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texasmonthly.com: Once you decided to do another feature on football, how did you go about determining what you wanted to focus on?
Brian D. Sweany: This is my third football package to work on for Texas Monthly. The first was in October 1999, and the second was in August 2002. But this seemed like a great time to take another swing at it (sorry to mix metaphors). UT won the national championship and Houston native Vince Young became a superstar. The Dallas Cowboys signed Terrell Owens, which has caused endless talk. The Southlake Carroll Dragons have established themselves as one of the greatest high school dynasties in recent memory. So we wanted to do something that touched all levels of the sport, from Pop Warner to the pros. It was a lot of material to cover, so I hope the list we came up with is a strong one.
texasmonthly.com: How did you narrow your initial list?
BS: We started compiling the list last fall so that we could do some reporting during the season (it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to start cold in May). A number of editors, writers, and art directors tossed out ideas, and over the coming months, we argued about ideas and made the case for new ones. And, as always happens, some ideas that were on the original list fell apart. I had wanted to write about Deion Sanders, who had coached a pee-wee team in Prosper before he went back to the NFL. But he had stopped doing that by the time we caught up to him.
texasmonthly.com: What is your favorite item on the list? Why?
BS: There are a lot of great items, so that’s a tough question. I love the all-time team, which took a lot of work and a lot of arguing. I love Paul Burka’s item on Rice University’s Marching Owl Band. But there’s something about that simple photograph of the sign on the grounds of the Jack County Courthouse. It celebrates the Tigers’ winning the state AA title in 1962 and 1971. That image captures the essence of how much football matters to people in this state. The memories and accomplishments are timeless, and the games are one way our communities measure themselves against the rest of the state.
texasmonthly.com: Is there anything you feel you left out? Why or why not?
BS: I think we left enough stuff out that we could do a second issue. That’s the beauty of talking about football. As the cover of the magazine says, we’re never going to do a hockey issue. Football is the sport that matters most.
texasmonthly.com: What was the most interesting thing you learned while working on this feature?
BS: I learned how great Hardin-Simmons’s coach is; Jimmie Keeling coaches the college with the highest winning percentage in the state. I learned that Boko the Bobcat is quite a character. And I learned that even a rivalry like UT and A&M can cool off long enough for one team to support the other. I love the Aggie T-shirt that reads “Today Only. Gig ’em Horns.”
texasmonthly.com: Do you remember the first football game you ever watched?
BS: I grew up in Plano, and my sister and brother both played in the band. They are quite a bit older than I am, so we would go to the games at Clark Field, where the cover was shot for the issue. I still remember going to the playoff games at Texas Stadium, and that was a big deal for a four- or five-year old. The crowd and the game and the band and the noise. It was all one big pageant. So I grew up wanting to play for three teams: the Plano Wildcats, the SMU Mustangs (pre-death penalty, obviously), and the Dallas Cowboys. As it turns out, I’m 0-3 in my effort to play football.
texasmonthly.com: You went to the cover shoot and got to throw a couple of balls with Troy Aikman. What was that like?
BS: Let me tell you something about Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin. During my junior and senior years in college at the University of North Texas, the Cowboys won back-to-back Super Bowls, and my friends watched every game of every season, usually at Riprock’s. Those were great years, particularly for a kid who grew up worshipping the Cowboys of Tom Landry, Roger Staubach, Tony Dorsett, Billy Joe DuPree, Drew Pearson, well, you get the idea. So to play catch with Troy was a highlight I’ll be boring people with for years to come. (I only wish I could have thrown a tighter spiral.) I’ll also tell you that for the issue, I drove down to Waco and interviewed Dave Campbell and went to lunch with him at George’s. Both of those are great moments for me. I feel lucky to have those opportunities.