SANTA MONICA, Jan. 1993. — It promised to be the party of the year. To put a joyous and sloppy ex-clamation point at the end of the Cowboys’ 52-17 win in the Super Bowl, owner Jerry Jones rented the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, hired an expensive caterer, had the place decorated in silver and blue and put a nationally known R&B show band on the stage.
If not for the showboating of Leon Lett, who probably celebrates Christmas on Dec. 23, the Cowboys would’ve rolled up the biggest score in Super Bowl history, so spirits among the Dallas contingent were sky high. People were talking about this party in the third quarter, and after the Cowboys were crowned, Jerry’s shindig became the most valuable invitation to Stupor Bowl week.
Like most highly anticipated parties, however, the post-Super Bowl celebration was a big disappointment. The food was good, the drinks were free, the furs were real, the players showed up and you got to hear coach Jimmy Johnson growl, “How ’bout them Cowboys!’ about 40 times. Sounds like a great time, but this bash was a bore.
Doesn’t that always seem to be the case: The parties you most look forward to are the ones that have you cursing yourself for missing Teri Garr on Letterman. I remember once going to a party where the members of R.E.M. were supposed to show up and possibly jam. When I arrived, much closer to passionately early than fashionably late, I found five guys drinking Busch beer and watching ESPN.
The problem with the Cowboys party was that everyone was so sure they were at THE social event of the decade that they just walked around, gawking at who was there and what they were wearing. Even the few people locked in conversation were looking beyond one another’s moving lips and into the constantly moving crowd for someone richer or more famous.
Mr. Jones could see that this bash of the titans wasn’t happening; so, at one point, he commandeered the mike and gave his Stepford guests a pep rally. “Let’s show the people out here how we party in Dallas, Texas!” The man had just won the Super Bowl, but he was feeling insecure about his party. He could practically hear the talk the next day: “Great trades, great draft choices, but that Jones sure throws a lousy party.’ It would be a long plane ride home for Mr. J.
The best parties are the ones where you don’t even realize that it’s a party until someone starts the collection for a beer run. One of the most magical affairs I’ve ever been a part of started when I went over to a friend’s house to reclaim my Classic Comics collection on a Sunday.
He had a few friends over, then some neighbors stopped by and we all sat on the front porch drinking morning margs and heckling an endless stream of marathoners who all seemed to be wondering what happened to that second wind they’d heard so much about. “Jim Fixx died at 36, Jim Fixx died at 36,’ was one of our favorite chants.
One runner, who grimaced with each step, agreed with us that the winner was already back at the hotel in his silk kimono, so he dropped out of the race and sat on the porch with us, replenishing his fluids with off-brand tequila. He was an Australian who had us seeing black dots — we were laughing so hard — at the colorful insults he threw at his fellow runners.
It all comes down to this: It’s the people, not the setting or the occasion, that make or break a party. You can spend $100,000 on a soiree, but that still won’t buy electricity in the air or the morning-after experience of recounting every special thing that happened the night before.
Remembrance is expectation’s bedfellow, and the same inflation that anticipates a major party often recalls it. When I tell people that I was there, at the Santa Monica Civic for the Cowboys victory celebration, I can see their faces perk up as they want to hear all about it. Usually, though, I don’t go into much detail. I just tell them what they want to hear. It was the party of the year.
WITH JERRY AT THE HELM, IT’S ALWAYS a Win-Win Situation
Thoughts from the 1996 Super Bowl
I was on a plane once with a bunch of idiots. They seemed to have been coming from some sort of convention for those with uncool jobs, like selling cars or trading stocks, so they were whooping it up because they weren’t at work, acting like the rest of the people on the plane were merely an audience to their merriment. Your job as an air traveler is to buckle into your module of space and be as quiet and still as possible; any variance on this simple task extends the travel time for the others. Well, this group of passengers made it seem like a nine-hour flight from Austin to Chicago.
Somewhere in the middle of all this, we hit some real bad turbulence, you know, the kind when you suddenly try to remember the words to prayers. There was one long dip, maybe three full seconds, and I vividly remember grasping for a silver lining in the clouds that went shooting by. Oh, well, I thought for a split second, at least all those jackasses are going to die, too.
I had the same feeling watching the Super Bowl on Sunday. My beloved Dallas Cowboys (I know, I used to hate them but you find something else to get excited about in Dallas) were going up against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Dallas was leading 20-7 at one point, but the Steelers were coming on strong, surprising the Cowboys with an onside kick and scoring 10 unanswered points. With the score 20-17, Kevin Williams bobbled the kickoff and ran, confused, into a swarm of hyped-up Steelers, who pinned him down on the 9. Momentum had shifted, causing some bad turbulence, but I found inner strength by telling myself that if the Cowboys lose, a bunch of jerks were going to have a real hard time with it. I could live with that: watching deep depression come over the likes of Jerry Jones, Barry Switzer, Deion Sanders, Michael Irvin and Erik Williams.
The Cowboys didn’t lose, but that sure was a strange victory celebration. The mood was one of relief, not unbridled jubilation, as this team merely accomplished that which was demanded. Where did all the fun go? It seemed to be soaked right up by a new arrogance that mixes the gaudy showboating of pro wrestling with Cassius Clay’s ability to back it up. Nowhere better than in the Cowboys’ metamorphosis from conservative and disciplined to wild and flamboyant is it apparent that sports have changed. And Switzer, who let his players wear earrings and full-length fur coats on the sidelines while he coached Oklahoma in the ’70s and ’80s, was a big part of allowing the gangsta brat mentality to infiltrate sports.
If someone wanted to make a movie about this championship season, they should zoom in on the divergent styles of Troy Aikman and Deion Sanders and call it “The Lone Ranger and Taunt-O.” Troy’s the old “shut up and play” guy, a vanishing breed, while Deion never stops talking. Let’s say this about Deion Sanders: He’s the most talented athlete ever. If Jim Thorpe were alive today, he’d be asking for Deion’s autograph. Besides football and baseball, offense and defense, Deion is a great basketball player and he’s won a few track meets in his school days. But has the populace ever been subjected to a more annoying and omnipresent human?
Yes it has, but only by two. Their names are Jerry Jones and Barry Switzer, and they’re the world’s two oldest frat boys. These guys are in their 50s, and you can still picture them snapping towels and grabbing themselves when the waitress walks away.
Jones, with his “One for all, all for me” fiscal attitude, and the genuinely creepy Switzer made it hard to root for the Cowboys this year. Plus, it seemed that “America’s Team” was always getting away with illegal push-offs and downright dirty plays. I actually heard an announcer praise Michael Irvin for “a spectacular one-handed grab” without mentioning that the other hand was holding down the arm of the defender.
But fans see it. They see the illegal picks and the legal cheap shots and it takes a lot of the fun out of the game. When I watch a game of any sport and I don’t have any sort of regional or personal connection with the teams, I’ll root for the team that’s playing with the most dignity. Points are deducted for taunting, cheating and touchdown shuffles. If I didn’t live in Dallas, there’s no way I’d root for the Cowboys. In fact, I’d celebrate their every loss as if my favorite team had won the Super Bowl.
As it turned out, winning cured my fear of losing, and I screamed and yelled and stomped for the Cowboys as they took their fifth NFL title on Super Sunday. When the game is on, I’m in a zone where I want Erik Williams to drill somebody’s knee. Football is popular because it brings out the killer instinct in all of us, and it makes us appreciate those who put it on the line so we can hoot and holler. I may not necessarily like the conceited off-field personalities of a few key players, but when the game is going, the Cowboys get all my devotion and respect.
I guess that’s why they play the games.