Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The 'Boys, Charles Haley, the Facts of Life and more: An Oh No Romo Exclusive with Jeff Pearlman

We have a special treat for you kiddies today. Former SI writer, Jeff Pearlman was kind enough to do an interview with us. His new book is Boys will Be Boys, which discusses the dynasty of the Dallas Cowboys. The book is slated for release on Sept. 16. In the mean time, you can enjoy this Q&A session with Mr. Pearlman. (Note: No Preview is planned for today.)

There have been several books written on the Cowboys of the 1990s. What makes this book different from all of the others out there?

Excellent question. Having read every Cowboy book that's probably ever existed at this point, I feel safe in saying "Boys Will Be Boys" is very unique. If there's a writer who's tried to make the 90s Cowboys his own, it's Skip Bayless, who wrote three 90s Cowboys books in a very short span. I don't know Skip, certainly respect his talent as a writer—but his work is very, very, very gossipy, and I consider the way he "outed" Troy Aikman in Hell Bent to be one of the most unprofessional things in modern sports journalism. It's something that should have had him blackballed from journalism, but didn't.

Last year Norm Hitzges came out with what I'd consider to be the best '90s Cowboys work until that time, a beautiful coffee table book with large photos and cool details.

But my book is different. First off, I researched the hell out of it. People think guys like Skip are at an advantage, having covered the team, but I disagree. Coming from my vantage point, I couldn't rely on having attended practices or having go-to guys. So I literally tried to interview everyone. Every roster player, every training camp attendee, every coach, assistant, executive, hanger-on, etc. Details, details, details—it's a very detailed book. I also went out of my way to merge two disparate story lines—the amazing on-the-field Cowboys and the wild off-the-field Cowboys. I wanted to weave a narrative from the two, and rely first and foremost on reporting, not merely rumors and passed-down stories that have been reheated 100 times.

That's an awfully long winded answer. Put briefly, I'm very proud of what I'm offering, and think readers will uncover a very serendipitous read.

Is there one central figure that this book focuses on?

No, though I'd say the four stars are Michael Irvin, Charles Haley, Barry Switzer and Jimmy Johnson. Not be design, just how it unfolded.

How many players did you interview for the book and who were some of the notables you met with?

I spoke to 146 Cowboy players, coaches and administrators for this book, and probably interviewed, oh, 250-280 people overall. The key guys, as far as material, were probably Mike Irvin, who I stalked out at his Hall of Fame weekend, Clayton Holmes, Kenny Gant, Jim Jeffcoat, Larry Brown. There's a misconception about book writing, that you NEED the big names (Aikman, Emmitt, Irvin, etc) or a book can't be good.

From my first book, The Bad Guys Won!, I learned the opposite. Neither Dwight Gooden nor Strawberry spoke with me, and it didn't matter. They've been interviewed about '86 hundreds of times. The keys were the backup catchers, the long relievers, etc. Same with the Cowboys. Aikman and Emmitt didn't talk, and I wasn't overly concerned, because they've told their stories hundreds of times. The keys were tracking down men like Clayton, Kenny, Hugh Millen—the guys who were there, who witnessed it all and who have never been asked on the record.

Which player interested you the most writing this book and why?

Oh, Charles Haley. He peed in a teammate's car, masturbated in the locker room, very manic, loved, hated, loathed, tolerated. The ultimate merging of tragic and victorious.

You mention on your web site that you wanted to avoid being typecast as a writer who reports on just the negative aspects. How did you do that in Boys will Be Boys?

Well, I made it as much about the actual football as anything else. You can read Skip's work and forget there was actually a football team involved. That's not a rip, because drama sells. But I was just as fascinated by the on-field dynamic between Irvin and Harper, or Aikman's maturation as a QB. This is a football book.

How much emphasis did you put on the Herschel Walker trade? How much of an impact did that have on the Cowboys of the 90s?

Man, that was huge. You're talking about the best (Cowboys)/worst (Vikings) trade in NFL history. Put simply, without that deal the Cowboys don't win three Super Bowls. No way! It was both brilliant on the part of Jimmy Johnson and moronic on the part of the Vikes' Mike Lynn, who was a business guy trying to make personnel decisions on his own.

You also mention on your site that Deion Sanders was sort of the beginning of the end to the dynasty. He did help win a Super Bowl. What caused the end of this dynasty?

A lot of things. Aging, arrogance, indifference. Deion is a good person, and I think his heart is in the right place. But the '90s Cowboys were built as a cohesive, unselfish unit. Jimmy Johnson didn't tolerate selfishness. His model was Mike Irvin, an off-the-field disaster, but an insanely hard worker; special teammate.

Deion came in and didn't work hard; took practices off; taught younger players how NOT to act. Plus, he brought religion into the locker room, and suddenly guys who used to be studying film were attending extended Bible study. I've got no beef with religion, but myriad players said Deion took the focus away from football.

Could the dynasty have lasted longer if Jimmy Johnson stayed on as coach longer, or was it inevitable (Ed. the demise)?

I think it could have. He was simply a 100,000-times better coach than Barry Switzer, and all the discipline was lost when Jimmy departed. You're talking about an insanely talented collection of football players who smelled blood when Barry arrived. They knew they could walk all over him—and they did.

What was Barry Switzer's relationship like with the players? Who did he get along with the most? Least?

Despite what people think, players loved Barry in a way they didn't love Jimmy. Jimmy was actually hated by a lot of guys, who felt more like pieces of hardware than human beings under his reign. The problem is, loving your coach isn't always such a great thing.

Barry would cut practices short, let players goof around, etc. As for who he got along with best/worst: Worst was clearly Troy Aikman, who came to despise his laid-back attitude. Best was hard to say. Nate Newton loved him. So did Deion.

In your opinion, how does this dynasty rank with all the other NFL dynasties of the past and even the present?

Oh, I think these Cowboys would have put a real ass kicking to the modern-day Patriots. Too athletic, too skilled, too fast. Just a better all-around team, and Jimmy was the perfect coach. They're right at the top, probably with those Bill Walsh Niners and Lombardi Packers.

Will there ever be another dynasty like the Cowboys?

Only if there's an NFL city where magnificent football talent coincides with a resurgence of strip clubs.

Now comes the best part of this show. We took it upon ourselves to ask some fun questions. Enjoy.

If you could be any member of the 90s Cowboys, who would you be and why?

Easy—Alvin Harper. I've long dreamed of being banned from a strip club. Plus, single coverage all day.

Which Leon Lett moment would you rather be apart of: Thanksgiving Day against the Dolphins or the Super Bowl fumble?

Well, the Super Bowl was humiliating, but relatively inconsequential. That Miami gaffe, though, cost Dallas the game and goes down, alongside Jim Marshall's wrong-way run, as the most humiliating in league history. So, from Leon's standpoint, I'll take the super Bowl.

You start a team and you only have Steve Walsh and Steve Beurlein to choose from: Who do you choose and why?

Oh, not Walsh. He was a nice system QB and a very solid backup. But Beuerlein was a legit NFL starter who really knew how to manage a game. Now if it's between Walsh and Babe Laufenberg...

If you could be Deion for a day, what would you do? (Without getting you into trouble with your wife of course.)

I'd do everything to get out of my contract for another season of "Prime Time Love."

You made a Facts of Life reference, therefore I'm obligated to ask this question. Which Facts of Life character best describes you?

I'd say Natalie. Sorta geeky, Jewish and desperately wanting to roll with Kim Fields. (Ed. I'm more of a Natalie, with maybe a little Jo in me, possibly an element of Tootie.)

According to your biography on your web site, you mentioned that you dance professionally on the World Polka Challenge Tour. Me being part Polish, it's a running joke in my family that all the Polka songs sound the same. Any truth to that rumor? Also, do you play a mean accordion?

To be honest, I recently gave up Polka and am forming a Tupac Shakur tribute band. And, yes, that's me on accordion in "Brenda's Got a Baby."

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