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The Dallas Cowboys and their fall from "America's Team"

by Joseph Rodgers

America's team the Dallas Cowboys have undergone major changes since Jerry Jones bought the team in 1989. The Cowboys have become the most watched and beloved team in America and all have been witness to their own rise and fall from grace. The duo of Jerry Jones and his puppet coach Barry Switzer has been too lax as the leaders of the team and they have tainted the shine on the star of the Dallas Cowboys with drugs, scandals, hookers, alcohol, and crime. All of this left the Dallas Cowboy fans feeling betrayed by their team. The Dallas Cowboys have an extremely large viewing audience, many of whom are young impressionable children who worship these "role models" This tale of wonder and destruction starts with the owner on a short trip out of the U.S.A.

In early Sept. of 1988 oil-and-gas tycoon Jerry Jones was reading the sports section of a newspaper, while on a short getaway in Cabo San Lucas. In the newspaper he read an article about H.R. Bright's Dallas Cowboys being up for sale. Jerry and his son Stephen had already kicked around the idea of owning an NFL team and when Jerry returned to the United States he contacted Bright about buying the team. Jones's only condition was that he would be allowed to bring in a new head coach. Bright was extremely happy because he had been trying to get rid of the Cowboys' then current coach Tom Landry. On Feb. 25, 1989 Jones finalized the deal and gave Tom Landry his pink slip. In Jones' first press conference as owner of the Dallas Cowboys he introduced Jimmy Johnson his old college teammate and roommate as new head coach.

Over the next four years Jones and Johnson built and excellent coaching staff and an extremely talented football team, through Johnson's eye for talent, shrewd trades, and the ability to motivate. Even thought the team was beginning to mesh, Johnson and his quarterback Troy Aikman were having some problems. Aikman resented Johnson for drafting a young quarterback whom Johnson had coached at Miami named Steve Walsh. Johnson gave Walsh and Aikman equal opportunity to win the starting quarterback job but since Aikman was told by Jones that they were going to build the Cowboys around Aikman, he felt Johnson should not have done that to him.

Aikman and Johnson did not get along until a team Christmas party in 1991. Johnson had yelled at the team on the plane ride home from a game they just lost and Aikman took it upon himself, as team leader to talk to Johnson about the incident. Johnson and Aikman began talking about personal things and soon they both discovered how much each loved perfect practices and tropical fish. Who would have known that this coach and quarterback combination would bond over fish and practices? Johnson and Aikman soon became good friends and still talk even though Johnson coaches another NFL team.

With it's coach and quarterback working well together, the Cowboys finished the regular season with a record of 13 wins and 3 losses. The Cowboys breezed through the playoffs, beating Philadelphia at home and San Francisco away. For the first time in fifteen years the Dallas Cowboys were in the Super Bowl. They crushed their opponents the Buffalo Bills 52-17. They also won the next Super Bowl over Buffalo again 30-13.

Jones desperately wanted to be one of the "boys". He took credit for many trades, personnel decisions, draft choices, and free-agent signings, when Johnson did most of the work. This annoyed Johnson to the very core and he put up with it for five years, but his assistants and friends could not tell how much longer Jimmy and Jerry would last. Johnson said in an interview that he had some interest in coaching the expansion team that was going to be in Jacksonville. He also " accidentally" said " He wondered if Jones had taken $20,000 of the $60,000 the league gave the Cowboys for a team party." on The Late Show with David Letterman.(qtd in Bayless Hell-Bent 78) Both of these remarks were said before the Cowboys won their second straight Super Bowl. Looking back at 1994 many reporters and fans believe, Jones was growing tired of Johnson's fits of rage, lack of respect, and trying to take total control of Jerry's team.

At the league meetings in March of 1994 Johnson, girlfriend Rhonda, former coordinators Dave Wannstedt and Norv Turner, their wives, Bob Ackles, and Brenda Bushell were sitting around drinking, celebrating their second straight Super Bowl, and conversing when Jerry Jones walked into the room and came over to their table. Since none of the people at the table socialized with Jones or wanted him around when they were not working for him, they basically ignored him. Jerry became quiet furious and said "you goddamn people just go on with your goddamn party." (qtd in Bayless Hell-Bent 79)

Jones went back to his hotel and proceeded to tell a group of reporters, two of whom worked in the Dallas media, not to go to bed cause they were going to miss the sports story of the year. Jones said "I think there are 500 who could have coached this team to the Super Bowl. I really believe that." (qtd in Bayless Hell-Bent 80) He later mentioned that even he could have coached it. Jones supposedly told some reporters in the bar he just might fire Jimmy Johnson, replace him with Barry Switzer, and that he should have done it two years ago. Within days Switzer and Jones were conversing by phone about the idea of Switzer coaching the Cowboys.

Jones invited Switzer and his family to Dallas, right after Jones' last press conference with Jimmy Johnson where Johnson stepped down from his position as head coach. After Jones's and Switzer's families met, they discussed Switzer's contract and soon announced Switzer as the new head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. Switzer stepped into this job knowing that Jones wanted to control all off field decisions and wanted to work with Switzer on decisions such as drafts and trades. Now Jones would finally have the coach he had always wanted, a coach that did not want any power other that on-field decisions. Jones could now run the Cowboys anyway he wanted and take credit for everything. Switzer was pleased stepping into his position because he coached Dallas' quarterback, Troy Aikman, at Oklahoma University.

Troy Aikman in his senior year in high school was pursued by two large colleges Oklahoma University which was coached by Barry Switzer and Arkansas University which was coached by none other than Jimmy Johnson. Aikman was recruited by Switzer and was told by Switzer that they would build the offense around him. In 1984 his first year at O.U. Aikman was shocked by the things allowed in Switzer's dorms. Troy believed no athletes should be drinking alcohol. Aikman first started as quarterback in 1985, had a horrible game, and was approached by the injured quarterback that he replaced and was verbally-insulted. He did not play again for the O.U. Aikman and Switzer parted ways in 1986, peacefully. Aikman even helped Switzer's son with tips on being a good quarterback.

As coach of O.U. Switzer believed he and his team were above the law. Switzer was known to go out very often, party, drink and cheat on his wife. While at O.U. Switzer was accused but never charged with buying college players, point-shaving and insider-stock tips.(Bayless Hell-Bent 33) In the words of Larry Lacewell "There was no limit to his leniency." (qtd in Bayless Hell-Bent, 35). In June of 1989 Switzer was forced to resign from O.U. after 3 separate incidents in a span of one month: One player shot another in the chest with a pistol, Charles Thompson the O.U. quarterback was busted for selling cocaine, and a female O.U. student visiting one of Switzer's dorms was raped repeatedly by two black O.U. teammates. Incidents of this nature were not common, yet Switzer's leniency caused his players to take advantage of him. Although Switzer was not considered a saint on or off the field he loved his players and it was reciprocated to him in ten fold. Jones must have felt that Switzer's ability to work with players would overshine any small off-field problems.

Since Aikman had played for Switzer at O.U. he counted on Aikman to be a friend. Aikman responded by saying "I don't need anymore friends," (qtd in Bayless Hell-Bent 96). Aikman went to Switzer and tried to put a good spin on it, saying that "it come across as harsh," (qtd in Bayless Hell-Bent 96). Aikman, who found a friend in Johnson because of their mutual love for perfect practices saw Switzer letting discipline disappear and getting rid of mandatory weight training sessions all by the end of the Cowboys first training camp under Switzer. As for Switzer's comments on curfews "they are rat-turd thing made to be broken. I don't like'em." (qtd in Bayless Hell-Bent 82). Aikman watched in horror as the same lack of discipline that helped get Switzer fired at Oklahoma began turning the Cowboys into the O.U. Sooners, with players late to practice and laughing at curfews (qtd in Bayless 8). Cowboy players have openly admitted that those who are routinely late for team meetings are not punished(King 43). By the end of the first training camp, the team had been divided between Switzer and Aikman.

Under the leadership of Barry Switzer the Cowboy team began to unravel with multiple sexual and drug related criminal charges logged against numerous team members over the next three years which Barry Switzer takes no responsibility for. He was quoted as saying "If people I'm a part of the problem, that it starts at the top and comes down, they're full of s---. Everyone is responsible for his own behavior"(quoted in King 43). Furthermore he has explained that "He won't baby-sit players"(King 43).

In October 1994, Erik Williams, the Cowboy's Offensive lineman was in a car crash due to drunken driving. Sportsline Newswire on April 30th explained Williams sustained a right knee injury and the windshield glass ripped apart his face, sidelining him until training camp in the Summer of 1995. The doctors that initially examined Williams said he had torn every muscle in his knee, he would probably walk with a limp for the rest of his life, and would never play football again. He received two years probation on a misdemeanor drunken driving offense. After major facial reconstruction and surgery on his knee he was playing for the Cowboys in a little over a year. In November he was brought up on a misdemeanor drunken driving charge. He received a sentence of two years' probation. He will also speak to high school students about alcohol.

In April of 1995 Williams was accused of sexual assault by a 17-year-old topless dancer from the Dallas-Fort Worth area. According to the December 4th Sportsline Newswire, the incident supposedly occurred in Williams' Dallas home. A Grand Jury could not charge Williams because the teen-ager would not cooperate with prosecutors after settling out-of-court for an undisclosed amount.

In 1995, the Cowboys had multiple off-field problems. In September, back-up wide receiver, Cory Felming was arrested on a DWI charge. Two years probation was his sentence after pleading guilty to the charge. By the middle of the season in November, drugs was the main topic in the locker room, not football. Leon Lett, a Cowboy defensive lineman, was suspended by the league for four games for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. Later in the month cornerback Clayton Holmes was suspended for one full season for violating that same policy for the second time as reported in the second Sportsline Newswire on December 4th.

Through this maze of alcohol, sex, and drugs the Cowboys won their first Super Bowl under new coach Barry Switzer. They received a burst in November when Deion Sanders joined the team after his baseball season had ended. Jones had proved it. He could win with almost anyone at as coach. This joy in the Cowboy locker room and owner's box would not last for long, though. Switzer and Aikman still were not talking much and more scandals would rock the Cowboy foundation in the coming months.

On the night before his birthday in early March of 1996, Michael Irvin had a little party. His family was not invited, because the only people at this exclusive party were Irvin, former teammate Alfredo Roberts, and two "self-employed models"(King 96). The party favors were three ounces of marijuana, two ounces of cocaine, assorted drug paraphernalia, and two vibrators. When the cops busted up the party Irvin's remark was "Can I tell you who I am?".(qtd in Lupica 132) According to Sportsline Newswire on March 14th, Irvin was charged with possession of marijuana. Irvin accepted the plea bargain of four years probation, a $10,000 fine, and 800 hours of community service. In a press-conference shortly after Irvin apologized to everyone including his dead father. If he violated his probation he could be sentenced to twenty years in prison. Shortly after Irvin returned to the league they suspended him for four games costing Irvin $410,588 in salary as reported in the July 16th Sportsline Newswire.

While all this was happening, The Miami Herald reported that several Cowboys were renting a party house for having sex with hookers and their women on the side. Wives and steady girlfriends were not allowed in the White House, that was the only rule. This house was located not far from Valley Ranch where the Cowboys practice. Neighbors had been noticing numerous Dallas players entering and exiting at all time of the day and night with women who were not their wives or steady girlfriends.(Lupica 126)

Missing Irvin, the Cowboys started the season with a record of 1 and 3. After a crushing loss to the New York Giants, the Cowboys defensive lineman, Leon Lett tested positive for drugs in one of his monthly drugs tests. The December 4th Sportsline Newswire contains information about the N.FL. being able to test Lett up to ten times a month. Since this was Lett's second violation of the NFL's drug policy he was suspended for one full season. Without Lett, another key player, the Cowboys' record was 8 and 5. The Cowboys had already played without many of their star players due to suspensions and injuries, and this was just one more player lost. Many sports reporters did not pick them to make it to the Super Bowl that year.

The Cowboys won the NFC East title and advanced to the playoffs. They beat the Minnesota Vikings to a pulp and advanced to the second round to play the Panthers in Carolina. Two Cowboys were in the news that week for being accused of sexual assault and use of cocaine. A woman accused Michael Irvin of holding her at gun-point while she was forced to have sex with Erik Williams and a third man. The Dallas Police leaked this to the media before they had even investigated it and caused much chaos through an already stressed team. Soon the police found that the charges were made up and cleared both of any wrong doing. Both Irvin and Williams had multiple publicized run-ins with law so this accusation was easy to believe. Later Williams and Irvin filed lawsuits against the Dallas Police Department for false accusations, as reported by Sportsline Newswire on Febuary 12th.

The Cowboys responded to this crisis by losing to the Carolina Panthers.(King 41) The Green Bay Packers then beat the Panthers and then the Patriots in the Super Bowl. After the season was over Aikman was sick of all the rumors going through the team. Switzer thought Aikman was a gay racist, trying to get him fired and Norv Turner hired and Aikman was just upset with the direction Jones puppet Switzer was taking the team in. He also told Jerry Jones that he was thinking about retirement if Jones did not clean up the locker room.

Skip Bayless has written three books on the Dallas Cowboys. He has published many quotes, although none of them are concrete, that hint that similar incidents that are happening now, also occurred under Johnson. Johnson deserves honorable mention for keeping Michael Irvin, the Cowboy's star wide-receiver, from getting into major off-field problems (Bayless "The Boys" 25). In 1991, five years before something similar happened, Jerry Jones said "If, God forbid, Michael Irvin gets thrown in jail and is lost for the year, that wouldn't in anyway make us think about calling off the season." (qtd in Bayless "The Boys" 25) How could Johnson build an up-standing Cowboy team while his last college team acted like this:

Time out. A Jimmy Johnson team built on character and work ethic? Wasn't this the same casino king who coached the "Miami Vice" Hurricanes? As Johnson's 'Canes were introduced at the Orange bowl, didn't they run through fake smoke? Didn't they wear army fatigues to an official function before the Fiesta Bowl? Didn't they invent trash-talking? Shouldn't their media-guide photos have been police mugshots? (Bayless in "The Boys" 50-51)

One has to wonder since both Switzer and Johnson have coached most of these players why have all the incidents been under Switzer's reign as head coach? Did Johnson have more control over his team? The players would all say Johnson was much tougher on them. Did Johnson sweep incidents under the rug or did they just not happen while he was there? Off-field problems of the Cowboys under Johnson are only hinted at by all media available but never shown to have happened. Why has Jones not cracked down on "the boys"? Does he believe publicity is good whether is be good or bad?

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