No Troy Aikman, No Emmitt Smith—no problem

As I sit here late Thursday night, a copy of “Boys Will Be Boys” on a nearby desk, I can accurately predict a question that will be asked by radio guys far and wide come September 1.

“Jeff, is there anyone on the Cowboys of the ’90s you didn’t talk to?”

“Uh, Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith.”

Loooooooooong pause.

“Well, how can you possibly consider yourself an authority … blah, blah, blah.”

I write this because I’ve been down the road—twice. First, with “The Bad Guys Won!” when neither Dwight Gooden nor Daryl Strawberry would speak with me. Second, with “Love Me, Hate Me,” when Barry Bonds—the subject of the damn book—wouldn’t talk.

Fact is, there’s nothing more off than the idea that you need central characters to cooperate in order to write an authoritative biography. In fact, I’d order just the opposite. Aikman and Smith, both excellent men, have told their Cowboys stories time after time after time. Like a butcher on Day 567,543,112 of the job, they’ve trimmed the fat, and are left with simplistic, one-dimensional Polaroids of experiences. This isn’t a slap at either man; just the reality of what happens when sports stars are interviewed literally hundreds upon hundreds of times about a single play or event. Instead of remembering the moment, you remember your memory of the moment.

That’s why, to me, the key to biography writing comes in the so-called little people. For example, the Mets book wouldn’t have worked without the observations of Ed Hearn, the little-used backup catcher. The Bonds book flounders without Jay Canizaro, a forgotten second baseman who lockered near Barry. With “Boys Will Be Boys,” I interviewed hundreds of players, and my absolute best material came from the on-field witnesses to the magic—but not the magicians themselves. Yes, Michael Irvin was great to speak with. So were Darren Woodson and Jay Novacek. But, come final submission, a biography is made by the people who are willing to talk—and who have never done so before.

1 thought on “No Troy Aikman, No Emmitt Smith—no problem”

  1. It’s definitely doable – one of the best sports biographies I’ve read is David Halberstam’s book on Michael Jordan and Jordan wouldn’t be interviewed for that book, either.

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