Back to Basics

Troy Hambrick jumping over someone? Clearly this photo was doctored.

My reformation started about a month ago. It was around that time that one of our reporters--whom I respect a great deal because he's a fantastic writer who's won more awards than I knew existed--advised me to be careful. He lauded my ability but cautioned me to be more judicious with my columns.

"You make jokes," he said, "and that's fine, but I don't know if you're afraid, or if you like being a 'personality,' or what. You could do more."

It was good advice. For weeks I took myself out of my stories--a hard thing to do since I'm my favorite subject matter--and concentrated on writing biting columns about the Mavs and Rangers or short features about fringe athletes like skeleton racer Kevin Ellis. I felt clean and worthy.

It didn't last. Last weekend I was poised to spend the day at Valley Ranch for the NFL draft. I planned on writing a story about whomever the 'Boys picked--a straight piece based on many long hours of boring reporting. Everyone would have been proud of me. Then I cracked.

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It was an NFL Europe game that did it. The Rhein Fire and Dallas Cowboy incompetent Chad Hutchinson were playing Berlin. Suddenly, my mind was racing, and I was sweating. Between Hutch and the draft there was a whole lot of potential material for me to lampoon. I didn't want to, but I buckled. I'll screw around just this once, I told myself, and then I'll go back to being Johnny Newsboy. I was like Jason Patric in Rush--a weak man whose good intentions could never compete with his drug of choice.

The following, then, is the ugly account of Saturday's relapse. (I wonder if there's such a thing as Columnists Anonymous.)

11:07 a.m. (NFL Draft): Eli Manning hasn't been picked yet, but already the Ole Miss quarterback is being booed. He's not taking it well. His face is all scrunched up, and his mouth is twitching. Either he ate a hot dog from a street vendor outside the Garden (never a good idea in NYC), or he's gonna cry. I'm not gonna lie: I hope he cries. Other people's crying makes me happy. (I'm glad I didn't have a sponsor to talk me out of this column.)

11:37 (Draft): Just saw my favorite ad--the MLB commercial with Cardinals third baseman Albert Pujols. "My bat talks for me," the Dominican slugger begins in heavily accented English. What comes next always kills me. It's supposed to be: "So I'm looking for this pitch. " But it sounds like: "So I'm looking for this bitch."

12:12 p.m. (NFL Europe): The TV announcers are falling all over themselves to praise Chad Hutchinson. "Everyone knows that the toughest player on the team is Hutchinson," the color guy opines. "Everyone knows that he's the strength of this Rhein Fire offense." I give it an hour before Hutch implodes and gets that guy fired.

12:20 (Europe): Nope--took only eight minutes. After throwing two terrible incompletions, Hutch has to run for his life before being buried into the hard turf by some no-name defensive lineman who'll likely be cut tomorrow. "Oh, boy," the same color guy says as Hutch slowly picks himself up, "there's snot coming from his nose, and there's grass in his helmet...well, that's football, I guess." It is when Hutch is under center.

1:30 (Europe): Either Hutch just tried to tuck a pass and run, or he was purposely attempting to dislocate his shoulder. Whatever, it was the most awkward motion seen on television since Elaine danced on Seinfeld.

2:35 (Draft): The Cowboys are finally on the clock, and things are looking good. Steven Jackson, from Oregon State, and Kevin Jones, from Virginia Tech, are still available. The two were widely considered the best running backs in the draft. There's no way the 'Boys can screw this up. Say goodbye to Troy Hambrick.

2:50 (Draft): So much for the Cowboys taking a running back. They just traded their pick (22nd overall) to the Bills for a second- and a fifth-round choice in this year's draft and a first-rounder next year. ESPN analyst Michael Irvin is beside himself. "We needed a running back," he keeps babbling. Why does he keep saying "we" when he means "the Cowboys"? Doesn't he know he's not playing anymore? Is he having a drug flashback? And why the hell didn't the 'Boys take a halfback? What's going on here? If the Cowboys don't get a running back in this draft, if "we" ends up blowing this, Irvin's head might pop clean off. He won't be the only one who's pissed, either. If "we" decides to go with Hambrick again this year, someone is going to get hurt. I'm beginning to hate "we."

2:54 (Europe): The final numbers on Hutch: 16-for-27, 172 yards, a pick and a loss. With performances like that, it's little surprise that he's refused to talk to the Dallas media since arriving in Germany. To borrow from a friend, right now Hutch is acquainting himself with the German word for "unemployed."

5:05 (Draft): With their first three picks (all before the 'Boys have selected a single player), the Lions have acquired wideout Roy Williams (Texas), running back Kevin Jones and linebacker Teddy Lehman (Oklahoma). For the first time in history, people in Detroit have it better than people in Dallas. It probably won't last, but still.

5:31: It took most of the day, but Dallas finally drafted a player. They just selected Notre Dame running back Julius Jones (43rd overall) in the second round. I wonder how long it'll take Irvin to compare him to a certain someone.

5:31:25: "He looks like Emmitt Smith," Irvin says, "and he runs like Emmitt." I'm not sure what gives me a bigger headache--that it took all effing day for the 'Boys to draft Jones, that they skipped over the other two running backs that I (and everyone else) liked or that Irvin gets paid huge sums to embarrass himself on ESPN (whereas I embarrass myself for next to nothing in the Dallas Observer).

6:27: With the 52nd pick the Cowboys take Jacob Rogers, an offensive lineman from USC. Good thing, too, because a few days ago Jerry Jones told ESPN that Dallas was sorely in need of linemen. Then, Jones also told the network that grabbing a beef eater might not be all that easy because "it's in a draft that's probably one of the least depth drafts at offensive line." The man has a sort of verbal dyslexia, I'm sure of it.

8:30: Someone just told me the 'Boys took Stephen Peterman, guard, LSU, with their final pick on the first day of the draft (third round, 83rd overall). After many hours of bad football, bad football selection shows and a Mavs playoff game (I had to run out here to the American Airlines Center to watch Dallas embarrass the Kings), the day is mercifully over for me. It's not the sort of effort my writer/consigliere buddy would be proud of, but that's OK. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you give into your dark side. Sometimes, you can't hide from yourself.

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