By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
"When I first moved to Dallas, I thought, 'That's the one I want,'" Rossell says evenly, almost quietly, as though a louder voice might undo all his good fortune. "The Landing is a time warp; it's not trendy, but it's my kind of place. I wanted it, I wanted a spot to call my own, but I never thought he'd sell it."
"He" was then-owner Don Webb, whom Rossell used to joke with and bug about selling the bar. This went on for years. Rossell was working at the Tipperary Inn on Live Oak as general manager when everything changed. One night, Webb stopped by and had several libations. Rossell pounced. Sat down next to him, like he had a hundred times before, and asked about buying the Landing. Possibly massaged by too much drink, Webb threw out a figure. Rossell offered another and, before he knew it, he was shaking Webb's hand in a kung fu death grip.
"I called my friend Jim over to witness it," Rossell says. "I said, 'Don and I have a deal here, and I want you to hear it.' Don said, 'Don't worry, you have my word.'"
Five months later, after haggling with banks for a loan, the Landing was all Rossell's, though it wasn't quite the submissive mistress he'd hoped. Took a makeover, and time, to bring people in and keep them there, so he enlisted the help of another buddy, Ted, and went to work. Tore out walls, windows, whatever. Didn't close a day. Kept the bar open until 2 a.m., and then, once everyone had left, he'd renovate as the sun crawled over the horizon. Rossell and Ted took turns--one would work while the other grabbed a cushion to take a quick nap on the shuffleboard table, which used to stand where a couch now sits.
That first day the bar made fewer than $200. He didn't sulk. He worked harder. Soon, the Landing became a spot for regulars, and business boomed. How much he won't say, though he drives a sweet, Marlboro-red colored Porsche. Spreads it around, too. Three years ago, Lucille, a bee-hived waitress at the Landing and a kind woman who dotes on her customers like they're her children, celebrated her 29th anniversary working there. Rossell bought her a brand-new blue Ford Taurus. For her 30th anniversary, Rossell bought Lucille a star on the Lakewood Theater's Walk of Fame. This past September, her 31st, Rossell bought her a Vegas vacation. No word on what year 32 will reap for Lucille, though those in the know suspect something on the order of the Queen Mum's jewels.
"He's a wonderful man," Lucille offers, staring and nodding so you understand the emphasis and importance.
Susan Williams didn't plan on any of this. All she wanted was to put up a banner outside her apartment complex welcoming the Roughnecks. In the course of trying to do so, she was put in touch with Blue Monday, who was crafty and cajoling and convinced Williams to not only hoist a banner but to consent to running the booster club. And, um, creating one while she was at it. Oh, and on a volunteer basis.
While fans poke around Mike Carter Field, devouring corn dogs and watching the clown make balloon animals for the kiddies, Williams sits by the ticket office and attempts in vain to recruit more people for a booster club with a grand total of one member, albeit a dogged one. She's already organized a bake sale and a car wash for the upcoming months. And, as it turns out, a good portion of the players live in her building, so she doubles as another of their surrogate mothers. Does odds and ends for them, like running to Wal-Mart for essentials: Copenhagen, Skoal, gum, soda, whatever they might need and all out of the kindness of her heart. And her pocket. Today, they also needed a ride to the park, so she selected six and packed them into her Taurus--one in the front seat with her, four sitting in the back, one more lying horizontally across those guys, legs dangling out of an open window.
"We need more support," she says in an appealing twang. "They need us. And they appreciate us. And it's rewarding, too. I know it's not the same, but it almost feels like owning a piece of the Dallas Cowboys. It makes you feel like you're part of something special."
Melvin Tilley understands. Where Williams leaves off, Tilley takes over. He's the Roughnecks clubhouse manager. Had the same role when the now-defunct WildCatters played here. They're all good guys, he says. They just need a little help sometimes, and Tilley is always there to lend a hand. Or, failing that, a story. He was a fighter in his youth, had a steel chin and jackhammer fists. No trainer worth a damn, though, which is why you never heard of him.
"I was Sugar Ray before Sugar Ray, that's what they said," Tilley boasts. Judging by his wiry frame, which still supports a solid amount of lean muscle, there's little doubt this was true. Even now, even though he's about as nice a guy as you'll find, he's got a look that says, "Don't mess." "None of those guys could stay with me. Yeah...almost."