I was at Valley Ranch, a 24-year-old piss-ant reporter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Only a couple years removed from punching holes in my college apartment walls when the Dallas Cowboys lost, I was totally unprepared and overwhelmed by the press conference I was attending.
It was 20 years ago today that Arkansas oil man Jerry Jones bought the Cowboys, and fired Tom Landry.
After helping gather quotes, notes and anecdotes, I went out with two crazed Cowboys buddies to drown our sorrows. One of the weirdest nights of my life unfolded like this:
With Duncanville roots, we - let's call my friends "WJ" and "Colt" - convene at the legendary Crystal Chandelier on I-35 in Lancaster. Born-and-bred Cowboys fans, we are devastated. But we are also 25. Reslient, you could say.
After an hour of swapping stories and sipping suds, sorrow morphs into anger morphs into ... lunacy.
"Let's drink a shot to Tom!" screams WJ. "A shot he would like!"
"Yeah, but," I remind, "Tom doesn't drink."
"Well then, who does he like?" interjects Colt.
With that, WJ crouches down - like a catcher ready to spring into action on a steal attempt - and uncoils with a startling fervor and fury.
"Maaaaar-deeeee," he bellows, "Schottenheimmmmmerrrrrrr!"
"Wait. What?" I ask, involuntarily evacuating beer through my nose at the sheer idiocracy of the pronouncement.
Before I can stop laughing or comprehend the impending carnage, WJ has the bartender pouring his toxic invention - a shot of tequila and shot of vodka, dropped into a beer. A Marty Schottenheimer. (I think he somehow injected the Kansas City Chiefs' head coach into a Boilermaker. Who knows?)
Marty has no mercy on our souls, or our sobriety. We repeatedly begin singing a song until one of us has a sudden fit of clarity.
"They say every rose has its thorn," we butcher in unison, "just like every night has its ..."
"C'mon!" Colt interrupts. "Let's do this for Tom!"
I lost count at six Schottenheimers. Soon thereafter, we lost WJ.
Thinking he was passed out on a bathroom floor or perhaps Colt's truck, we are shocked to go outside to see him riding shotgun - in an 18-wheeler. As it pulls away, WJ cries out "This is for Tom Landry!!" while making the truck-horn-pulling-motion hand signal.
It is midnight. It's the last we will see of him for hours.
Colt and I are awakened around 3 a.m. with a call from the Navarro County Sherriff's office. Somehow, despite his drunken, depressed rage, WJ has trekked to Corsicana yet remembered Colt's phone number.
"Yeah, do you guys know a WJ?" asks the officer. "He needs some help. If you do know him you better come pick him up before we throw him in ... hey! ... come back here!!"
It is at this point that our laughter and our concern stage quite the arm-wrestle right there in Colt's living room. Before we can determine the winner, another call.
"I got this crazy guy with me," says the caller. "Keeps yelling about Tom Landry. Somebody named Schottenheimer. I came out to my truck and found him curled up in the seat. Do you know him? Man, you gotta come get him. He's insane or something!"
Seemingly every other of the stranger's words are interrupted, and at times totally muted by, in the background, "Toooooooooommmmmmmm Laaaaaaaaaannnnnnnndreeeeeeeeeeee!"
We meet the great samaritan - in another 18-wheeler, no less - in the parking lot of DeSoto's skating rink. He is headed north. WJ is headed south, in a hurry.
"WJ," Colt says as our friend since junior high climbs down out of the rig, "let's go home. We've honored Tom long enough."
But with that, WJ takes off in full sprint toward ... nowhere. Behind the skating rink, over a chain-link fence and into the darkness.
So, what else do you do when your buddy is on the brink of a mental breakdown and perhaps a physical Apocalypse? You go to Whataburger, that's what you do.
Back home at Colt's, we're engulfing our double-meat, double-cheeseburgers when we hear a howling - that's right, a howling - from the back yard. Sure enough, WJ has found his way to Colt's, only to climb to the top of a giant peach tree.
By the time we reach him, he has swayed to and fro and down, falling and clipping several branches and tearing his shirt in the process. He is flat on his back. In pain. In uncontrollable laughter. And tears.
"Hey knucklehead," I say, "where exactly were you headed all night?"
Says WJ matter-of-factly, "Back in time. To save Tom's job."
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A-men. I think.
Here we are, 20 years later. Colt is an executive with a liquor company. I'm still a piss-ant reporter, though now at the Dallas Observer. And WJ? Yep, you guessed, principal at a local tiny-town high school.
I'm sure we'll call each other today. Also pretty damn certain this tribute to Tom Landry will be a little less eventful.
So, where were you?