Writer Skip Bayless talks about the Dallas Cowboys, Bill Parcells, and his pick for next year's Super Bowl winner.
HE MAY BE AN OKLAHOMA native, but sports columnist Skip Bayless made Dallas his home—and the Cowboys his team—for almost twenty years before landing, most recently, at the San Jose Mercury News. Bayless, a three-time Texas sportswriter of the year, has written a trio of best-sellers chronicling his years with America’s Team. In this month’s issue he debates with Texas Monthly‘s own Gary Cartwright over the Cowboys’ future under new coach Bill Parcells. Here, he gives us an inside look at his own seasons in the state.
texasmonthly.com: How long did you live in Texas?
Skip Bayless: I came in 1978 to the Dallas Morning News. Then I went to the Dallas Times Herald in 1982, and I was there until it folded in 1991. Then I wrote books and worked for ESPN out of Dallas and did radio there from 1991-1997; then I went to the Chicago Tribune.
texasmonthly.com: How’d you get involved with Dallas-Fort Worth’s 1310 the Ticket sports radio?
SB: I helped start that radio station on a shoestring. We started in early 1994, right as the Cowboys were going to their second-straight Super Bowl. That Monday of Super Bowl week we kicked off. We had no money, we couldn’t even buy office supplies. I was on the ground floor as an investor and on-air talent. I spoke the first words on the Ticket. I don’t know what possessed me to agree to do it, but I agreed to do the morning-drive shift so I was on from six to nine. I agreed to do it, but I’m a night person, so it was a rough ride for me.
I was shocked that it did well, and then the second year it did sensationally well during football season because the Cowboys were doing well. We were winning the ratings and beating the FM stations in our demographic, which was 25- to 54-year-old males, and then in came a big company called FFX, which offered us an outrageous amount of money.
texasmonthly.com: You’ve inspired an entry in the Ticket’s Ticktionary—”skipshots”—for your love of cheesy plays on words. How’d that come about?
SB: After the Times Herald was bought and folded by the Morning News I tried something that was just simply ahead of its time. Some investors came to me and said, “Let’s put your column out by fax.” Remember there was no Internet to speak of yet, and so from 1991 to 1995 we distributed my column three days a week via fax and also syndicated it so that it ran in Austin and Houston and elsewhere. Subscribers could get it immediately via fax late at night right after I wrote it.
Anyway, I would write a full column of 700 to 800 words and then down the left side of this one-page fax, we’d do three or four “skipshots.” They’d just be one-liners, just one-shot deals on little things that I couldn’t get in my column. A skipshot was like—bang! You had a quick opinion. I don’t know why that took on a life of its own because I didn’t really do that that much on the radio.
texasmonthly.com: What lured you into sportswriting?
SB: Sportswriting came from God, because it was a God-thing that happened. During my junior year of high school, I was a pretty good baseball and basketball player, and I thought I was going to go on and play in college. Just by fate I took an advanced English course taught by the journalism teacher, and in the first week of school she assigned a basic book report. I, of course, chose a sports biography. She called me up after class on Friday of the first week and said, “You have to come into journalism because you can write.” I had no idea I could write because no one in my family had ever written and, in fact, neither of my parents made it through high school.
I thought it was beneath my dignity, because my teammates would laugh at me if I started covering games when I should have been starring in them, but my senior year I gave in and did it. She told me I didn’t have to write headlines, or edit copy, or do all those journalism things. I could just write a column. So I wrote twice a week, and I took some abuse for it.
Then she entered my work—unbeknownst to me—in a scholarship competition at Vanderbilt called the Grantland Rice scholarship for sportswriting. They give one a year and it’s a great deal because it’s a full ride. I won—and I was shocked. I had never been to Vanderbilt. They called my house just as I was coming in from baseball practice, and my mom said, “Somebody called from Vanderbilt University, and you’re supposed to call them back tonight. It’s urgent.” I had one night to decide, and I just said, “Okay, I’m going to do this.”
texasmonthly.com: Do you remember what sports biography you wrote your book report on?
SB: I remember it vividly. It was on a quarterback who was from Marshall named Y. A. Tittle. One of the most famous sports photos ever taken is of Y.A. when he was the New York Giants quarterback. He’s down on his knees and his face is bloody.
texasmonthly.com: How would you critique the books you’ve written on the Dallas Cowboys?
SB: My first one, called God’s Coach, was a look back at the Landry years. That one I was happy with even though I had to write it quickly on a pretty tight deadline because he had been deposed at that point and they wanted it to come out the next year. It was very difficult because I was dealing with thirty years’ worth of information.
I hadn’t planned to write any more Cowboys books, but the next thing I know Jerry and Jimmy are coming on strong and going at it, and it just was rich. I told my editor at Simon and Schuster, and he said, “Let’s do another one. Let’s do the 1992 football season.” And he gave me an advance to do my second book, The Boys, a one-year look at one team and one dynamic of Jerry and Jimmy.
My problem, though, was that I was in the middle of it. I was on the radio, I was doing my columns, and it wasn’t a healthy position for me because I knew I had to go back to the Cowboys after writing the book. You end up liking some of them and not liking some of them, but I was so close. I lived with the team, I lived inside the coaching staff for a whole year. And not that I was trying to do an exposé, because I wasn’t, but the Jimmy and Jerry thing screamed for reporting and I knew it, so the tone of that book was “this is not going to last”—and it didn’t.
texasmonthly.com: Now that the Big Tuna is in Big D do you wish you were still in Dallas writing about the Cowboys? There could be some great stuff for a fourth book about America’s Team.
SB: I’m booked out on the Cowboys, although I still have overtures to do one big look-back book.
texasmonthly.com: You once said that “Johnson and Jones were Lennon and McCartney.” So what relationship would best explain new coach Bill Parcells and Jones?
SB: I don’t know yet, but Parcells is a much more mature Jimmy Johnson, even though there isn’t that much age difference between them. It’s as if Parcells and Jones have each been through three or four marriages before coming together, and by this point they know what kind of give-and-take they’re willing and able to bring to the relationship. It wouldn’t surprise me if they win at least one Super Bowl together.
texasmonthly.com: You’ve had your share of Super Bowl coverage lately with the Oakland Raiders making it to January’s Super Bowl. How does the football atmosphere on the West Coast compare with the atmosphere surrounding the Cowboys?
SB: It’s quite a different dynamic. The West Coast has so much more to offer in the way of entertainment because it has two good teams (the Oakland Raiders and the San Francisco 49ers) who have an inter-area rivalry, and it has the San Francisco Giants who almost won the World Series in October. The passion that Cowboys fans have stems from their reliance on their football team to improve the image of the city. The Dallas Mavericks’ recent success has been helping to ease the pressure off of the Cowboys, though, but Dallas remains your basic nice place to live but not to visit.
texasmonthly.com: Dallas owner Jerry Jones or Oakland owner Al Davis—who’s the more dominant head honcho?
SB: Well, Al Davis taught Jerry Jones everything he knows about being a football owner—which is basically, the owner should coach the coach. Al has a better feel for football overall because he was a coach, the [AFL] commissioner, and a pretty good general manager. And Al doesn’t need to be in the spotlight. He doesn’t grant interviews. He only needs the Sunday performance. Jerry needs the Sunday performance and every other day of the week too!
texasmonthly.com: Cowboys coach Bill Parcells or your debate colleague Gary Cartwright—who’s more disillusioned about Jones ?
SB: Gary. He speaks like the way most fans do about Jerry Jones who dismiss him as an Arkansas hillbillly who bought his way up and ruined the team that Gary grew up loving. One thing I didn’t say in the debate, though, is that Jerry deserves credit for his inclination, his drive, and his money in pulling off two major acquisitions over the years. The first was Charles Haley in 1992, who is just the best bona fide game-changing pass-rusher. Jerry recognized that Haley had burned his bridges with the 49ers and stole him away. It was the steal of the century, and it was all Jerry. Jimmy was not interested. And then Jerry bought Deion Sanders away from the rival 49ers in 1995, which was the only reason the Cowboys were able to win their third Super Bowl in four years.
texasmonthly.com: You were named Texas sportswriter of the year three times. Let’s say your Mercury News editor were to up and redesign the sports section and leave you with table scraps of a column—would you head back to Texas and try for a fourth?
SB: (chuckling) I would consider that, I mean, the Southwest, that mentality is in my blood. I’m comfortable there. Of course, the Dallas Morning News is the only place I could go to do what I do, but I burned my bridges there, although I loved all those people.
texasmonthly.com: So . . . let’s test your football aptitude. Who do you foresee in the Big Dance at next year’s Houston-hosted Super Bowl?
SB: I haven’t thought about that, but considering the shock value of the last three Super Bowl winners, I’d have to say the Cincinnati Bengals are going to win it, based on picking the least likely team. As far as teams who are on the verge, I’d say the Philadelphia Eagles matched up against the New York Jets.
texasmonthly.com: And don’t forget about your prediction for another Lombardi Trophy in Dallas . . .
SB: The Cowboys won’t be in the Super Bowl next year, but they will make it into the playoffs. Parcells will win Jerry at least one, maybe two, more rings before he leaves though.
texasmonthly.com: Rock me!