Whenever the topic of conversation switches to chess, Dallas
safety Brock Marion's eyes suddenly light up. Marion taught
himself how to play the game on his computer earlier this year,
and now he competes against himself on a board set up in the
living room of his house in Valley Ranch, Texas. When he comes
home from Cowboy practice or whenever he walks by the board,
he'll peek at the pieces, moving one each time he passes. Within
a week, if his two-year-old daughter, Briana, hasn't mistaken
one of the rooks for a pacifier, he'll have checkmated himself.
"I love the strategies behind chess," Marion says. "When you
study the game, you realize its intent is vicious."
A 1993 seventh-round draft choice from Nevada-Reno, Marion spent
his first two seasons with Dallas playing on special teams and
backing up free safety James Washington. When Washington signed
with the Redskins as a free agent last March, Marion assumed the
starting job would be his. But soon after Washington's departure
the Cowboys brought in big-name free-agent safeties Bubba
McDowell and Todd Scott for workouts. "[Defensive coordinator
Dave] Campo told me that everyone has to earn his starting
spot--it's not inherited," the 5'11", 193-pounder says. "But I
knew if they signed a guy for $800,000, he wouldn't sit on the
The Cowboys didn't sign anyone, but when minicamp began in May,
no starter had been named. The usually quiet Marion grew
frustrated and was on the verge of speaking out. "I felt like it
was a slap in the face," Marion says. "That's when I called my
dad. He reminded me to shut my mouth and just be ready to play."
Brock's father, Jerry, played wide receiver for the Steelers in
1967. Although his own NFL career was cut short by a knee
injury, Jerry never discouraged Brock from playing football.
When Brock was 12 years old and five pounds under the 95-pound
requirement for his peewee football league, Brock slipped a
weight into his pocket for one of the weekly team weigh-ins, and
Jerry played along as if he didn't know. "Brock was always
considered too small for any sports," says Jerry, now a
supervisor for Witco Chemical Corporation in Bakersfield, Calif.
"So I always gave him the same advice: Study the game, put
yourself in the right position, and the bigger guys won't be
able to compete against you."
By the start of training camp the Cowboys found that Marion had
followed his father's advice. Marion's solid play, not to
mention his $178,000 salary, ended the tryouts at free safety.
Through six games this season Marion has been more than just a
bargain: He ranks fourth on the team in tackles with 36, has two
interceptions and calls all the plays in the secondary. "He
defines the word safety," says Dallas strong safety Darren
Woodson. "He makes the right call and helps the right teammate
As Marion leans over the chessboard to explain a favorite
strategy, he plots just as he would in the Cowboys' defensive
backfield. After a series of maneuvers, he has the king
surrounded by all but one of his pieces in a corner of the
board. It's a bloodless massacre. "This is the way I like it,"
Marion says. "I get all my guys containing the king, except for
one, which is off to the side, ready to sting him in case he
COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKESThe Cowboys' free safety used the same patience he employs in chess to win a starting job. [Brock Marion]