A Rough Ride in Dallas
Jeff Pearlman, Boys Will Be Boys: The Glory Days and Party Nights of the Dallas Cowboys Dynasty (2008)
I borrowed this book from the library and it had lost its dust jacket somewhere in its travels, so I had to photograph the spine. Here’s the cover image for those who desperately want to see it.
The Cowboys traded up with New England for the top pick in 1991, hoping to land Notre Dame receiver/kick returner Raghib “Rocket” Ismail. When the Heisman Trophy winner demanded a five-year, $15.5 million deal (and threatened to jump to the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League), the Cowboys were again mocked in league offices. Dallas “settled” for defensive tackle Russell Maryland of Miami—then landed six more draftees who would become key additions, including Alvin Harper in the first round and little-known defensive back Larry Brown of Texas Christian in the twelfth. (p. 101)
This passage illustrates Jimmy Johnson’s expertise in the draft; one can’t help but pity Ismail, thinking the CFL held any promise for him and thus missing out on his chance to be part of a team that won three Super Bowls.
He did, of course, win a Grey Cup with the Argos. Is that a consolation prize?
That’s a minor reference to Canada, but things get better:
Hence, when Aikman went down against the Giants Johnson decided Dallas’s new starter would be a freckle-faced redhead whose resume was highlighted by unexceptional stints with the Ottawa Rough Riders of the Canadian Football League and the San Antonio Riders of the World League. Jason Garrett didn’t even have much in the way of a college background—he played at Princeton, where he was named the 1988 Ivy League Player of the Year…. Garrett took the field at Texas Stadium on November 14, strolled into the huddle, and showed the poise and moxie of a six-year-old…. He attempted six passes in three offensive series, completing 2 for 25 yards. By late in the first quarter Johnson had seen enough. (pp. 205-206)
I find sportswriters love to start paragraphs with words like “hence,” even if they don’t really make a lot of sense in context. It’s odd that Garrett played for two teams with the word “Riders” in their name, and then for the Cowboys. Horse obsession? Louis L’Amour fan? Yet another illustration of Fate’s bizarre sense of humour?
The point here, obviously, is that experience in the CFL doesn’t really add up to much when you’re on the big stage of the NFL. Our beloved Canadian Football League appears as a home for second-rate players who simply don’t have what it takes to play “real” football. And when you consider that Garrett was “unexceptional” even by CFL standards … that’s most damning of all. A CFL star (is there such a thing?) would struggle in the NFL; an undistinguished CFLer like Garrett doesn’t stand a chance.
And the Ottawa Rough Riders … nothing cries “amateur” quite as loudly as a league where two teams have the same name – it’s the sort of thing that happens in schoolyard pick-up games, where everyone wants to be the Wolves. And yet the CFL tolerated the Ottawa Rough Riders and the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the league at the same time. (Pedants will point to the different spelling, but really.)
Even more pathetic, the name is taken from Theodore Roosevelt’s famous Rough Riders cavalry regiment: here we are, supposedly carrying on the proud tradition of Canadian football as distinct from American, and not one but two of the teams in our national league have a name (the same name) that refers to American history. Why not the Ottawa Loyalists or the Ottawa Voyageurs – anything that is, at the very least, ours?
(As a side note, Ottawa does seem to have trouble with team names. To take just the most obvious example, their NHL team is called the Senators, but their logo is a picture of a Roman legionary. If words mean anything it should be a fat man in a toga.)
Hence, I will now demonstrate my taste and sophistication by not making the obvious joke about Garrett having had a “Rough Ride” with the Cowboys.