Ordinarily, I wouldn't be caught dead reading a book about the Dallas Cowboys. This is the team, after all, which killed my original hometown team, the Buffalo Bills, in two consecutive Super Bowls. But Boys will be Boys was different. It caught my eye right off the bat because it was penned by the brilliant Jeff Pearlman, author of a fun rerun of the legendary 1986 New York Mets called The Bad Guys Won, and an outstanding, almost obsessively researched biography of enigmatic baseball star Barry Bonds. Pearlman is noisily making a case for himself as one of the great sports book scribes.
In Boys will be Boys, Pearlman leaves his comfort zone covering America's pastime and goes into the more random and brutal territory of America's game. Instead of covering a single Super Bowl-winning season in the fairly long but storied history of America's so-called Team or the history in its entirety, Pearlman covers the great dynasty years of the 1990's. In The Bad Guys Won, Pearlman referred to the 1986 Mets as the last rock star team in baseball. But the days of rock star football teams apparently never went away or simply lasted longer. The 1990's Dallas dynasty played hard, partied harder, and learned the hard way that the good times couldn't roll forever.
Boys will be Boys picks up at the end of the Tom Landry era. Jerry Jones had only recently entered the picture as an Arkansas oil man who decided he wanted to buy the Dallas Cowboys. The unusual condition that he had to meet was to fire Landry, who of course was the heart, soul, face, and in fact the very living being of the team. The many things that happened in the subsequent years became legendary. First the Cowboys pull off "the trade" with the Minnesota Vikings. The most lopsided trade in NFL history, this trade sent the only good player with Dallas – Herschel Walker – and two or three draft picks to Minnesota for a total of 13 players, seven of whom were draft picks, and one of whom turned into Emmitt Smith. Pearlman explains that this trade was possible because the GM of the Vikes was a business guy and not a football guy.
The coach of the Cowboys during the time of the transition was Miami University coach Jimmy Johnson. The relationship between Jones and Johnson was portrayed as two old college roommates coming together once again for a shot at gridiron greatness. The truth, of course, was a lot different. Jones and Johnson, through most of their partnership, merely tolerated each other in the best of times. They never saw eye-to-eye on a lot of subjects, and neither of them could tolerate getting walked all over by the other. Johnson and Jones was a clash of giant egos. As much as they hated each other, however, they would not have been able to turn the Cowboys into the COWBOYS without one another. This was of course definitively proven once Jones fired Johnson and hired Barry Switzer in his place.
The most fun in Boys will be Boys comes in reading about the team itself and the various personalities who formed it: The reserved Troy Aikman, the egotistical Emmitt Smith, the crazy Charles Haley, the magnetic Deion Sanders, the sex-addicted Michael Irvin, and just cut and paste your favorite here. Even the most faceless and useless players on this Dallas team are brought to colorful life. Larry Brown, who caught the two game-winning interceptions in Super Bowl XXX just because he was standing in the right place at the right time, is even covered with a certain amount of depth. Reading about these players with their flaws and their vices might make Bills and Steelers fans feel worse about their teams losing those Super Bowls. After awhile, the question becomes "How did these animals manage to win anything at all?" Pearlman's descriptions of the Super Bowls themselves shows the Cowboys won the first very decisively; the second was tougher and could easily have slipped away; and in the third, the Pittsburgh Steelers were pushing down the field in their final drive in what would have been a monumental upset had Neil O'Donnell not gift-wrapped a last-minute interception to Brown.
A turning point is reached when Johnson is fired and Switzer and Neon Deion are hired. Johnson wasn't afraid to give out third degrees when they were necessary, and so his players were always driven and knew they always had to answer to him. Switzer was a party man hired because he was an old friend of Jerry Jones. The effect becomes noticeable immediately; if someone didn't like a practice time, he could just ask Jones to tell Switzer to move it. Switzer clearly won games because he inherited Johnson's team. Even in the week leading up to Super Bowl XXX, Switzer partied harder than anyone and his team was woefully underprepared to meet the Steelers. It also becomes painfully clear that Switzer didn't have Johnson's eye for scouting talent.
The most interesting parts of the book are in the pre-dynasty and post-dynasty days, when the dynasty was getting started and then waning down. It's interesting to see just how a team can build itself up so well only a few years after a one-win season only to end up crashing so quickly because the owner was too nosy and didn't like the head coach who really made it all possible. It's not as if the middle of the book isn't readable, though. Pearlman is able to gently tell us when the team mentality changed and the players – especially Emmitt Smith – began to really buy into their own hype. In the end, it was ego which really brough the Dallas Cowboys dynasty to a crashing halt.
Boys will be Boys manages to find that balance between football, business, and vices. Even though it covers about a decade with the emphasis on the three Super Bowls in four years, it regularly switches between the players and businessmen who made the Cowboys dynasty possible. Pearlman has a writing style which I can only describe as street-level. It's well-written, but it takes a sarcastic tone in many places. It's readable for anyone at just about any reading level. It's one of the best football books available, and it shouldn't be missed even if you're one of those people who wonders how these guys have the gall to call themselves America's Team.
I sat down one Saturday to read Boys Will Be Boys, about the 1990 Dallas Cowboys, and couldn't put it down. This book chronicles the hard partying team that won three Super Bowls in four years and is definitively the team of the 1990's. Given the drinking, drugs, women, and super hard partying this team engaged in during their run in the 1990's it is simply amazing that they were able to win championships. I'm not sure if it is a testament to just what phenomenal athletes … more