Coach's Corner

"Don't take your guns to town, son. Leave your guns at home, son. Don't take your guns to town." - Johnny Cash

It was just a chance occurrence I picked this day to tread on enemy soil out at St. Ed's. It was the day after Barry forgot about the loaded .38. Since I could easily see myself doing the same thing, I had absolutely no foresight of the fantastic media firestorm this had created. Anyway, a bored, tired, hot, already convened coven of The Fourth Estate is not something to fuck with.

Already mobilized, on the scene, ready to cover this vital story, are KLBJ, KVET, The Ticket, KVIL, KDFW, FOX-4, FOX-7, FOXSW, KXAN, KLIF, and NEWS-5. Each station has permanent, on-site locations, to better report on morning stretching and other Cowboy "news." They're here every day, reporting Cowscum minutia throughout the state. They're not here because of this terrible national scandal, consuming the coach and the grandstanding owner, though their overwhelming physical concentration in this tiny 200-yard area, on this sweltering Tuesday morning, does go a long way toward explaining the heights to which this sorry non-story soared.

For a case history of a media-driven feeding frenzy, you could do worse than pick L'affair de pistol. My friends in the media will say sincerely, with a straight face, they're only reporting the news. "Hey!" they'll squeal, "Don't shoot the messenger." I cringe at this, because I fear they may really believe what they're saying. It's a disingenuously win-win argument, one used often by war criminals, who were only following orders, and street scum who had a difficult childhood. And, of course, it's true, they are - in fact - only reporting the news. That's the genius, it's not a lie.

Imagine a fisherman placing a wounded fish in the water behind his boat. Then he ladles blood into the sea, because he wants to see a shark. First, one shark comes by to see what's going on, taking a nip out of the hapless flounder. His bro comes by, attracted by the commotion. Soon, a full scale feeding frenzy's underway, though the poor denizen of King Neptune's Kingdom has long ago been devoured.

The nautical analogy is really quite apt. Here's how it works. As practice is about to end, two densely packed groups of media types - guys shouldering huge cameras, plus print and electronic reporters - gather in a tight circle around four red plastic milk cartons. These will soon be the stage for the victim to stand on. There are 20 to 30 people in each clump. One has gathered to interrogate Barry, supposedly about practice, but really about firearm protocol. The other mini-mob is milling dangerously beneath the five-story tower hovering over the practice field, waiting for the media hog owner to come down. Unless Jerry can fly, he must go through this swirling pack, or stay on the tower until he bakes like a chicken.

As Barry reluctantly approaches us vultures, cameras start to whir, play buttons are pushed, notebooks are snapped open: The pack tightens ever more compactly. The coach is allowed to enter the circle, which immediately closes completely, claustrophobically blocking any avenue of escape. An innumerable tangle of microphones and mini-cassette players are shoved within micro-inches of his face.

Switzer, grimacing painfully (like a man having a difficult bowel movement), handles this with as much grace as possible, only snapping once, after another insipid question about his six shooter. Frankly, given the excessive redundancy, not to mention the vacuous content of so many questions (everywhere, not just in Dallas), I'm surprised coaches, players, and media don't come to blows on a daily basis. At some point, the victim fights his way out of the circle and into a waiting golf cart. This same scene will be replayed in the afternoon.

With the thermometer hovering around 104, I wondered, for not the first time, what level of boredom could possibly induce 2,000 fans, some quite inebriated, to risk their lives to watch football practice. Having played the game, let me assure you the only thing worse than participating, is standing there watching. I don't know if the fans behind the chain link fence can hear anything. If they do, it's unlikely, aside from rampant cursing, they'd understand a word. I didn't. Coaches yell about "A gaps" and "bust gaps," the "two technique," "auto rights" and "one-on-one vertigo." I might as well have been sitting in on a NASA engineering parlay. This arcane jargon is really not so tough. It means run through that spot, and knock the shit out of the center, that sort of thing. Nevertheless, it does help perpetuate the myth that coaches, if they all know what all that shit means, must be smart guys.

If this were next summer, when the Chronicle has promised me my own trailer and six live reports a day, I would've reported: The Dallas defensive backfield, minus Deion, couldn't cover anyone, particularly Michael Irvin, who must have scored 22 touchdowns in the course of the day. In fact, the defense was manhandled all day. Cowboy field-goal kickers, practicing in total isolation aside from a few besotted hecklers, on a windless day, repeatedly missed from a disconcerting array of distances. Chris Boniol will be missed.

Tune in at 6 for Barry's sister's reaction and, as promised, a live interview with the Cowboy ankle taper.

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