Today's society deserves rude Cowboys

January 24, 1996|By Ken Rosenthal

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Nate Newton gave out his 900 number. Deion Sanders mused about becoming general manager of the Atlanta Falcons. Jerry Jones, wearing a silver Nike swoosh pin, stood under a placard that said "Jones," conducting interviews just like a player.

Michael Irvin walked out of the one-hour session after 15 minutes, accompanied by a man believed to be his limousine driver. He later re-emerged to beg Charles Haley to appear on his television show and kissed on the forehead.

And this was a day the Dallas Cowboys were trying to tone it down.

Love 'em or hate 'em, your opinion isn't going to change this week. Why should it? The Cowboys aren't going to change. The only way they might change is if they lose the Super Bowl, and that's not going to happen.

Depending on your perspective, the Cowboys represent everything that is right with America, everything that is wrong with America, or maybe both. Actually, they're more a reflection of society than a blight on it. For better or worse, we've created the monster.

If the Cowboys beat the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, they'll be depicted as symbols of the greed, arrogance and ill-mannered behavior that so permeates this age. It will all be true, of course, but don't blame Jerry, Barry and Co. for the decline of civilization. The civilization declined first.

We value money -- hence, the fascination with Jerry and Deion. We value winning at all costs -- hence, Erik Williams' chop block. We value showmanship over sportsmanship -- hence, the taunting and celebrating after virtually every play.

And it's not just the Cowboys. Pittsburgh's Greg Lloyd cursed on live television as badly as Irvin. Kevin Greene thinks it's cool to look like Hulk Hogan. The Steelers even made a music video before losing the AFC championship game last year.

Neil O'Donnell's agent this week advised him to shave his beard for marketing purposes. The quarter back compromised by trimming it back; heaven forbid any endorsement companies view him as the second coming of Grizzly Adams.

Hey, this is sports in the '90s, and on and off the field the Cowboys play the game better than anyone else. As Irvin noted yesterday, they're a national soap opera, Jerry and Deion, Troy and Barry. "And that's just this year," Irvin said.

Every year, actually. The Cowboys were just as arrogant under Tom Landry and Tex Schramm, just quieter about it. Many fans long for the days when players were grim-faced and silent. But times change, and teams change. These Cowboys wouldn't be the Cowboys if they didn't strut.

Not all of them talk trash -- Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith are notable exceptions -- but when the owner is the worst offender, it kind of sets the tone. Irvin wanted to avoid controversy yesterday, and succeeded only with a Herculean show of restraint.

"I'm scared to talk to you today," Irvin told the assembled mob of reporters. "I know you're going to run with something."

"Give us something to run with," a reporter shouted.

But Irvin wouldn't bite.

He expressed admiration for Steelers cornerback Rod Woodson, who will try to play Sunday coming off knee surgery. He inadvertently uttered an expletive, then immediately apologized to his mother.

He answered a variety of questions, but when someone asked about his plans for the evening, Irvin decided enough was enough.

"I'll go home and go to sleep," he said. "In fact, I'm going to go home right now."

But check back tomorrow.

Such is life with the Cowboys. Newton, all 320 pounds of him, was his usual expansive self yesterday. He told the world to dial 1-900-RUN-NEWT for four minutes of his wisdom, and openly discussed his late-night possibilities.

"They gave us a list of places not to go," Newton said. "I asked the man to repeat them. That's where I'm going."

With Newton, it's all an act. With Irvin, it's partly an act. And with Sanders, it's just part of the show.

Deion is the Madonna of sports, offensive to some, but immensely talented and utterly shrewd in his business practices. People forget that he and Irvin are terrific football players. That, of course, is where it all starts.

The rest? Well, ESPN celebrates every spike and even video games feature sack dances. And yet, football players aren't the only people on this earth who mug for the cameras. Heck, politicians consider it an art form.

The cursing on live television, that was too much, and deep down even Irvin knows it. Lloyd certainly recognizes his mistake -- "I can do 100 good things, be a great community leader," he said. "But I do one thing, and all of a sudden, I've got '666' etched in my head."

One thing, and hardly the worst thing, considering the violent nature of the sport. The networks should exercise more caution interviewing players after games. The players should answer questions with greater care. End of discussion.

As for the Cowboys, if you want them to lose, then root for them to lose. But don't make this into a morality play. We glorify our athletes, steal teams from each other, turn the Super Bowl into a national holiday. The Cowboys are the ultimate example of our sports obsession. You expect them to be humble?

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