'The Boys' reveals Super Bowl-size egos


Chuck Noll, the former Pittsburgh Steelers coach who won more Super Bowls (four) than any other coach, once said it's misleading to compare the Super Bowl quest to a successful attempt at scaling a mountain.

He compared it to an endless walk across a tightrope. A team never really makes it to the top even when it wins a Super Bowl because it's easy to fall off the next year.

The reason so few teams repeat is that the coach usually has problems keeping the players' egos under control as they attempt not to lose their step. Winning brings money, fame and inflated egos, and it's easy for the players to lose their focus.

As the Dallas Cowboys, last year's Super Bowl champions, prepare to start their quest for another title next month, they have an unusual problem.

Instead of the coach worrying about the egos of the players, the players have to worry about the egos of the coach (Jimmy Johnson) and the owner (Jerry Jones) tripping the team up this year.

At least, that's the portrayal of the team in "The Boys," a chronicle of the team's Super Bowl year.

It's almost an explanation in advance of why the Cowboys are likely to fall off the tightrope this year.

In the most telling anecdote, quarterback Troy Aikman bumps into Mr. Johnson in the off-season and tells him that he's not writing a book. Neither are any other players.

"It's premature," Mr. Aikman said later, "I don't have a lot to tell yet."

But Mr. Johnson, who had said before the season that he wasn't going to write a book before he retires, admitted to the quarterback that he was writing a book to "set the record straight about some things that might come out."

The coach told Mr. Aikman, "I'm not doing it for the money."

That's probably true. He makes $1 million a year and doesn't needthe money. What he needs is to have his ego stroked. His book hasn't come out yet, but you can bet he'll "modestly" take a lot of credit for the team's success.

This book, written by Skip Bayless, a former Dallas newspaper columnist, gives most of the credit for the team's success to Mr. Jones, the coach's former roommate at the University of Arkansas. Mr. Bayless says Mr. Jones, who bought the team in 1989, is regarded as "one of the NFL's shrewdest operators."

It's an old writer's technique. You give the credit to the people who cooperate with you, and Mr. Jones gave Mr. Bayless a lot of access to the team, including a seat on the club's charter flights.

Mr. Bayless also has a reputation for exaggeration. In his last book, "God's Coach," he all but suggested that former Dallas coach Tom Landry had grown senile at the end of his career. By contrast, Mr. Bayless' portrayal of Mr. Jones is so complimentary that he forgets that an owner can't accomplish much without a good coach.

But Mr. Bayless does mention how much luck was involved in the Cowboys' rise, even though Mr. Johnson hates to admit there was any luck involved. He also points out that Mr. Johnson and Mr. Jones not only aren't close friends, but the coach resents the way Mr. Jones tries to take all the credit.

"Privately, Johnson fumed after reading quotes from Jones taking credit for playing key roles in making draft picks and trades and rebuilding the Cowboys so quickly," Mr. Bayless writes.

He doesn't point out that the only coach (Mr. Noll) to win four

Super Bowls never wrote a book or cared about taking the credit. There's an old saying that you can do a lot when you don't care who gets the credit. Don't expect Mr. Johnson to match Mr. Noll's feat.

Mr. Bayless does predict that the Cowboys' owner and coach may not last more than another season together. That's probably another exaggeration, but it is hard to imagine them tolerating each other for a decade.

Mr. Bayless also captures the workaholic side of Mr. Johnson that the coach first went public with at the start of last season in profiles in Sports Illustrated and the Dallas Morning News.

He's a man who has few friends, doesn't go to weddings or funerals, doesn't celebrate birthdays or holidays, and doesn't attend any social functions. He dumped his wife of 26 years when he got the Dallas job and lives alone with several tanks of fish, although he has a girlfriend who comes by when he wants some female companionship.

There was a backlash against Mr. Johnson in Dallas about his self-centered lifestyle, but he insists that many married men envy his bachelor lifestyle and he doesn't apologize for it.

Mr. Johnson said: "Of course, their husbands say to them, 'Oh, dear, isn't this terrible?' But off to the side, they're saying, 'Yeah-yeah-yeah.' "

Mr. Johnson obviously is not the only NFL coach who is consumed by football, but Mr. Bayless doesn't address one central question:

Are such men attracted to coaching in the first place, or does coaching turn them into men like this?

Mr. Johnson comes across as a man who needs to get a life to go with his Super Bowl trophy.

Mr. Stellino covers professional football for The Sun.


Title: "The Boys: The Untold Story of the Dallas Cowboys' Season on the Edge"

Author: Skip Bayless

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Length, price: 320 pages, $23

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