For the first time in a long time, the Dallas Cowboys are actually acting like a unified team.
In the wake of the Valley Ranch practice facility collapse on May 2, last night's premiere of Spike TV's new reality series Fourth and Long at Sting matured from a big party into a bigger purpose. The event was delayed a week and turned into a fundraiser for Cowboys' scouting department assistant Rich Behm, paralyzed from the waist down in the tragedy.
After the showing of the series' first episide - which begins Monday night at 9 on Spike - Michael Irvin took to preaching and even, literally, passing around a collection plate for the Behm family.
"I hear a lot of fans say 'we' won three Super Bowls," Irvin said. "If you're going to be a part of our family during the good times, I ask you be here in the bad times as well. One of 'we' needs your help."
When the back of the club too enthusiastically embraced the "party" portion of the evening, the Cowboys showed their seriousness.
"Hey bartenders!" a disgusted Irvin yelled, "stop serving liquor for a couple minutes."
When the noise continued and even escalated during a moving testimonial from a woman in a wheelchair who years earlier suffered the exact injury as Behm, Cowboys' defensive end DeMarcus Ware angrily grabbed her microphone.
"I need everybody in here to be quiet and listen, right now!" Ware shouted. "This is a great cause. This is important. Please!"
Jason Witten, Wade Phillips and Tony Romo were also on hand.
Irvin's Playmaker Charities presented Behm's wife, Michelle, with a $40,000 check. A private jeweler named Carter donated $5,000 and offered a pearl necklace to anyone matching his pledge. The mother of Baltimore Ravens' receiver Mark Clayton offered $5,000 on behalf of her son's foundation. And every donation bin in the building was stuffed with cash.
After conferring with owner Jerry Jones, Greg Ellis announced that the Cowboys would match the night's donation total, which I'm guessing flirted with $100,000. Behm has three children: 8- and 6-year-old boys and a 7-week-old daughter.
Oh yeah, about that Hollywood premiere in North Dallas ...
Spike did it up right. Red carpet. Tons of media. Open bar. The works.
The network's big whigs - including Fourth and Long executive producer and Flower Mound Marcus High School alum JD Roth - even arrived in an eye-popping armored limousine called The Vault.
As for the show: One episode and you'll realize it's better, grittier than Hard Knocks. By about the third scene of a player puking, it's apparent the show isn't scripted.
The premise is 12 wanna-be players trying to survive a brutal training camp to earn a spot on the Cowboys' 80-man roster when the team heads to San Antonio. The show opens with Jones telling Irvin, "Bring me a good one."
The players literally live in the Cotton Bowl - hey, at least our $50 million in renovations made it a decent TV prop - and are subjected to fiery input from Nate Newton, Bill Bates, Drew Pearson and Joe Avezzano.
"I love the Cowboys and we're in charge of sending them a player," Avezzano tells the candidates. "I can't turn over to them some slap dick."
Fourth and Long makes Hard Knocks feel like Love Taps. Wearing a long black coat and looking like Neo from The Matrix, Irvin mesmerizes and then mauls the players, putting them through a grueling first-day workout.
He even channels his former coach, Jimmy Johnson.
"Make your desire overcome your fatigue!" Irvin yells. "Tell your body to shut up!"
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Irvin is undoubtedly the star of the show.
"To put on the helmet with the star on the side, you gotta go through me," he opens the episode.
In closing, he makes the first cut in the "war room", delivering his signature phrase to the unlucky player: