Orgies. Rape and assault charges. Indecent-exposure convictions.
Rampant drug and alcohol abuse. A coach looking the other way.
Barry Switzer's Dallas Cowboys?
No, Tom Landry's.
If any irony can be found in the inexcusable misbehavior of
several current Cowboys, it's in the widely held perception that
Switzer and owner Jerry Jones are leading America's Team
straight to hell. The historical truth is that even under
Landry--God's coach--the Cowboys often led the NFL in
Many fans are under the mistaken impression that until recently
America's Team has been filled with the country's foremost role
models. In fact, because of the gladiators' sport they play and
the Cowboys-crazed city they play in, these guys have long been
among the worst role models in sports--an impression reinforced
again last week when a former topless dancer accused receiver
Michael Irvin and tackle Erik Williams of sexually assaulting
her at gunpoint. (They denied the charge.)
For years the quickest way to impress friends or business
associates in Dallas has been to say you know a Cowboy
or--better--that you partied with one. Cowboys with character
flaws have found that Dallas nights can be a blur of women who
will supply sex and men who will supply drugs. Dallas sometimes
has loved its Cowboys almost to death.
Perhaps the most realistic sports movie ever made was based on
former Cowboys receiver Peter Gent's novel North Dallas Forty,
which was based on Landry's booze-guzzling, pill-popping,
groupie-groping teams of the 1960s. Exaggeration? "No, it had
the ring of truth," says former Cowboys defensive end Pat
Toomay. "The difference back then was that guys weren't getting
caught the way they are now [by police, modern NFL drug testing
or packs of media watchdogs]."
Still, a long list of Dallas players from the Landry era was
involved with drugs. Pro Bowl linebacker Thomas (Hollywood)
Henderson admitted to snorting cocaine during Super Bowl XIII,
and later was convicted of sexual battery and served 2 1/2 years
in prison. All-Pro receiver Bob Hayes spent 10 months in jail
for drug trafficking after he retired. All-Pro defensive end
Harvey Martin wrote in his book, Texas Thunder, of using drugs
while playing for the Cowboys. Defensive end Larry Bethea
eventually lost his battle with drugs and committed suicide.
Personnel director Gil Brandt told reporters that All-Pro
lineman John Niland "was on some substance" when in '73 he
walked barefoot nearly three miles from a hospital, banging on
doors and talking about seeing God, until six policemen finally
subdued him. Hall of Fame defensive tackle Randy White has said
he used steroids--before they were a banned substance in the NFL.
In the early 1980s FBI agents interviewed several Cowboys in
connection with a drug investigation, and though no charges were
filed, rival fans began calling Dallas "South America's Team."
In my book God's Coach, former Cowboys scout John Wooten said,
"Coach Landry was approached [by team officials in 1983] and
told we were going to lose this team to drugs.... But he just
couldn't believe the effect it could have.... [Landry thought
that] the team was still close enough to a Super Bowl that just
a little more time, and it would be O.K." Sound familiar?
Landry's Cowboys fell to 3-13 in '88, his final season.
You want sex? In separate incidents, receiver Lance Rentzel and
kicker Rafael Septien pleaded guilty to sex charges involving
10-year-old girls. Defensive end Ed (Too Tall) Jones hosted an
annual Memorial Day party that rivaled falling Rome's best (or
worst), according to several players, including former Dallas
player representative Dextor Clinkscale, who chuckles over
reports that today's Cowboys leased a house for extramarital
orgies. "Guys have been renting places like that for years,"
Yes, Jerry Jones has a "well-earned reputation as a late-night
carouser," as SI's Peter King wrote in this space last April.
Yes, Jones sets a permissive tone. But former Cowboys president
Tex Schramm and members of his staff rivaled Jones for nocturnal
escapades, though that wasn't publicized.
Above it all towered Landry, known for his Christian faith. At
his right hand from 1969 through '79 sat quarterback Roger
Staubach, who came as close to being a role model as any
football player I've consistently observed. For many fans,
Landry and Staubach formed an image that continues to obscure
reality. When NFL Films titled its '78 Cowboys' highlight reel
America's Team, the nickname stuck. No doubt the Cowboys are
America's most loved, hated and covered team, and no doubt
they've had their share of class guys. But mostly because of the
Landry-Staubach legacy, many fans still expect America's Team to
be America's cream. The painful truth is, maybe it has always
represented America more accurately than we care to see.
Skip Bayless is a Dallas-based sportswriter and commentator.
B/W PHOTO: PHOTOFEST Nick Nolte got a "North Dallas Forty" player down pat. [Nick Nolte in movie North Dallas Forty]