In the NFL, there are two things that will generate more attention and internet clicks than just about any other topic. They are the Dallas Cowboys and Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel. So any time you can get them into one story, you get a lot of attention. (We facetiously prove the point with the headline).
That seems to be the underlying idea behind a bunch of reports out today, all citing a new book, Manziel Mania, by Jim Dent. The story originally broke in the Dallas Morning News (which has since updated things), and has also been covered on other major sites, including the Sporting News and CBS Sports. According to the story, Jerry Jones was really set to draft Manziel when he was still available as the Cowboys went on the clock. But then, as Yahoo News reports it:
"Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones had snatched the Manziel card straight out of his dad's hand. Otherwise, Jerry would have drafted him and JFF would have sat for at least three years behind Tony Romo."
It is exciting. It is dramatic. It fits in with all the memes.
It also has only the most tenuous connection to what actually happened. It is sort of like the story about Albert Einstein flunking math as a young schoolboy. It is a great, often repeated story that never actually happened. (Einstein was always good with numbers, but did not talk until he was about 3. He did, however, start talking in complete sentences once he began.)
The problem with Dent's account is that whole idea about the card. The implication is that Jerry Jones had the draft card all ready with Johnny Football's name on it, ready to turn in. But there is a slight hitch there. Jerry was in the war room in Dallas. The card that is turned in during the draft is filled out and walked to the podium at the NFL Draft, which was in Radio City Music Hall. In New York City.
When trying to put the colorful account Dent gave together with the mundane reality of why it was totally impossible, the thought occurs that this might have been an attempt at metaphor, where the author just tried to illustrate the nature of the transaction, the way a football announcer might say a player got decleated. Everyone knows his shoes didn't really come off (usually), and fully understands what was meant. In this case, the "snatching a card out of Jerry's hand" is a good way to encapsulate what was certainly a much longer and less cinematic discussion prior to draft day, where Stephen Jones, almost certainly with Jason Garrett backing him up, talked Jerry into putting both Zack Martin and Ryan Shazier ahead of Manziel. As has been well (and credibly) documented, Martin and Shazier were the last two options for Dallas, and they were going to take Shazier until he got snatched by the Pittsburgh Steelers just before Dallas picked. Manziel was simply not in the picture, except perhaps as a fading desire for Jerry.
In an attempt to try and clarify all this, Ben and Skin of 105.3 The Fan invited Dent to come and explain things today. I was able to catch most of the interview. What was most noticeable about Dent was that he deflected and evaded the questions. He stated he got the story originally from ESPN, and had a "source" verify it. Then he went on a rambling explanation of how there are obviously cards somewhere that the Cowboys use to line up their draft picks, and that was what Stephen snatched out of Jerry's hand. Why he would do so in some lead-up meeting is unclear, and the live video from the war room made it obvious that nothing like that was going on during the draft itself. Further, no one else, including all the reporters for the major outlets, has seen or heard any evidence of these cards. During the interview while he was energetically not giving any kind of direct answer, Dent focused on denigrating the Dallas Morning News for having the audacity to quote his words, and encouraging everyone to buy his book.
My basic impression was that this guy has no credibility, and was just pushing a narrative that he knows will resonate, no matter how improbable or irrelevant it is.
So who is Jim Dent? Based on internet information and comments made during his interview, he is a former sportswriter for the Ft. Worth Star Telegram, where he covered the Cowboys. He wrote The Junction Boys about Bear Bryant's famous Junction football camp when he was at Texas A&M, which ESPN made into a movie. He also wrote eight other sports books prior to his one about Manziel, including one about Jerry Jones titled King of the Cowboys.
And he was sentenced to eight years in prison for violating his probation following a DUI conviction, and was a fugitive at one time (according to one unverified source, he may be again). The Dallas Observer has a detailed look from over a decade ago at his problems with drinking and loss of control.
He was once a rising star in sports journalism and nonfiction writing. His book on Manziel, a logical followup to his story about a legendary time in A&M's past, may be an attempt to get his career fired back up. Based on what I read and heard today, it unfortunately comes with a lack of accuracy that will just feed into the same old tired memes about the Cowboys. I don't know whether this is some kind of honest mistake, lazy research, or a deliberate attempt to create a colorful albeit false legend. It is one or some combination of those, and it makes Dent's entire book about Manziel suspect, at best. It does the same for any and everything he writes about the Cowboys.