Bob is a longtime member of the Florida sports media, having served as a reporter and copy editor for more than 30 years. His true sports passion, however, is the history of the various games, exhibited by his in-depth book reviews and hobby of collecting cards and other sports memorabilia. He blogs for TBO.com on both subjects, transferring his work for the Tampa Tribune to the realm of cyberspace.
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Author gives a fresh voice to Cowboys history
Posted Oct 8, 2012 by Bob D'Angelo
Updated Oct 8, 2012 at 10:45 PM
Good writers have the ability to give voice to their work. Phrasing, pace and strong prose draw readers into the story and keep them interested.
Sometimes, if one listens to an author speaking during an interview, it can make that voice that much more relevant when reading his book.
I watched Joe Nick Patoski’s interview on the “Overheard With Evan Smith” television program, and I was struck by the author’s voice. Here is a true storyteller — distinctively sharp, funny and informative.
Read Patoski’s massive “The Dallas Cowboys: The Outrageous History of the Biggest, Loudest, Most Hated, Best Loved Football Team In America” (Little, Brown and Company; $29.99, hardback, 806 pages) and that “voice” comes through. This is a hefty, 2.6-pound book (yes, I weighed it …), that does more than trace the history of “America’s Team” from its inaugural 1960 season to the present. It meshes the history, politics and business of Dallas with its iconic football team. Patoski shows that the inner workings of the Cowboys’ front office and the culture of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex are far more entertaining than the action on the field. He also details the transformation of Dallas from its ultra-conservative, small-town mentality to a thriving, vibrant metropolitan area.
Patoski may be a Texan, but he is not blinded by the silver and blue, calling himself “a vested follower” of the Cowboys. In other words, he warns, “don’t get sucked in” by the Cowboys’ mystique.
Mention “Dallas” to a non-Texan and this is what comes to mind: the Texas School Book Depository, J.R Ewing, “North Dallas Forty,” the Dallas Cowboys and the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.
All of those are mentioned in this book, and while football is the main thrust, the evolution of the cheerleaders into the most famous pompon wavers in history gets plenty of attention. And deservedly so; say what you want about their skimpy outfits and perfect looks, but the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders have become a brand unto themselves, with very little controversy (the “Debbie Does Dallas” pornographic movie parody notwithstanding).
Branding and marketing are the subjects that set this book apart from others about the Cowboys. Certainly, Dallas has had success on the field — five Super Bowl titles and eight Super Bowl appearances, 21 division titles and a 33-25 record in the postseason — but the money of original owner Clint Murchison Jr., the coaching of Tom Landry and the hard-nosed thriftiness of general manager Tex Schramm provides the most fascinating parts of Patoski’s book.
Schramm cultivated a positive image with the Dallas media and drove hard, one-way contract deals with the players. He also was the driving force behind the NFL-AFL merger, hammering out an agreement with Lamar Hunt. And he revolutionized player selection in the draft by hiring a computer whiz who headed up the one-person Statistical and Operations Analysis Group in San Jose, Calif. — Salam Qureishi of India, who was well-versed in numbers but ignorant about football.
“We had an Indian who knew absolutely nothing about football and coaches who knew nothing about computers and less about Indians,” Patoski quotes Schramm as saying.
But Qureishi’s programming gave Schramm and player personnel director Gil Brandt a big advantage, and after a trial run in 1964, the Cowboys put the program into full force the following season. That enabled the Cowboys to go outside the box and draft seemingly “unknown” players — men who would play vital roles in the Cowboys’ success.
Patoski presents the team’s early years in great detail, chronicling the competition between the Cowboys and the AFL’s Dallas Texans, run by Hunt. Although Hunt had a flair for marketing and his Texans won the 1962 AFL championship, he eventually moved the team to Kansas City, where it became the Chiefs. Patoski examines Landry’s obsessive attention to detail, how the Cowboys’ black players dealt with racism and the drugs and off-the-field incidents that dog the team to this day.
Patoski shows the contrast between the publicity shy Murchison and the spotlight-loving habits of current owner Jerry Jones. He recounts the purge that took place when Jones bought the team in 1989, when he replaced Landry with Jimmy Johnson and soon disposed of Schramm. The glory years of the 1970s and the dynastic early 1990s team that featured “The Triplets” also receive ample play.
This book is thorough, as its 66-page bibliography shows.
Patoski has written several books, most notably about Lone Star state musicians Selena, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Willie Nelson. In a 2008 interview, Patoski said Nelson was “the most important Texan of the 20th and 21st century.”
Certainly, Willie deserves his due, but that observation might shock those who revered Lyndon B. Johnson, whose ranch in the Hill Country is a mere 55 miles away from Patoski’s residence near Wimberley, Texas. Johnson may not have written any lyrics, but he was clearly the “Master of the Senate” (a nod to author Robert Caro here), and as president of the United States, helped push through some substantial civil rights legislation and wrote a memorable (and in terms of casualties and political credibility, very unfortunate) Gulf of Tonkin resolution that deeply committed the United States into the Vietnam War.
But that’s a debate left for another day.
“The Dallas Cowboys” is a gigantic, meticulous work, but it’s a quick read, stuffed with details about the Cowboys, Texas and even the United States in general. It’s not just a sports book.
Despite all the great information and anecdotes, there are some fact errors and incorrect spellings in this book that should have been caught. For example, Patoski cites the score of Super Bowl VI as 23-3, when Dallas actually beat the Miami Dolphins by a 24-3 score. Former Tampa Tribune sportswriter Joe Frisaro, who was one of the writers who witnessed Jerry Jones’ “I’m thinking about firing Jimmy” monologue during the NFL meetings in Orlando in March 1994, is referred to as “Fisaro.”
Late in the book, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers is called “Rogers.”
Patoski references a Sept. 22, 1963, home game against the “defending NFL champions, the Cleveland Browns,” when the Green Bay Packers were actually the league’s two-time defending champs. He does, however, correctly report on Jim Brown’s record-setting 232-yard rushing effort that day in Cleveland’s 41-24 victory against Dallas.
The final error I saw was one of geography, where Patoski places Fort Lauderdale 60 miles north of the Orange Bowl. It was 55 miles from my South Florida home in Boynton Beach to the stadium; downtown Fort Lauderdale was only 27 miles from the Orange Bowl.
The overall effect, however, is stunningly impressive. You don’t have to be a Cowboys fan to marvel at an organization that can be so polarizing to NFL fans. Love them or hate them, the Cowboys have been an innovative force in the NFL.
And Patoski’s storytelling ability (one can almost envision him arching his eyebrows as he recounts some piece of Cowboys history), is top-notch. His voice is clear and incisive.
If this book is ever released in audio form, there is only one person qualified to narrate it for readers — Joe Nick Patoski. I can hardly wait.