Skip Bayless On Tom Landry: 'God's Coach'
When I moved to the United States in 1977, people at my Pacific Union College Elementary School tried to socialize me into the local ways by introducing me to the books in the school library (I was used to read adult works of history in the college library).
I started reading children's books (for the first time in years) about such fine Christians as Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach and Cowboys coach Tom Landry.
After the Cowboys won the Super Bowl in January 1978, I adopted them as my team (they would not win again for 15-years, I also selected around this time the Los Angeles Dodgers as my favorite baseball team and the Washington Bullets as my favorite basketball team). In their cool silver-and-blue uniforms and their athletic superiority, the Cowboys lived out the type of winning graces I lacked. Landry, with his cool computer-like brain, was a father-figure to me.
In most ways, my obsession with sports over the next six years wasted time that could've been put to better use doing what I had been doing before the addiction -- studying serious books on religion and history.
In the early 1980s, I started reading in the Sacramento Bee the syndicated stories of Dallas sportswriter Skip Bayless. I thought his insights into the Cowboys were the best. I eventually read all three of his books on the team.
On Sunday, December 22, 1985, my heroes collided.
Around 8 am, I got a phone call in the KAHI news room from my boss -- the news director Pete DuFour. He was sick. Did I want to cover today's Cowboys game? Yes!
I packed my stuff, jumped on I-80 and drove for more than two hours to San Francisco's Candlestick Park.
I picked up my press pass at the Will-Call gate and entered the stadium. The enormous press of rabid 49er fans frightened me. I got to the press box an hour before the start of the game and got to eat free food and hang out with the people I'd read for years and watched on television - Ira Miller of the San Francisco Chronicle, and KRON-TV sportscaster Pete Liebengood.
The Cowboys got off to a great start but the 49ers roared back in the second half to win 31-16. For the final minutes of the game, we got to go down to the field next to the action. I looked at the cheerleaders. I wanted to do grown-up things.
After the final whistle, I raced after the players into the lockerroom. I saw Tom Landry in a conversation. I pause and listen in on the conversation.
I'm not starstruck. Sports reporting is my job. But I revel in the access journalism has given me to people I'm interested in.
Tom's asked about Skip Bayless.
Wearing his fedora and exuding calm despite his team's loss, Landry says Skip hasn't spoken to him for more than two years and that he really doesn't know what Bayless is thinking.
Unbeknownst to me, but clear to Bayless, Landry had been descending into dementia for years (Bayless wrote in his book God's Coach that Landry was more interested in God than in people, a trait he shared with many Christians I knew intimately) and this would be his last winning season and entrance into the playoffs (the Cowboys were knocked out in the first round 20-0 by the Los Angeles Rams -- though it was the Sabbath, I watched the game in the KAHI newsroom).
In 1988, I was at UCLA during Troy Aikman's Senior year. We were both 21 and some people thought we looked alike. For a couple of weeks, UCLA's football team was ranked number one in the nation. Aikman went number one in the draft -- to the Dallas Cowboys.
In 1991, Bayless published the best biography of Landry -- God's Coach.
In 1993 and 1994, the Cowboys won consecutive Super Bowls, I recovered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and moved to Los Angeles.
In 2000, Landry died of leukemia.
I toy with doing a book on sportswriters akin to what I did on Jewish journalists. Skip Bayless, a Christian (who now writes for ESPN), would be my number one choice for an interview.