If there’s one sentence that best captures the theme and essence of Jeff Pearlman’s entertaining, well-reported chronicle of the championship-winning, hard-living Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s, it’s this one about wide receiver Alvin Harper: ”He loved the perks that came with fame -- the mounds of naked women, the mounds of marijuana, the mounds of naked women smoking marijuana -- but not the effort required to achieve it.”
That decade’s Cowboys team, which won three Super Bowls and should have won more, is one of the great modern dynasties of the National Football League.
They can be spoken of in the same breath as the 1960s Packers, the 1970s Steelers, the 1980s 49’ers and the 21st century Patriots.
But they are alone when it comes to a sustained period of outrageousness and scandal. They may have reigned supreme over the football fields of America but they were also the emperors of Dallas strip clubs.
With ”Boys Will Be Boys: The Glory Days and Party Nights of the Dallas Cowboys Dynasty,” Pearlman, an ESPN.com columnist and former Sports Illustrated senior writer, recounts the rise and fall of one of the most storied franchises in American sports.
It’s a rise that began with the 1989 purchase of the struggling Cowboys by Arkansas oilman Jerry Jones and his unceremonious firing of the iconic Tom Landry.
Jones replaced him with his former University of Arkansas teammate Jimmy
Johnson. Although never as close as reported, the JJ combo would prove to be a tenuous but fruitful partnership.
Around the nucleus of ”The Triplets” -- Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith -- a collection of stars and role players developed into the dominant team of the decade. With the team’s renewed swagger and success came an all-access pass to all of the pleasures of the flesh they could handle, which was a lot.
The Pied Piper of the never-ending party was Irvin. Matinee idol Aikman, stable and levelheaded, was the spirit of the team, and Smith, courageous and tough (though increasingly selfish), was the guts of the team.
But it was Irvin, whose insatiable appetite for women and drugs was only exceeded by his unmatched work ethic, who was the soul of the team on and off the field.
The egos of Jones and Johnson led to the latter’s firing in 1994 after the Cowboys second straight world title. Using Johnson’s players, Barry Switzer would go along for the ride in 1995 for the Cowboys third title in four years, leaving Cowboys fans and players alike wondering how many more they would have won had Johnson stayed.
The players partied as hard under Johnson as they did under Switzer but they knew that if they didn’t perform on the field they would have to answer to a man they respected and feared.
Switzer evoked neither emotion. And with Jones running around as much as his players, the team’s lack of discipline was on the rise and their talent was on the decline by the time Irvin, in March 1996, in the defining scandal of that team, was found by police in a hotel room with prostitutes and drugs.
Not all of the Cowboys were so reckless. Linebacker Robert Jones managed to resist the temptations, but was ridiculed by his teammates. A few years ago, he received -- after their careers were over -- a visit from offensive lineman Nate Newton, who wanted to make amends.
Newton told Jones: ”I’m so sorry for how I treated you when we were in Dallas. You were one of the guys who lived his life the way it’s supposed to be lived, and now look at you. You’re still with your wife. I’m divorced and she was a good woman. You did things right and we made fun of you. We were wrong.”
Irvin, too, two years after an injury forced him to retire, also sought out Jones. The ”Playmaker” hugged the linebacker and said, ”Man, I’m so proud of you. And I apologize for everything I ever did to you. You were righteous. I wasn’t.”
Such a gifted storyteller is Pearlman that, at the end of ”Boys Will Be Boys,” the reader is left marveling at how much Irvin and the Cowboys accomplished in spite of their Olympian partying.
And Cowboys fans are left wondering how much more they could have accomplished had they partied a little less.
©2008/THE NEW YORK TIMES