Hmmm…how can I freak this? Let me see…
This is not a typical TSF interview. I know many of our readers don’t like Skip in the least. They think he is loud, off point and some actually think he is racist. Nevertheless, it is our job to bring you the best interviews the web has to offer regardless of subject. We all know these conversations are unedited transcripts and while they usually run long, the content speaks for itself. I happen to have a profound respect for Skip, because he speaks the truth regarding Barry Bonds. Skip is one of the few mainstream journalists who openly proclaim Barry as the best ever–regardless of the specter of steroids. I also respect Skip because while doing the necessary research, I realized how talented he is in his approach to journalism. His purpose is to strike a chord, thus drawing the reader in emotionally when your senses are at a frenzy. I was a little surprised Skip was as reserved as he was eloquent during our talk–which gave me a key to his persona on and off the set of 1st Take. Simply put, he’s very intelligent and knows his stuff whether you like him or not. The show is the show and you all know the premise is all about the debate. Debates as you know, have the potential of boiling over the surface and no matter how tempered points are made within the constraints of production, there is always a chance voices will carry across the set and ultimately make your TV speakers pop. Skip touches on a myriad of topics, so please read without prejudice, for some of this will surely get your attention.
This is Part I of II.
Michael Tillery: OK Skip, let’s begin with barbecue and OKC.
Skip Bayless: I was born into a barbecue restaurant in Oklahoma City to a Mother and Father–neither of which made it through high school. I was the first born soon after they decided to start a small almost hole in the wall barbecue restaurant to see if they could make it. During their courtship, my Father nicknamed my Mother Skip–as in you are the skipper of this ship meaning you tell us where we are going tonight and you tell us what we are going to do.
The moment I was born, and my Father gazed upon me for the first time, he said, “There is my skipper.” They already agreed to name me after him—John Edward Bayless the II–and that went on the birth certificate, but from the first moment it just stuck and they called me “Skip” or early on “Skipper”. Not once in my life…not once by either parent…was I ever referred to as John Edward, not even in anger like “John Edward Bayless, you stop that!” I didn’t even know it was my name (well vaguely) until I got to junior high at that point when they first call rolls and it was John Bayless and the kids from my grade school said “What?!”.
Eventually, I legally changed my name to Skip because the other only got in my way and my Mother finally agreed I should do that.
In a nutshell, I was the black sheep of my family so to speak, because I initially fell in love with sports and nobody in my entire extended family liked sports. Everyone had a cooking background, restaurant background…grand father had a drive-in restaurant.
My younger brother gravitated into that. I don’t know if you are aware of him Michael…
Mizzo: Yes, Rick the famous chef and Chicago restaurant owner. While he’s come up, why didn’t he take the chef position in the White House offered by the Obamas?
Skip: I can’t speak for him. All I know is that his Chicago restaurant won National Restaurant of the Year last year, that President Obama and his wife have long loved it and that I’m very proud of my brother because I grew up in that business and know how difficult it is to merely stay open from year to year. So. he followed right in the footsteps and even though I was alone in that regard, I liked sports. I loved sports. I was obsessed with sports. I played everything and I was pretty good right away because I was big for my size and just naturally pretty athletic.
I had no idea where it came from. So my dream–as you had one early on (baseball)–was to play. All the way through up to ninth and tenth grade, I was convinced I was going to play something professionally–or at least in college.
Basketball and baseball were my two loves. Then I quit growing and everyone else kept growing. You know how that goes and I ended up being a better baseball player in high school than I was a basketball player–although I still love and play a lot of basketball.
When I was a high school junior, by complete fate–although I think it was a God thing–I wound up in the advanced English class taught by the journalism teacher. She just had one class a year other than her four or five journalism classes and I fell into her class.
The first week of school, she assigned us book reports because she wanted to see how we wrote.
Of course, I chose a sports biography on Y. A. Tittle–the former New York Giants quarterback. There’s a famous photograph of him kneeling…bloody nose, spud faced. It’s a famous Sports Illustrated cover or something.
I chose this, went through it and wrote my one page book report and handed it in on Thursday. On Friday, classed as class was ending, the teacher wanted to see me after class.
My buddies looked at me like I was already in trouble in the first week of school. She was a scary lady. Very intimidating with a big loud voice that was almost witch like to me. She had a very scary presence.
I eased up to her desk and she told me I was going into journalism. I said, “What?!” and she said, “You can write!”. I said, “Ho…how…how do you know?” and she said, “I know. I just read your book report and you’re gonna come in and write a sports column for me with the school paper.” I told her I had no interest. At that point, I still had a fantasy to play and she told me she knows and goes to the games. She said she didn’t care and it was even better that I played.
She told me, despite my disinterest, that she didn’t need me to come in and edit copy or write headlines and do all those journalism things, she just wanted me to write her sports column twice a week. We had two school papers a week. Against my better judgment, I did it. My teammates thought it was way beneath my dignity to be a reporter type. They also thought I was crossing the line, because to them, the reporter was like being akin to the water boy or the assistant trainer because of the course of the next two years, I had to interview a few of the star players while I was playing on their team.
The more I did it, the more I liked it. The more I did it, the better I got at it. My senior year, she entered me into a program without me even knowing it. It was a competition they have once a year where they give a big scholarship to Vanderbilt University, the Grantland Rice Scholarship. He was a famous sportswriter who went to Vanderbilt. They bring in sports writers every year after the Kentucky Derby…they try to get four or five to stop by Nashville and they go through all of these entries. You have to send in x number of clippings. They choose the winner of a full scholarship.
I was only vaguely aware of it until one night in May of my senior year in high school and I walk through the door and my Mom told me someone called from a place called Vanderbilt.
I knew right away what she was talking about. I knew I had somehow won this thing.
I called and they told me congratulations and that they needed to know by tomorrow morning whether I was going to accept or they were gonna give it to the first runner-up. I’d never been to Nashville or Vanderbilt. I’d had a girlfriend who was one year behind me in high school and I just didn’t want to leave. I was going to go to University of Oklahoma, major in journalism and just see what happened.
Of course I accepted. It was the scariest thing I’d ever did and the greatest thing I’d ever did because people in this business know the Grantland Rice Scholarship.
So I was able–upon graduating in a pretty tight market–to actually get a couple of doors to open that I didn’t deserve to open.
Mizzo: Give me a rundown of your stops in the game.
I went first to the Miami Herald for a couple of years.
I went to the Los Angeles Times for a couple of years. Of course, I immediately wanted to be a columnist and it was difficult in those days to become one. The sports editor at the Times loved me like a son and told me I wasn’t ready. I was 25 years old and he said I needed 10 years in this business before I was experienced and knowledgeable enough to write a column.
I didn’t buy it and one thing led to another. The Dallas Morning News were looking to compete in their market against a legendary columnist named Blackie Sherrod–a rival at the Dallas Times Herald. He is a Texas institution. He was invincible and indomitable and owned that market for years and years. He was old school, close to Darrell Royal (most wins all time at Texas) and the Texas program. He was extremely gifted. More of a Texas style wit and wisdom writer. The Morning News hired me to be their columnist at 26 and take him down. People in the business told me nobody will ever take him down.
I went in with that mandate to at least compete with him and I did. I did it my way. My columns were more topical than his. I’m not as talented as he was but I could write. Straight off the news from the heart. No holds barred, no sacred cows. Honest, well reported, well researched…go for the throat.
I was able to make an instant splash in that market–at least hold my own. There was no way I could beat him at his game, but I could beat him with my game–which I did.
I started winning awards and drawing most of the attention in the market largely by the topics I selected. I was writing about things he wouldn’t choose to write about. About three years passed and his paper came after me and actually hired me away from the Dallas Morning News just to hurt them…just to sting them and bring me over to Blackie Sherrod’s paper.
He was so outraged by that maneuver, he then basically quit and was hired by the Morning News. So basically we swapped places in the market. It was completely bizarre. From that point, I spun more into books just because I find the Dallas Cowboys to be the most fascinating franchise in all of sports–including your Yankees or anyone else you want to throw out there.
Their history is spellbinding, supremely writable and reportable. I only wanted to write one book and basically wrote three because they wrote me. They took me over and I just couldn’t stop.
Those books came in ’90,’93 and ’96. During that period–because of my knowledge of the Cowboys–I began to do more and more at ESPN. At first it was on Sunday mornings on Sports Reporters. This started clear back in ’89 if you can believe that in its infancy. Dick Shaap, who was running the show at the time, was a big fan of mine. I started doing that regularly in the early nineties which led to the very first live debate on ESPN. It was a pre-MNF show that began in ’93 called Prime Monday.
ESPN brought Michael Wilbon, Mitch Albom and me to Bristol each Monday to do this live scripted debate. We had it scripted out beforehand–which I never do anymore. In those days they were so fearful of it because they were not sure where it would go and it was so compressed in its time frame, that the three of us would sorta script out where we wanted to go and try to stay on course as much as we could because we were on live TV debating each other.
It started to click and it worked. It was the first of its kind in that format and became three sports columnists debating–different that the Sports Reporters discussion.
I was the original live wire and I especially began to debate with Wilbon–with whom I was very good friends. I found I could push his buttons better even if we were going by the script. I could have fun with him and go at him to get a rise out of him. He’s more opinionated sometimes than one would know. I found that he would rise up on live TV and come back at me. It was interesting because it was fun. It was provocative. The producers–though leery of it to start with–began to warm up to it and got more and more comfortable with the level of it. I could get a little more louder than just the monotone discussions you would see on ESPN or every TV station you’d watch.
It began to take a life of its own and led to all the spin offs. The evolution was your various shows like PTI, Around the Horn and 1st and Ten. That was the start of it.
I remained in newspapers. I went on and did the Chicago Tribune for three years as their lead columnist and probably would have stayed there but I had a squabble with the editor of that company.
Mizzo: That was 650 word limit enforced by Ann Marie Lipinski?
Skip: Yeah…very simple, but a deal killer for me. I know it would be hard to understand for anybody if you ever had to write to a space, but my columns over the years were typically 850 words.
It’s because I’m more of a reporter columnist. I poll people. I know people. I work at it. I’m going to inform you–if possible–while I’m going to provoke your thought. I’m going to take a stand, but I’m going to back it up. Maybe I’m going to enlighten you along the trail, but I never thought 850 words read long to me. If you have a lot to say, that’s about right.
In fact, while I was at the Tribune, my (sports) editor, who was a fortunately a big fan of mine, encouraged me on various topics to write longer. There were days I went 1200 words and I don’t think they read long because I had the goods. There were days when I wrote 850 and maybe it didn’t seem a little long because I didn’t have as much to say, but I know I could regularly fill 850 with no problem.
So one day the lady who ran the Tribune (Lapinski) had her Tribune spread out before her and wondered what was different about the sports section. She said the column was not contained down the left side of the page like all of her other sections were–business or local or blah, blah, blah. No they weren’t. We had two prominent columnist–myself and Bernie Lincicome, who went on from there to Denver over the same view. I know this sounds petty to some, but they said that we would anchor our sports page on the left side like all the others. Well, that’s all well and good, except you can’t contain it on the front. We would jump it inside. Maybe we would run a fourth of it on front and the rest of it inside on page three, four, seven or eight. In this format on the left side, it reduced 850 to 650. No big deal? Well, it was to me. Chopping that extra two hundred was like taking my blood away from me.
Mizzo: 650 is bad.
Skip: It was just a killer for me and my psyche. I marched right in and said “Please don’t do this to me.” She said it was fine and that I would learn to love this. So, I gave it a try. I tried it for six long months and I liked it less by the day to the point I told my sports editor that I couldn’t take it anymore. I was so unhappy with it. I was not myself. I couldn’t do what I do and he agreed with me. He told me if he was me, he would look to do something else. I told him I could go somewhere else and work if I wanted to and he told me to go tell her (Lapinski) that–to try one more time. I went in and basically delivered the ultimatum.
She basically smiled and told me it’s been nice, so I left. The city–well the people who cared about sports–was basically in shock. I didn’t ever radio and TV interview and told the truth about what happened.
I have no animosity towards her. I just thought she missed the boat and took a stand off what she couldn’t back. It became a pride issue with her and a life blood issue with me.
For my last newspaper stop, I chose to go back to my original thing which was Knight Ridder Corporation–which was Miami Herald and their flagship paper was the San Jose Mercury News. They wanted me to write a column for the chain–namely the Detroit Free Press and various other papers. The one draw for me in the Bay Area besides I like to live there was Barry Bonds.
I walked out of Michael Jordan’s life; I was blessed to know him the in the last couple years and I walked right into Barry Bonds’ 2001 season. It was absolutely one of the most amazing things I’ve personally been able to witness. Again, I was blessed. I did that until the end of Barry and then I got a call from Mark Shapiro, who was running ESPN. He started this show called Cold Pizza and it was going nowhere. He tried to make it a sorta morning variety show loosely based on sports, but it just wasn’t connecting with the audience. It couldn’t find an audience. Shapiro asked me to help bring the show up out of the ratings toilet. He paired up Woody Paige and I for debate and bring a sports component to a non-sports show. Woody stayed for a couple of years and then decided to go back to Denver. Then we started this rotation. I don’t know what the plan was originally, but we sorta fell into the fact that this was really fun for me because I get to debate someone different every two to three days. I’m high energy, high passion to a fault and for a while it began to wear Woody out. It’s great bringing in the rotation. We have ten, twelve different people and we’ll bring in other various people for one day stands. It’s great because their passion will be high because they are only going to do it for a couple of days. They can get revved up, come in and try to match my rpm and then they can go rest for a couple of days and get geared back up for their real job. It started working and they liked it, we moved from New York City to Bristol, Connecticut and hear we are.
Mizzo: Why do you feel it necessary to exclusively have a Black debate partner?
Skip: Once Woody Paige left our show, and we began to audition new debaters, I pushed for Black or minority partners because a day rarely passes without a racial component to a sports issue, and our show never shies away from tackling the most controversial of these issues. It is obviously impossible to have a credible, healthy discussion or debate without both sides represented. Sometimes I’ll defend the Black perspective — see Barry Bonds — and sometimes a Black debater will defend the White perspective — as happened recently with Stephen Bardo taking up for Michael Phelps and me continuing to criticize him as a role-model fraud. The previous Monday, Jemele had blasted the predominantly White media for giving Phelps a pass because that White media has been so quick to condemn Black athletes for similar behavior — and I whole-heartedly agreed. I had no sympathy for Michael Vick; some of my Black partners did. This gives our show great balance and the freedom to take on topics many shows would not.
Mizzo: After the Lapinski rift, it seemed like you stopped writing even though you are a great writer…
Skip: When I first came on and Mark left, we had a big regime change. The deal was for me to do the show and also write for ESPN.com. I wouldn’t have come without the writing component to start with. I had no idea what it was going to take to do the show on a daily basis. When Mark hired me, he wasn’t sure what the job was. He couldn’t tell me what it would require. In fact, when I first arrived in New York City, I vaguely thought Woody and I would do one segment a day for five minutes reacting to the biggest story of the night. It would be something I could do with my left hand…a little sideshow job…then I would go write my column.
When we first me, Mark told me he had an idea to call it 1st and 10. Originally on the show, they gave us much more time than we even get now. Now we get a significant portion of the bigger show 1st Take. 1st and 10 is the show within the show. Ten topics and we would do about 45 minutes of the 2 hour Cold Pizza show. It began to wear me out. It’s a lot of work to keep up on a nightly basis with everything going on in sports.
You can’t play favorites or say you are just a football fan or college basketball. No you can’t. you better like the NBA and college basketball and golf and horse racing…everything…tennis. You better be ready to walk in the door tomorrow morning and discuss whatever happened of any magnitude the night before.
If I fried myself on anything, it’s just being prepared. I watched games incessantly. Some nights four or five at once. I have to be up by five for the early meeting. The point is, it really started wearing on me to the point that for two years I wrote columns for ESPN.com until I was just worn out from it.
Also during that period I started my relationship with Stephen A. Smith. We were doing a thing for Sundays called Old School, New School. It was a Sunday morning SportsCenter debate. I had to really prepare hard for it. We would do three topics on Sunday Morning. My only off day was Saturday and we would have a conference call with the producer where we selected the three topics. I would do my homework on that day, collect my thoughts, do research and get up Sunday morning and get the thoughts in my head. You had to basically memorize anything you want to take to battle with you because you couldn’t have notes and you had no teleprompter. You had to be ready to go because with Stephen A., I had no idea of where it might go.
Over that 2 year plus period, I never worked so hard in all my life. I loved it to the point where once Mark left, I had a chance when my next deal came up to focus the deal on television–which I did.
I can still write if I choose too, I just haven’t. I can write books–which I definitely will. My ultimate calling is to write books again. I’ve got ten in my brain right now. It’s backed up and people wanting me to write books for them and I will.
I got so caught up in TV. Thank God and let me find some wood to knock on here…the ratings have steadily risen to the point that show against a lot of odds has become a success. I’m very proud of it and invested emotionally and psychologically in it.
I’m going to ride that tiger until it throws me off and it probably will at some point. In my soul, I’m a writer and I will return to that at some point soon.
Mizzo: For the sake of the interview Skip, could you elaborate on your time in Miami, L.A. and Dallas? I just want to be thorough before we get into Part II.
Skip: Sure. To give you an idea of what the business was at this time, newspapers dominated the landscape, dominated local television, dominated what little talk radio there was.
It was all about newspapers. In Miami, the Miami Herald ruled. I came in as the low man on a tall totem pole with another writer from my rival school the University of Tennessee. The sports editor told both of us we were on trial. He said one of us would be promoted in six months and one of us won’t be. He said either of us might not make it in the business and it was up to us to rise in the department. We each had to start in bureau offices. They sent me to West Palm Beach bureau and to Fort Lauderdale bureau. It was a competition to see who could rise to join the staff in downtown Miami. It was cold blooded, survival of the fittest writer. I don’t know how–because it was rough–but I somehow won the competition. Once I got downtown, I rose quickly. They let me do more and more. I was in an incredibly stodgy and conservative department. Extreme editing. They tried to edit any personality out and I fought and fought but survived and flourished there in the end.
In my summers at Vanderbilt, I went back home to Oklahoma City to the paper I grew up reading called the Daily Oklahoman. It’s a very good paper. The sports columnist there was my mentor and idol named Frank Boggs. He wrote a letter for me that helped me win that Grantland Rice Scholarship. He let me do more than just interning at the paper and I had more responsibilities than a lot of the staff. It was the most fun I’ve ever had in my life. I was getting up early ever morning and playing golf, going in during the afternoon and interviewing people I never thought I’d interview and writing big features. At the end of the summer he said he’d like to hire me full time when I graduated and I said “Done. I’ll do this. I’ll come back”. That was our agreement. Two days before my graduation, my phone rang in my dorm room at Vanderbilt. The whole time I’d planned on going back to Oklahoma City. On the phone was Frank Boggs and he told me he would not allow me to come back to OKC because of how little they could pay me. This is 1974 and he was offering me 150 dollars a week. He just told me that I couldn’t do this. His point was he was fearful I would sorta get trapped there. That I would come home and never leave. He told me no. I told him I didn’t have a job and he told me he would get me a job.
The next morning, he just started calling everyone he knew in the business…you know covering Super Bowls or the Masters. One was the Miami Herald, so he opened that door for me. I flew down the next day to interview and got the job and flew back for graduation. He also called the L.A. Times. He talked with the famous Jim Murray–who was a buddy of his and I got on the radar at the L.A. Times.
When they finally had an opening two years into my Miami Herald stay, the sports editor called me out of the blue and told me he wanted me to come to L.A. I’d never been west of the Rocky Mountains.
He didn’t even want to fly me out for a visit. He told me he’d been following my work on the Knight Ridder wire in Miami and said he wanted to hire me.
I wanted to see L.A. I wanted to go to the West Coast. It was great. I never covered a team, they let me write features and investigative pieces. It was a great ride for two years and as I told you earlier, my constant clash with my sports editor, who was like a father to me, was I wanted to write a column. I would ask him to let me write one inside on page 6 and he would tell me no. Editorial? Nope. Jim Murray wrote a column and we had another guy who wrote notes column on page 3 named John Hall but that was it. We went back and forth.
It was a time where newspapers were awakened that sports was selling newspapers and that these young gun columnists could come into a newspaper war market and attract attention and readers. It happened already with guys my age. Mike Lupica had gotten a column in New York and a guy you probably won’t remember named David Israel had gotten one in Chicago. Both of them were in that mold of fiery, shoot from the hip, young gun columnists of that era and I wanted to be one. I had a chance to go to San Francisco and to Washington to the old Washington Star. I turned those down because I’m from the Southwest and spent a lot of time in Dallas. When that came up, it just clicked for me. It was a great newspaper war and I knew I could make a lot more money in that kind of battle situation. It was also great.
It was survival in Miami and attempting to become a columnist at the L.A. Times.
Mizzo: OK Skip. Last segment for Part 1. I want to get into your books. What made you write these books? The first one being God’s Coach:The Hymns, Hype, and Hypocrisy of Tom Landry’s Cowboys.
Skip: The first one came after writing hundreds and hundreds of daily columns written about Tom Landry’s Cowboys. I found him and the team intensely captivating and compelling. I’d gotten close to many, many players who’d become ex players that had many, many untold stories about Coach Landry, Tex Schramm and Gil Brandt, who ran the Cowboys.
When Jerry Jones swooped in from Arkansas, bought them and as you know, removed Coach Landry in favor of Jimmy Johnson his “roommate from Arkansas” though they weren’t that close, but we didn’t know that at that point.
When all that came down, it was such a stunner that once the smoke cleared, I realized I was sitting on a pretty good book once he’d been deposed. It just seemed so obvious this was my time to write my first book. One thing led to another and I connected with an agent in Chicago who told me to send her a proposal. She told me it was the best proposal she’d ever seen.
I knew it wasn’t the execution of the proposal, it was just what I knew and what I hadn’t been able to write in all those Landry years. I may have touched on it in bits and pieces, but I never managed to pull it all together. There were so many stories I couldn’t get away with while he was in power. They were just too volatile and they belonged in a book. She sold it to the first publisher she showed it too–Simon and Schuster because they were really hot for it.
The problem was they wanted it to be written like making “newspaper deadlines” because they wanted it to come out by the next football season and Coach Landry was told to leave a little later after the season was over. I had a month to research and three months to write.
Trust me and I know you know writing well enough to know it’s just not enough time to do what I tried to do.
It almost put me in an early grave because I barely slept for four months. Of the three books I wrote, he (Landry) gets the one I’m most proud of and probably the one that got the least acclaim.
The writing, the reporting, the structure of it, the execution of it…I don’t think I could do much better than that book. I was extremely proud. It sold OK–but not great–because and the quote I got from my editor was “It is going to hit the market and just explode.” It sold well and made them some money, but it didn’t connect because I don’t think people were ready to read the truth about Tom Landry. It was the unvarnished truth about that whole regime–for better or for worse. It wasn’t completely negative, but there is just a lot of hard truth in it about the compromises that were made by a Christian who coached a game played on Sundays. That’s why it’s called God’s Coach. The editor put a subtitle on it that I was always squeamish about and I think it was a little bit of a turn off. My friends told me this. The Hyms, Hype and Hypocrisy of Tom Landry’s Dallas Cowboys was just a little strong. It wasn’t all about that. There was a lot of greatness in it. There was a lot of goodness in it. It was just an unflinching look at those 29 years of the rise and fall of that classic franchise in sports. When I was finished, I was finished…onward, outward. It was back to my newspaper column.
Six months later, I realized this guy Jimmy Johnson was something. I had never encountered a force quite like him. He was a coaching force of nature created a force field around what had become a sleepy facility out there in Valley Ranch that was so irreverent, yet so effective, that I started to realize right away that good stuff was about to happen.
As you remember, they went 1-15 the first year but you could just see it coming. He was gonna clean house completely and run Everson Walls outta town–which he did right away–and start fresh.
A year and a half passed and my publisher asked if I was sure there wasn’t another book here–the Jerry Jimmy Cowboys?
I told them I didn’t know. We went back and forth and finally signed a deal to do a second book preseason 1992 and it was going to be a season inside this crazy new Cowboy outfit. The publisher didn’t really care if they went 8-8 or 9-7 or missed the playoffs or whatever happened.
Lo and behold, they shocked everyone and themselves by winning the Super Bowl. I was collecting my information all along that trail the entire way and wound up with a Super Bowl in my lap. That was even a tighter deadline. That was a 2 month write. It became a look into the new dynasty in the NFL.
The crux of that book–which was highly controversial–was and this was completely unreported in Dallas, was the growing clash between the “best friends” Jimmy and Jerry. No one had touched that. I was able, because i took the time to do it by hanging around Valley Ranch, to see it in action. It was really escalating by the end of the year to the point that one of the people who worked under them predicted to me that they won’t make it another year. That was the end of my book,The Boys: The Untold Story of the Dallas Cowboys’ Season on the Edge, “This would be short lived. Enjoy it while it lasts.”
I just got barbecued in Dallas, Texas for writing that. None of my colleagues knew anything about it. Every talk show was saying this was a fabrication and never happened. It was an exaggeration. It was knock down, knock down, knock down. I took a terrible beating over that book. Even Jimmy was upset about things in the book. He went off on me. He went after me after practice and told me I would not be allowed on the practice field again.
To Jerry’s credit, when I went to training camp, the first day it opened next year in Austin, Texas, Jerry walked right over to me and told me he believed every word that I wrote. That I nailed it all and that I was allowed around his football team any time I wanted to be around his football team. He said “I am the boss and I will remain the boss.”
It took a year and that was a rough ride for me, because you know they won a second Super Bowl.
Shortly after that victory over Buffalo, Jerry Jones in a fit of rage at the owner’s meeting in Orlando fired Jimmy Johnson. As soon as that news hit in Dallas, I was finally vindicated because it was the shock of all shocks. That was the most shocking story I’ve been apart of in sports and that hit Dallas, Texas. It was just unfathomable the owner fired the coach that was poised to win a third straight Super Bowl–an unprecedented third straight Super Bowl.
It made complete sense to me and I can’t believe they made it as long as they did.
To complete the trilogy for you, I did the book, said that’s it, I’m out and the next book will be on pro basketball. I almost did a NBA book in this period with Simon and Schuster. I just couldn’t figure out if I was going to have much time to do what they wanted me to do and still write my damn column.
That being said, what does Jerry Jones do? He turns right around and hires Barry Switzer? From the University of Oklahoma to the Dallas Cowboys?
Mizzo: Something else big falling into your lap huh?
Skip: Yes! Oh my God! I had grown up and Oklahoma Sooner and I knew Coach Switzer a little. Not a lot, but a little. I had some dealings with him. I was intrigued by him. He had been deposed in ’89 at Oklahoma for what he called the “rapin’, dopin’ shootin’ at my dormitory.”
They had gone straight outlaw there.
Mizzo: Charles Thompson?
Skip: Charles Thompson was selling drugs out of the jock dorm on campus. He was selling cocaine and got busted.
It became a disaster, but I did think he was a really good college football coach–if you could tolerate his morals or not. He was a wild man. Foremost, I knew he would be great copy and the prospect of Barry Switzer taking Jimmy Johnson’s team that was poised to win several Super Bowls was just too good.
Right away, Barry comes in and I reconnect with him. He liked me and he was very open with me. Then a shock–not on the scale of Jimmy Johnson being fired–that a quarterback he recruited to the University of Oklahoma wasn’t digging the way Barry coached the team he basically ran. Troy (Aikman) and Jimmy clashed early, but they had become very close and Troy was cut out of the Jimmy mold in that both of them were perfectionists…driven and extremely dedicated to severe practices. Hard, punctual and demanding practices.
Here comes good ole’ Barry in the door and he’s like “What the hell? We have practice at three and if you guys want to show up at 3:15…what the hell.”
Troy started going crazy right away in the first camp. He did not like it and began to voice to his boys in the media that this was not going to work.
It began a little feud between them that began to brew prior to that year that was under the surface. That year…and you might remember…they ended up in San Francisco and frankly, thanks to Troy’s horrendous start, they fell behind 21-0 in the NFC Championship game. Then Troy and Michael began to battle back and they ended up losing…
Skip: Yep. They shouldn’t have. They were just better. Emmit was hurt that game. He had a pulled hamstring, tried to go but wasn’t effective.
That opened the floodgates of emotion. We went into the next camp and it became open warfare between Barry and Troy.
In those days, I called my agent and said you aren’t going to believe this but I am sitting on one of the most incredible soap opera stories that you could ever imagine. The coach and the quarterback are getting to the point where they don’t even speak to each other. My agent asked me if I wanted to shop this and if anybody would buy it and I didn’t know. I said it’s incredible. It’s better than God’s Coach or The Boys. She said that we should try.
I did another proposal and she had like seven or eight publishers interested in it. Auctioned it off and it ended up with Harper Collins. It was gonna be another season inside another extremely talented, extremely troubled football team. If I could have written my proposal after the year, my proposal would have been ten times richer and stronger than it was before the year because it became better than fiction what happened as the season unfolded.
Again, open warfare between Aikman and Switzer. I was close to Barry and also his daughter, Kathy–who basically lived with him. She was a close friend of mine, so I was privy to a lot of things most people weren’t privy to.
The first thing that came up was that Norv Turner had left to go coach the Redskins. Troy loved Norv Turner because he was his quarterback coach the first Super Bowl go around. They were like big brother, little brother. Barry became convinced that Troy wanted to get Barry fired and Norv hired in Dallas.
I believe there was a lot of truth to that. Barry claimed–and I know this seems out there, but the facts are the facts–that Troy played less than his best in both Washington games. You know how that rivalry is. The ‘Skins weren’t that good and beat the eventual Super Bowl Champions in both games–including the one in Texas Stadium. It wasn’t as Switzer described it as “throwing the games”, he just thought Troy’s heart wasn’t in those games in part because he just wanted to get Norv Turner back and the quickest way to get the Cowboy coach fired was to lose to the rival, Redskins.
In the second Redskins game on December the 3rd, 1995, at Texas Stadium, an incident occurred during the game in which Kevin Williams–the little wide out from (University of) Miami–ran a wrong route according to Troy. It was a route that during practice that week, Kevin Williams and Michael Irvin and the other receivers were cutting up and goofing around. They weren’t running with any discipline and because of that inattention to detail in practice, Kevin Williams ran a wrong route on a 3rd and 8 play in this home loss to the Redskins that caused a misfire and an incompletion.
When they came to the sidelines and according to numerous people within earshot, Troy Aikman calls Kevin Williams a n word out of rage.
Well as you well know, this would just not fly on the sideline of a pro football game or any locker room. It was just not allowed. Sorry, you cannot cross that line. One of the assistant coaches, John Blake, who is now recruiting for the University of North Carolina and had another sensational recruiting class, was apparently Switzer’s right hand guy at Oklahoma and became the head coach at Oklahoma. John Blake told me that he heard it and was just outraged over it. He was stunned by it. It spread very quickly through the Black players on the team. Switzer was closer to the Black athlete than he was the White athlete for the most part. Switzer had a deep heart for the plight of the Black athlete. He was not going to accept the n word from his quarterback in anger in some sideline fit. The secretary called Troy that night and told him to be in Barry’s office at 9 in the morning. Troy came in thinking Barry was gonna give him a pat on the back and of course Barry laid down the law and told Troy either he was going to apologize to the rest of the team when they came in today at 1:00 pm or he was going to have to apologize for Troy.
Troy was so angered by that ultimatum that he just (according to Troy) launched right out of that office and the two of them refused to speak to each other from December 4th all the way to the Super Bowl that they won in spite of each other.
This lead to incredible mudslinging back and forth and I’m sure you know about this and it became the flash part of the book but shouldn’t have been. It was just another wanna be incredible incidents between the two but, the Troy Aikman gay rumors had been in Dallas for several years. I did talk radio in Dallas and I would get at least one call a week from someone asking if Troy Aikman is gay. I would hear about the various incidents and would not pay too much attention to them until Switzer asked me at one point if it was true. I told him I didn’t know. His quote was, “You know this is incredible. I gotta take all this shit off this kid and he’s queer!”
He challenged some of the other reporters also telling them to tell the truth about Troy and saying he’s a hypocrite. He was saying here he is doing all these commercials for Brut cologne and Acme Brick in Dallas…these sorta macho adds…and he is not what he appears to be.
It went all the way to the period where I was writing the book and Barry called me one day at home and asked me what’s going on. He said he heard I was having trouble with Aikman–which I certainly did because I was trying to write the book. Troy would call me at home saying I can’t write this and I can’t write that. It really wasn’t about the gay stuff. It was about the n word and game throwing. Barry would say he’s just afraid you are gonna write the gay stuff. I told Barry I had no idea and nor do I care if he’s gay or not. It definitely became part of the clash and mudslinging between the two of them.
Again, Barry just went off on this tirade saying many security people have told him about this incident and this and this and this.
So I just wrote it became the clash between the two. My only regret about the book is that it does not say that Aikman is gay. I had no idea and nor do I care to this day.
A number of the Black players–with whom I was close–contended that he was bisexual.
They didn’t like him to start with because he was distant, knee jerk emotional, quick tempered. His friends on the team loved him for one reason and that was because he could play. When it was time to play, he performed.
Deep down…trust me…the stars on that team…the Black players…and you know who they are…they didn’t like the guy (Aikman).
I wrote, Hell-Bent: The Crazy Truth About the “Win or Else” Dallas Cowboys, and it’s the best read of each of my three books. Maybe not the best writing–once again extreme deadline.
I also knew I had to go back and live with them because I had no plans on leaving Dallas. I wish I could have written it even harder than I did because I felt like I tip toed through some of it.
I wish I had sledgehammered it because it was the truth and everyone who knew what was going on inside the locker room told me the book was a terrific job and that I nailed it.
Because I did. It’s exactly what happened. All I heard from people around the country who didn’t read the book was, “You outed Troy Aikman?”
I didn’t. The coach definitely thought he was gay and a lot of his teammates thought he was gay. More than that, they thought he was racist and they thought he was trying to get Barry Switzer.
I basically think he did get Barry Switzer before it was over.
So those are the tales of my books.
Mizzo: All I can say is wow.