Almost Famous

One of Dallas' quarterbacks holds purses, the other holds records.

One was temporarily linked to Jessica Simpson, the other eternally linked to the Milwaukee Mustangs.

One makes $1,500,000, the other $100,000.

Though they both toiled at small colleges before ascending to prominent positions on our local football teams, Tony Romo and Clint Dolezel are as dissimilar as Paris Hilton and Paris, Texas.

Take last Friday. The quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys goes to The Palladium Club, jumps onstage with the parody band Metal Skool and is introduced thusly:

"I'm glad this dude makes so much fucking money!" screams lead singer Michael Starr before Romo serenades the crowd of 300 with Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" and Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It." "Because damn, he can snort through a shitload of cocaine!"

The quarterback of the Dallas Desperados finishes morning practice, plops down on a chocolate pleather couch and delivers a sermon on how to hit out of U.S. Open-thick rough thusly:

"Take one more club, choke down and aim a little right," Dolezel, a 4-handicapper, tells his followers. "I'm not an expert, just the best golfer on the team. They squeeze me for lessons."

The next morning, Romo concludes a night of partying with his posse that includes picking up a healthy tab at Ghostbar.

The next night, Dolezel slings another four touchdowns in another Arena Football League victory before 15,000 at American Airlines Center, further cementing his team's dominance and his legacy as the greatest indoor quarterback in football history.

"I'd like to play until I'm 40 and get to 1,000 touchdowns," Dolezel says. "I'll let other people debate what exactly that means."

While the 27-year-old Romo has an agent, a publicist and one of sports' most prestigious jobs, all Dolezel, 37, can muster is an intriguing story and an immediate goal.

"Like last year, I think we've got the best team and the best chance to win the championship," he says. "But this is a wacky league."

No shit.

Nets in the end zones and padded walls around 50-yard fields are insane staples. Dolezel plays inside packed arenas with piercing music but practices outdoors on a 100-yard field before 65,000 empty seats at Romo's Texas Stadium. Fittingly, to learn how he navigated the circuitous route through Cisco Junior College to a bachelor party to Spain to Milwaukee to the most productive quarterback in Dallas' illustrious football history, you must endure some zaniness.

Entering the Desperados locker room is like walking into that frenetic scene in Boogie Nights, in which it's imperative you listen intently to the information provided by your host while somehow ignoring the cut-ups hurling firecrackers. Except here, in a modest room across the stadium from the Cowboys' digs, the violent explosions are from golf balls launched into giant trash cans by teammates perfecting their quarterback's teachings.

"It's a little different from the NFL," says Dolezel, cautiously peering over the back of the couch to investigate the noises. "Here we are, the day before a game, and we're done by noon. The money's obviously not the same, but we can have personal lives. To do...



You likely don't know how to recognize or pronounce Dolezel (DOLL-zel). At 6-foot-5, 205 pounds with slightly graying temples and an "aw, shucks" temperament, he can go where Romo can't. Like out to a quiet dinner.

"I get recognized sometime," he says. "Actually, it's nice. I like it."

Dolezel's road to Dallas was even trickier than his surname. Growing up in Robinson near Waco, he was born to play something. One brother played golf at the University of Houston, another was a high jumper at Baylor, and former Cowboys tight end Dan Campbell is one of 26 first cousins. Dolezel idolized Roger Staubach and Larry Bird, but after high school got only a football scholarship to Cisco, 12 miles of gravel road from Nowhere, West Texas.

"I'm a country boy at heart," Dolezel says. "So I survived."

Dolezel was poised to play at Southern Mississippi, but three days before signing day the school changed coaches and philosophies and quarterback favorites, leaving him to slum it at East Texas State. Undrafted by the NFL and resigned to a life of teaching and coaching, Dolezel's life changed at his bachelor party. Provocative as that sounds, he married wife, Kris, and has two children in his happy home.

But at the party—in "some country bar," Dolezel recalls—he bumped into ETSU teammate Michael Trigg, who was preparing to leave for Spain and a two-week exhibition of indoor football.

The day after his wedding, Dolezel left. Alone. For the world's loneliest, best honeymoon.

"I loved the arena game immediately," he says. "My skills fit perfectly. It's like 3-on-3 football in your backyard. It's not brain surgery."

Dolezel didn't make any money—$33,000 over his first three years, before taxes—but he did make an impact. With Trigg as his coach, he led Grand Rapids to the ArenaBowl XV championship in 2001. During stops in Milwaukee, Houston and Las Vegas, he honed his quick reads and quicker release into the perfect indoor quarterback.

Sure, he had NFL dreams, but despite going 28 of 32 in training camp with the Chicago Bears in 2000, Dolezel says his small-school stigma didn't give him a fair shake against the likes of Jim Miller, Cade McNown and Shane Mathews.

"If I'm bitter, it's because the NFL doesn't give chances to guys like me very often," Dolezel says. "What Tony [from Eastern Illinois] has accomplished is amazing."

Signed as a free agent two summers ago, Dolezel has catapulted the Desperados among the AFL's elite and alongside—if not ahead of—the Stars as Dallas' No. 4 team. He was league MVP last year with an unfathomable 105 touchdown passes, including 11 in one game. After last weekend's 67-13 shellacking of the New York Dragons, Dallas has a league-best 14-1 record and the inside track to ArenaBowl XXI July 29 in New Orleans.

When planet pigskin will obsess next fall about Brett Favre chasing Dan Marino's career touchdown record of 420, consider that Dolezel this season surpassed 800.

"When I started, I was running around like a guy with my head cut off," says Dolezel, who these days calls his own plays. "Now I can see 1,000 and beyond pretty easy."

One of Dallas' quarterbacks is spending his summer carrying Carrie Underwood's handbag.

The other is about to carry the Desperados to our city's first sports championship since 1999.

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Richie Whitt
Contact: Richie Whitt

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