Since the Dallas Cowboys are “America’s Team,” you can understand why they have been the subject of so many books. I have read a lot of them.
The most recent, and likely, best-selling edition is called The Dallas Cowboys: The Outrageous History of the Biggest, Loudest, Most Hated, Best Loved Football Team in America by Joe Nick Patoski (New York: Little Brown, 2012). At 805 pages, it does the job.
But, I don’t think it’s the best. If you really want the history, go back to a book that concentrates on the first nine years of the team’s existence (1960-1969). And, that book is entitled Dallas Cowboys Pro or Con: A Complete History by Sam Blair (New York: Doubleday, 1970). The book is long out of print, but it is available through third-party sellers.
Before his retirement, Blair was a columnist for the Dallas Morning News. I met him through the late Merle Harmon, who broadcast games for area sports teams for many years. Blair was the paper’s first Dallas Cowboys writer, and he worked for the Dallas Morning News for 41 years (1954-1995).
Blair was a writer in a different era. In his career, there was not muckraking, blowing up heresay into facts, instant messaging, social media availability, or anything like today’s journalistic activity. Writers went to press conferences, chatted informally with players and coaches, kept off-the-record tidbits exactly that way, and did not blow up rumors into stories. It is true that they were laid-back, let the stories come to them, and were definitely not Watergate-style investigative reporters.
Perhaps even more so than Blair was Red Smith, who was an editorialist for the New York Times and New York Herald Tribune from the 1930’s through the 1980’s. I read a great collection of his columns in a book by Daniel Okrent entitled American Pastimes: The Very Best of Red Smith (New York: Library of America, 2013). Writers like Blair and Smith were just so different than you see today.
But, back to the Cowboys book by Blair. I guess that I select it for history because it is concentrated on the early years. It does not have to spread itself thin over 50 years. The context of Dallas, Texas, and especially the rivalry for ticket sales with Lamar Hunt’s Dallas Texans is so vivid in the book. Because it only covers the first nine years, you find all aspects of the team covered in a well-developed manner.
There were other books published about the team at that time that were also good. I remember reading the late Steve Perkins’ Next Year’s Champions (New York: World Publishing, 1969) . But, that book focused on a single season when the Cowboys did not advance as far as they had previously into the NFL Championship game. I remember it had a drawing of Don Meredith on the cover, wrapped around by Green Bay Packer linebacker Dave Robinson, as he through an interception into the end zone in the fourth quarter of the 1966 NFL Championship game. And, I remember how much I was stricken by the racism and bigotry in our area, even for star Cowboys players in the 1960’s, as told in Cotton Bowl Days by John Eisenberg, which was later retitled, and is now unavailable even through third party sellers.
I just think if you want to study the team’s history, why not read it historically? And, Blair’s book is the one that allows you to do that. You have to search for it, but you can find it.
A recent book review in the Wall Street Journal highlighted a new best-seller entitled Fame: What the Classics Tell Us About Our Cult of Celebrity by Tom Payne (Picador, 2010). Critics have provided a number of favorable reviews about the book.
As we begin the new year, I wonder if you might consider an alternative to this type of book. Because the famous tell only one side of the story. For years, we have been fascinated by the way that famous people live. This includes politicians, movie stars, military leaders, athletes, upper-class societal types, among others. For many of us, these are people who live what we can only dream about. For others, they are role models. As I learned many years ago, “if you want to be rich, don’t follow the pattern of a poor person.”
But, what about unknown, non-famous people? There is a different story that revolves around them. How can we access life lessons from people who aren’t famous? While there are fewer treatises written about and by people who are not famous, they do exist. If you look hard enough, you will find them.
Here’s one that I enjoyed a few years ago. It is called Hotel Kid: A Times Square Childhood by Stephen Lewis (Paul Dry Books, 2004). The kid was rich, but not famous. Have you ever heard of him? You may know people who have invested in urban, downtown-centered condominiums, many of which are renovated from warehouses or very old office complexes. Living there is different from most of us, but not drastically so. But a hotel? What if you lived and grew up in a hotel? What do you learn? How do you cope? How do you turn out?
Or, how about Cotton Bowl Days: Growing up with Dallas and the Cowboys in the ’60’s by John Eisenberg (Zondervan, 2004)? He wasn’t an NFL star – just a kid in a Jewish family that had Sunday routines with football. It sure was different than what we do today, but his experience broadens our own perspective considerably.
No one has to be famous to have a story that others can enjoy, learn from, and put to use in certain ways. If you look hard enough, they exist. And, they can be just as valuable as any book written about someone famous.
What about you? Do you have a favorite book by or about someone who would never be included in a book such as Fame? Write back and tell me about it! Let’s share the title with others!