Ed Driscoll

The Sensitive Side Of The NFL

Jim Geraghty notes a newfound respect for management sensitivity in the NFL:

Jim Irsay, the son of the man who moved the Colts out of Baltimore in the middle of the night, tells reporters he thinks Rush Limbaugh is too “insensitive” to be an NFL owner.

Because that’s what professional football, with its convicted dogfighters, wife beaters, vehicular-homicide perpetrators, steroid and drug abuse, bone-crunching hits, serious risk of injury, and nearly-naked cheerleaders is all about: sensitivity.

Absolutely:

“Boys Will Be Boys”, Jeff Pearlman’s fascinating account of the glory days of the Cowboys dynasty is making the media rounds this week and we will happily join in to promote it. It is ridiculously entertaining. Yes, Charles Haley is the star, but there is so much more to it than just his dong-flapping craziness. Honestly, buy it. It’s worth its weight in White House coke. Pearlman has generously offered up another chapter titled “Chapter 24: Super Bowl XXX (AKA: Attack of the Skanks) for the Deadspin readership:

After the Super Bowl ended, nobody wanted to leave the locker room. It was like being a marine at sea for seven months. You come to land and think everyone wants to run off the ship. But no one wanted to leave. They knew it was the end and they wanted it to last.”—Robert Bailey, Cowboys cornerback

When the Dallas Cowboys prepared to leave Texas for Tempe, Arizona, the site of Super Bowl XXX, they made certain every necessary item was packed and loaded for the 1,056-mile journey.
Helmets—check!
Pads—check!
Athletic tape—check!
Shoes—check!
Playbooks—check!
Skanks—check!
Skanks?

Yes, you read that correctly. Skanks. Lots of skanks.

Being a veteran team with a wealth of Super Bowl experience, members of the Cowboys had learned what they needed to survive—and, indeed, thrive—in the week before the big game. Leading up to the first two Super Bowls, Cowboys players combed the streets, clubs and bars of Los Angeles and, to a lesser extent, Atlanta. Yet such an approach comes with risk. The women, for example, could be stalkers. Killers. They might have STDs. Or older brothers with a quick fingers and loaded XM8 lightweight assault rifles.

Hence, the skanks. Knowing that the wives and family members would not arrive in Tempe until the Thursday or Friday before the big game, several Cowboys—ranging from Emmitt Smith and Charles Haley to Erik Williams and Nate Newton—paid for a fleet of 11 white stretches from the First Impression Limousine Service to drive 16 hours and 1,000 miles from Dallas to Tempe, many with their special skank, uh, female friends along for the ride. The price: $1,000 per night per limo (Far from objecting, Jerry Jones brought along his own party vehicle, the six-bed tour bus that once belonged to Whitney Houston). By the time the Cowboys arrived for check-in at The Buttes, the team’s first-class, $285-per-night hotel, on the Sunday before the game, the lobby was filled with tacky high heels and legs that stretched from Minneapolis to Mahopac.

“The limo thing was as blatant as anything the Cowboys had ever been a part of,” says one team employee. “We had this huge caravan arrive from Dallas, and some guys had a bunch of their dancer girlfriends ride out and party with them. They brought the White House to Arizona.”

Irvin enthusiastically endorsed the port-a-skank concept and, in fact, rented his own 10-passenger, 30-foot monstrosity customized with a black leather-and-brushed crome interior (and equipped with a bounty of Absolut Vodka and hip-hop CDs). What baffled some about Irvin’s ways was that his wife Sandy was intelligent, loving, an excellent mother to the couple’s two daughters—and drop-dead gorgeous. “She’s the most beautiful black woman I’ve ever seen with my eyes,” says Kenny Gant, the former Cowboy defensive back. “I’ve loved her to death since the first time I met her.” Yet Irvin—who sported a large gold cross around his neck—never thought twice about professing his devotion toward his family one minute, then jumping into the hot-tub with two coked-up strippers the next. Why, on the evening before the Cowboys departed for Tempe, Irvin had partied with a pair of prostitutes at the Irving Residence Inn.

“This stuff happened more and more under Barry, because the rules were just completely relaxed,” says a team employee. “Now here comes Deion Sanders, the most flamboyant guy going. The combination of Sanders’ flamboyant ways, Irvin’s lifestyle and the fact that Barry Switzer said, ‘Hell, I don’t care what you do. I’ll see you Sunday afternoon,’—it led to bad things.”

Awaiting the Cowboys and their high-heeled entourage in Tempe were the AFC-champion Pittsburgh Steelers, a gritty 11–5 football team that had upended the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship Game to reach its first Super Bowl in 16 years. Were there ever a textbook example of overlooking an opponent, here it was. The Steelers featured the league’s No. 2-ranked run defense and a powerful tailback in 244-pound Bam Morris, but nobody—the Cowboys, the media, the fans—believed Pittsburgh could challenge Big D.

When the Cowboys prepared for Super Bowl XXVII three years earlier, they practiced with an intensity that Jimmy Johnson and his crew demanded. This time around members of the team came and went as they pleased, working out with half-hearted determination. In what was undoubtedly a Super Bowl first, Nate Newton, Erik Williams, Leon Lett and Irvin took a stretch Lincoln to and from practices. The players stayed out early into mornings and arrived to work hungover following wild sojourns to clubs like Empire and Jetz & Stixx. “The police came in and gave us a list of places not to go,” Newton said. “I wrote ’em all down and went there.”

The Cowboy who partied the hardest, the longest, the latest was not Irvin or Sanders or Newton or Lett but Barry Switzer, 58-year-old night owl. The Cowboy coach transformed his two-bedroom suite into a 24-hour rave, with an endless stream of family members, friends, confidants and strangers. “You have to understand the scene,” says Michael Silver, the former Sports Illustrated scribe who spent much of the week alongside Switzer. “Barry basically decided, ‘OK, this is the only time I’ll ever be at a Super Bowl and I’m going to live it up.’ So he called everyone he knew and said, ‘C’mon, we’re all going to the Super Bowl!'” Along for the ride were—among others—Switzer’s three children, his girlfriend Becky Buwick, his ex-wife Kay (the two women shared a room) and a never-ending conga line of former Oklahoma players, coaches and boosters. The end-of-the-week liquor bill exceeded $100,000.

On the night following the team’s arrival in Tempe, Switzer and a slew of assistant coaches and players attended a Super Bowl party beneath an enormous outdoor tent. Switzer and Larry Lacewell, the Cowboys’ director of pro and college scouting (and the man whose wife Switzer once slept with), downed shots until both were stumbling around like kangaroos atop surfboards. Silver was minding his own business when he turned and spotted Switzer furiously kicking with his right foot. “What the f**k are you doing?” Silver asked. Upon stepping closer, Silver saw that Switzer was actually booting Lacewell, who was trying to urinate beneath a wood deck. “Barry was getting Larry to piss all over himself,” says Silver. “Urine everywhere.” Done harassing his friend, Switzer stumbled to the dance floor and began hyperactively shaking his body—a la Pee Wee Herman. Nearby Emmitt Smith was grooving the night away, showing off the moves that, a decade later, would make him a champion on Dancing With the Stars, when he caught a glimpse of Switzer. “Emmitt can’t believe what he’s seeing,” says Silver. “He just stops and stares at Switzer, and his jaw drops. He just gets this look on his face that I can only describe as ‘Oh my God, my coach is f**king crazy!'”

Switzer’s week was one uproarious blur—a little bit of football (Steelers? What Steelers?) mixed in with a whole lot of debauchery. On the night of Friday, January 26, less than 48 hours before kickoff, Switzer hosted his dream party in Suite 4000 at The Buttes—his suite. With his son Greg, a trained classical pianist, jamming away on the room’s black Steinway, Switzer led an obnoxious, infectious, inebriated sing-along of Ray Charles’ What’d I Say. Instead of repeating Charles’ lyrics, however, Switzer and Co. filled in their own words—praising Jerry Jones, mocking Jimmy Johnson.

Tell your mama, tell your pa
I’m gonna send Jimmy back to Arkansas
Oh yes, ma’m, Jimmy don’t do right, don’t do right
Aw, play it boy
When you see him in misery
Cause Jimmy f**kin’ sucks on TV
Now yeah, all right, all right, aw play it, boy

“I didn’t know if we’d win or lose the Super Bowl,” says Switzer. “But I knew I was gonna have one helluva week. You don’t reach the heights and then play it down. You make the moments memorable.”

And sensitive.