WARNING: This review contains a few spoilers.
Normally I'm not a big reader of sports books, but when I saw that this one was coming out, I couldn't resist. An in-depth look back at the Cowboys' 90s dynasty from the first Jerry and Jimmy dinner in the spring of 1989 through Michael Irvin slashing teammate Everett McIver in the neck with scissors in 1998, this one covers it all. Jeff Pearlman manages to fit enough detail in 400 pages to give a full picture of the complexities surrounding America's Team during its greatest run.
Yes, there's plenty of space devoted to Jimmy (and Jerry) building the dynasty from scratch, but no question the entertainment value of this book comes from the tales of sex, drugs, more sex, and Charles Haley constantly masturbating in front of teammates. You wonder if this sort of stuff could have happened in today's internet age, but you inevitably shake your head in disgust and still marvel at how some of these guys could pull it all off -- taking it to extremes both on and off the field.
Pearlman devotes ample space to providing background on some of the players and coaches, such as the tragedy of Robert Jones laying in his mother's bed as a three month-old when his parents get in an argument that leads to his dad shooting and killing his mom, who falls dead on top of her son. Unlike some of his teammates, Jones pledged to be a devoted father and husband, and succeeded against all temptation. Then there's the sad coming-of-age tale of Barry Switzer, who turned his cheek when his down-on-her-luck mother attempted to show him affection. Seconds later, she walked down the hall and committed suicide.
In the end, and much to the Dude's delight, putting aside Jimmy and Jerry, the true protagonist of the book is Michael Irvin. With a dozen siblings, Irvin becomes a star in high school while coming to grips with the death of his working-class dad. With a pledge to his mom to take care of the family, Irvin sets off to the University of Miami and then Dallas, but injuries his first few seasons lead to Jimmy Johnson almost cutting his future star. By his third season, Irvin comes into his own and emerges as the undisputed leader of the team, the first one to arrive in the morning and last to leave. Given that he spent most nights out until the early morning, it's all the more remarkable. Readers will shake their heads at his off-the-field antics, which were unrestrained and seemingly without remorse until years later.
Inevitably, Pearlman takes you to Irvin's Hall of Fame induction, where a matured man attempts to make amends to his wife, children, and fans. Some readers may find it redemptive, others won't, but rather than being dropped off by the author when the team fades after its 3rd title in four years, Pearlman provides a glimpse at some of the players after the spotlight faded. The results aren't always pretty, particularly for someone like Clayton Holmes, but even the most devoted of Cowboys fans, of which this blog has a few, will learn many things they didn't know. Pearlman manages to tell the story with evenhandedness and a lack of bias, probably aided by the access that almost all of the former stars gave him. The one exception? Emmitt Smith, who comes across as selfish and probably the least likeable character, and the book doesn't even mention that he's the only one that wouldn't be interviewed. Why? He demanded to be paid, and Pearlman said no.
All dudes will enjoy this one, and certainly this is a must-read for the Dude.