By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Sitting at his locker following the Cowboys' overtime escape from the Giants, he put on a gaudy cross necklace that would make P. Diddy blush, then put in perspective a tardiness to a team meeting that evaporated his running back role from 20 carries in last week's second half to five snaps in this week's game.
Uh-oh. Here comes Bill Parcells. Says the coach, patting him on the head, "Atta boy. Nice job."
Once again, someone stepped in to make sense of Tyson Thompson's world.
Sure he's big and charming and faster than a Vikings cruise "hostess." But without key blocks from a charitable attorney and a curious agent, the Cowboys' home-grown, feel-good story of the season might be scuffling on a practice squad, freezing his ass off in Canada or, even worse, looking for a job that accepts résumés from convicted felons.
"I've had good guidance from good people all along the way," Thompson said as the media ignored him, instead jostling for a word with Texas Stadium locker neighbor Drew Bledsoe. "Everything took its course, and everything's worked out."
Fortunately for Tyson, Bill Price is a football fan with legal connections.
Fortunately for Tyson, Scott Casterline is a football fan with league connections.
On a Friday night in fall 1999, Price took his two oldest sons to a high school game at Hurst's Pennington Field. He watched an 18-year-old Irving High School senior rush for 525 yards and--heterosexually speaking--fell in love.
"I knew immediately that he was very special athletically," Price said.
The following summer Price read the headlines that Thompson had been arrested for allegedly stealing six weights from his former high school. With no legal representation and little money, Tyson sat in jail for 36 hours.
Said Price, "Like everybody else, I thought, 'What a shame.'"
But unlike the masses, Price tracked Tyson's tribulations, and--since he ran a private law practice in Dallas--grew curious about his lack of trials. After two months with no new developments, Price looked up Tyson's case on the Dallas County courthouse's computer system.
"He had felony warrants for his arrest," Price said. "A routine traffic stop, and he would've gone back to jail for a pretty good while."
On a whim, Price stopped by Thompson's Irving address to drop off the bad news and a business card. The next day Tyson called, the two met for lunch and Price walked away equally miffed and motivated.
"He had no idea the kind of trouble he was flirting with," Price said. "I know felony convictions don't look good to universities or employers, and I assume they don't to the NFL either."
A meeting with a judge, some research into Tyson's case, two rounds of haggling with a Dallas County assistant district attorney, and presto, Price flipped his client's red flags into life preservers.
And the really freaky part: He did it for free.
"I'd never done that for a stranger before, and I've never done it since," Price said. "I don't know, I guess I just hated to a see an innocent kid with that much talent and that kind of future be put in jeopardy."
Said Tyson, "Bill really came through for me in the tough times, when I had a lot of questions and no answers."
All charges against Tyson were dropped in March 2001. (Just as he had contended from the start, the weights turned out to be his property.) The lines of communication remained open when Thompson enrolled at Kansas' Garden City Community College. Mostly, the kid would make a weekly call to his pro bono guidance counselor/guardian angel, to talk girlfriends and playing time and transferring to a Division I school.
"Then," said Price, "somehow we lost touch."
With Price shoved to his back burner, Tyson went to San Jose State for a mediocre season and a mysterious decision to enter the NFL Draft as a junior. The Dallas-based Casterline was putting together a recruiting list when he came across Thompson. One game film and one meeting later, another mover-and-shaker was hypnotized by Tyson's moves and shakes.
"He was a man amongst boys at San Jose," said Casterline, who had lunch with Tyson during a West Coast trip to visit the Raiders. "And he was a great kid. Charismatic personality and that million-dollar grin."
But like Price and would-be tacklers, Casterline soon found himself whiffing at Tyson's vapor trail. Shortly after the positive introduction in Oakland, Thompson stopped returning calls. He signed with another agent, failing to tell Casterline.
"I was extremely mad because I thought we had a bond," Casterline said.
A month before the 2004 Draft, Casterline bumped into Thompson at a group tryout for scouts at UTA.
"I wanted to ignore him, but sure enough, he needed a new agent," Casterline said. "It wasn't easy, but he's the type of kid you give a second chance."
With the draft fast approaching, Casterline realized his new client was the draft's best-kept secret. Phone inquiries to teams drew question marks--about Tyson's game, even sometimes his name. But the Cowboys, initially interested only because Casterline also represents running backs coach Anthony Lynn, were blown away by Thompson's speed during a Valley Ranch tryout.