Last Call

The career of Dallas sportswriter Jim Dent was skyrocketing, then booze and bad behavior caused a hard landing

Then, it was another Cowboys assistant coach, Jerry Tubbs, a linebacker on a series of great University of Oklahoma teams in the '50s, who had sparked Dent's interest in their story.

What ultimately resulted were back-to-back sports books now acclaimed as among the best in modern times. When, not long ago, USA Today listed what it judged to be the five top sports books published in recent years, not only was Dent's The Junction Boys included, but his The Undefeated, a detailed telling of the University of Oklahoma's 47-game winning streak, also made the list. There were superlative-laced reviews, sales enough to make national best-seller lists, a flow of sizable royalty checks and a movie deal with ESPN. "What Jim has done with Junction Boys and his subsequent books," says Peter Wolverton, his St. Martin's Press editor, "is create a new genre of sports book, taking milestone historical events and the people who participated in them to a new level of quality." Today, he says, every publishing house in New York is searching for similar books to mimic the sales success Dent has enjoyed.

Suddenly, he had money enough to buy rounds for the house. And a new venue to display the still-growing dark side--book-signing parties. Dent clearly put the emphasis on "party," and more than once, after too many scotches, too many beers, wound up in loud, profane arguments--not the best sales techniques.

In happier days Jim Dent had best sellers like The Junction Boys to celebrate. And in the acknowledgments he always credited his companion cat, Rolly, right.
In happier days Jim Dent had best sellers like The Junction Boys to celebrate. And in the acknowledgments he always credited his companion cat, Rolly, right.

Perhaps the greatest irony of his battle with booze was the fact no single incident resulted in any major consequence. Whatever damage might have been done was minor and quickly repaired. In the minds of many who knew him, it was just Dent being Dent. The true depths of his problems remained his well-kept secret.

In truth, many of his drinking antics were little more than mischievous--like the night years ago in Thousand Oaks when he and another writer helped a passed-out member of the Cowboys front office back to training camp. Instead of taking him to his dormitory room, however, Dent and his accomplice placed their drinking partner in the hatchback of a car parked in front of the team's temporary headquarters. The following morning, as a young rookie player made his way toward the dining hall for breakfast, he passed the scene Dent and his fellow prankster had staged, then raced into the office to report that he'd "found a dead man lying in a car outside." "That sort of thing," Dent says, "was pretty routine. Everyone was trying to beat the boredom of training camp." Dent, however, worked at it harder than most.

Over the years, the laughter began to disappear, and a cloud of legal troubles began to form.

He was in College Station on an autumn Friday in 1999, there for a bookstore signing the following day for the just-published Junction Boys, when he was arrested for late-night drunken driving and taken to jail. Since it was the third time he'd been ticketed for driving under the influence, a three-strike state law demanded that the charges be elevated from a misdemeanor to a third-degree felony. But, in the traditional dodge-the-bullet Dent style, he was bailed out by 5 a.m., got to his signing on time and sold 500 copies to the long line of die-hard Aggie fans in attendance.

Still, his legal problems were finally becoming serious.

To research, write and ultimately promote his book on the University of Oklahoma's record-setting winning streak, the Dallas resident of 28 years moved to Oklahoma City, adopting an out-of-sight, out-of-mind attitude toward his Texas troubles. When he didn't appear for a scheduled Brazos County court appearance, authorities were told to start looking for him.

Along the way, Dent says, they got some help from a small group of OU exes who were irate over some things he'd written about the long-deified Sooner coach Bud Wilkinson in The Undefeated. Days before the 2001 Texas-OU Weekend in Dallas, authorities received a tip that the man they were looking for was scheduled to appear at a Dallas book signing.

The signing went well. Immediately afterward, however, members of the Dallas County Sheriff's Department served the surprised author with an arrest warrant.

Finally, in 2002, Dent stood before a Brazos County judge who sentenced him to 40 days in jail and 10 years' probation for the DWI he'd received in College Station three years earlier.

"I think everyone was hoping that spending a lengthy amount of time in jail would give him the opportunity to think about the troubles he'd been creating for himself," says literary agent Jim Donovan, who recalls his client stopping in Dallas for a breakfast visit on the morning Dent was released. Dent, clearly thrilled to be free and eager to return to work, assured Donovan he planned to be on his best behavior before leaving for Oklahoma City.

But later that day, just five miles from his front door, Dent was pulled over by an Oklahoma City police officer suspicious that the writer was driving while intoxicated. In Dent's lap was an open can of beer; nearby the emptied remainders of a six-pack he admits purchasing before leaving Dallas.

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