The Dirty Dozen Diary: Mortal Beginnings
(Some people encourage me to write a book. Others encourage me to write about writing a book. So I thought I’d give it a try. Here’s my first installment of a “Diary” series in which I detail some of my own thoughts and experiences of writing my new book “The Dirty Dozen.”)
Inspiration is no stranger to the byways of chance. Much less is it to opportunities which are a lifetime in the making.
Even while growing up as a kid, I occasionally heard mentions of the time when 12 rookies made the final roster and helped the Dallas Cowboys go to the Super Bowl. But if not for a friendship nearly two decades old, I would never have been the first one to write a book about that team.
I first met Brent Bankston as an 8-year old when I wandered into his Waco-based trading-card shop. Having dealt with collectibles for roughly thirty years, Brent has accumulated quite a storeroom of “stuff.” One day he happened to find a box of old 1975 Dallas Cowboys Weekly newspapers. Remembering that I was seeking any and all reading material on the Cowboys, he brought them to his shop and showed them to me. I bought the entire lot of papers on the spot, and then went home and started reading.
It didn’t take me very long to realize that this story of one of the NFL’s most miraculous seasons had all the makings of a book. And in that case, it was time to get busy.
But where to start? Where indeed! It’s one thing to be eager. It’s another entirely to be ignorant. But that’s where I found myself at the very outset.
Ever since I was a young boy, I’ve read about the Cowboys. Since I was 18, I have written about them. But nothing could have forewarned me of the challenges that awaited in writing “The Dirty Dozen.”
How does a 25-year old start out to tackle a story that is nearly fifteen years his senior? Oh sure, I was well-versed with Jerry Jones’ Cowboys and had read a bit on the subject of Tom Landry and Roger Staubach over the years as a journalist. But to write an authoritative book on one of the Cowboys’ great teams of the 1970s left me in an expansive desert of unfamiliarity.
The only way to alleviate this obvious shortcoming was to research the story till my face was blue, my eyes were bloodshot, and my swollen tongue dragging through the grass. So that’s what I did. Hour after hour… day after day… month after month I read and re-read articles from every newspaper and sports magazine under the sun until I felt comfortable enough to put a pen to the story. (Now, I’m an avid reader, but it must be admitted that this lengthy crash-course was a challenge even for me. Especially the re-reading part.)
One of the first things that intrigued me about this story was the fact that the Cowboys, in the midst of 20 consecutive winning seasons, were coming off a season in which they showed many shades of being mortal. They were old. They bickered. And, at times, they were rendered lazy.
The Cowboys were the sporting world’s heroes twelve months later as NFC champions, yes. But first they were human, in fact “teetering on the edge of destruction, seemingly wavering between mediocrity and distastefulness,” as I wrote in the book’s Introduction. This fact was a surprise to me simply because I had never heard it before. Were not Tom Landry’s Cowboys impeccably efficient and motivated all the time?
But the falling dominoes that led to this Cowboy collapse in 1974 was what surprised me most of all, and caused me to dig deeper into the history of the Cowboys, professional football, and (of all things) American politics. Ultimately, my findings led me to author a most unusual opening chapter to “The Dirty Dozen,” one in which the focus is not just on football, but on the indestructible monarchy of the almighty dollar.
That will be the subject of my next post.
Thanks for reading along.