, nor does he have the authority to do that.
Jerry Jones doesn’t have a Jimmy Johnson to set his team in line and make them play the game no matter what type of attitude or problem they have.
You can’t have a team like the Dallas Cowboys' current roster and expect to be successful in this day and age. If you do, you need a coach that isn’t afraid to set his team straight, and those simply don’t grow on trees.
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