texasmonthly.com: Do you remember the first time you ever saw the Cowboys play? If so, do you remember how you felt?
Gary Cartwright: I saw the very first Cowboys game, in the Cotton Bowl in 1960 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers quarterback that night was the great Highland Park and University of Texas passer, Bobby Layne. They beat the Cowboys with no difficulty, which is what everyone expected. It was obvious to me that this team had a long, long way to go. They lost all but one game that season. I think they were able to tie the NY Giants. What I remember most about that first game, though, was going to the University Club in downtown Dallas later that night. Layne, a famous saloon-hound, was there, making merry. The MC asked Bobby to stand up and say a few words. Everyone expected him to be gracious, since he was a native son and Dallas had waited forever to field a team in the NFL. What he said was: “Well, you got yourself a team here in Dallas, and we came down and beat your butts. If you still have a team this time next year, we’ll come back and beat your butts again.” Welcome to the NFL.
texasmonthly.com: When did you decide to write this story about the Cowboys and why?
GC: Evan called about a month ago and asked if I would go to Cowboys camp and write something for October. I spent a few days in Wichita Falls and came back thinking I’d write about Emmitt Smith, the one bright spot for Dallas this year. At a meeting a few days later with Evan, Paul, Brian, Scott, and others, I was convinced to change the focus to: What happened to the Cowboys? The answer was clear, at least to me. Jerry Jones screwed them up. Since I wasn’t able to talk to Jones at camp, I made arrangements to meet him in New Orleans where the team was playing its third preseason game. That interview is a part of the story.
texasmonthly.com: Do you like Jerry Jones? If so, why? If not, why not?
GC: Yes, I like Jerry despite everything. His optimism and enthusiasm are hard to deny. He means well, I think. But he is handicapped by his monstrous ego and overwhelmed by his embarrassment of arrogance. As I wrote, there was a brief spell in New Orleans when I had a momentary change of heart, when I doubted that I could write the kind of hard-hitting piece I had in mind. You might say the devil made me do what I ended up doing.
texasmonthly.com: In your opinion, what has been the best thing Jerry Jones has done for the team?
GC: The best thing Jerry ever did was bring in Jimmy Johnson as his first head coach, though I hated the way he handled the firing of Tom Landry. But Jimmy was responsible for three Super Bowl championships, in my opinion.
texasmonthly.com: In your opinion, what has been the worst thing Jerry Jones has done for the team?
GC: It follows that the worst thing he did was fire Jimmy after the second Super Bowl, then hire Barry Switzer, a coach that Troy Aikman loathed. Then he appointed himself boss of bosses, the man who made all the decisions. Come to think of it, this may have been the worst thing he did for the team. Who knows if the coaches he hired would have been successful without Jerry breathing down their necks?
texasmonthly.com: In your story, you said you don’t really care about the Cowboys anymore. Why?
GC: I lied. Or at least I exaggerated. I can’t help having strong feelings for the Cowboys. I guess I feel like a betrayed lover right now. I secretly hope the Cowboys will phone and beg my forgiveness. If Jones ever does turn this team around and produce another winner, I will gladly eat crow (or at least my manuscript) and apologize.
texasmonthly.com: Do you think the players are disgusted with the team? With Jones?
GC: The players who are there now are just happy to have a job. They may have private feelings of disgust at some of Jerry’s dealings but most are too loyal (or insecure) to say so in public.
texasmonthly.com: Do you think Jones will ever fire the head coach and name himself as coach? Why or why not? Do you think he would like to?
GC: There was a time, I think, when Jerry seriously considered making himself the head coach. But the time has passed. In light of all that has happened, he would never be able to live down the humiliation. Who would he fire? The way things are arranged now, he can blame the coach when things go wrong.
texasmonthly.com: Do you think Barry Switzer let the team down? If so, how?
GC: Barry allowed team discipline to go to hell. This is something he could get away with (and did) in college, but not in the NFL. As I say in the story, Jerry set the standards, Barry just followed along. But he could have put his foot down. He could have made a stand for his players, and maybe things would have turned out better.
texasmonthly.com: What was the most interesting thing that Jerry Jones told you?
GC: That the rookie injured in practice (described in the story) had a “fractured tibia.” There was no reason for Jerry to make such an off-the-top-of-his-head remark, except to impress me that he was in charge. He impressed me all right. Just not the way he intended.
texasmonthly.com: What was the most surprising thing you saw at training camp?
GC: The way Jerry treats his coaches, as puppets or nonentities. There is no respect, no show of support from the man at the top.
texasmonthly.com: If you could replace Jones with a new owner, who would it be?
GC: The man who owns the Rangers and the Stars in Dallas. Tom Hicks.
texasmonthly.com: If you could replace Dave Campo with a new coach, who would it be? Or would you leave him if Jones was gone?
GC: I think Campo is a damn good coach, or would be if Jerry left him alone. I don’t know the names of the hot young assistant coaches in the NFL at the moment, but I doubt any of them could do better than Campo.
texasmonthly.com: Do you think the Cowboys can ever again be America’s Team? Why or why not?
GC: Good question. Could be, though my guess is that it was a one-time honor. I don’t think it’s a title that can be reclaimed.
texasmonthly.com: Is there anything you would like to add?
GC: Go Cowboys!