Sign up for our free newsletter
Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.
The Redskins haven’t been Dallas’ match on the field for a while, having lost to the Cowboys an amazing nine games in a row. Washington now trails in the head-to-head series, 49-33-2.
But for decades, the Cowboys have been separating themselves from the Skins off the field, also. While the best Redskins who gathered at FedEx Field during the anniversary celebration a few weekends ago were, by and large, a bunch of guys with their health and reputations intact, an alarming number of top Cowboys have had their careers, reputations, and/or lives ruined by personal and legal foibles.
Some of the highest-profile travails of latter-day Cowboys have been as comical as they were pathetic. Like Michael Irvin being nabbed in a hotel room with hookers and blow and toys not for tots. And Nate Newton’s double-decker bust: The 300-plus-pound guard outdid himself last year by being arrested on Nov. 4, with 213 pounds of marijuana in his vehicle, and again on Dec. 14, with 175 pounds of pot in his vehicle. And a lot of relatively minor Cowboys—Darren Hambrick, Larry Brown and Joey Galloway, among others—have had minor run-ins with the law in recent years. Illegalities are such a part of the Cowboy way that even Deion Sanders, during his brief stint with Dallas, got nabbed—for fishing without a license. Supporting the theory that the fish rots from the head: Owner Jerry Jones and ex-coach Barry Switzer have also found themselves on the business end of the local cops.
Hence the joke around Cowboy-hater circles:
Q: What do the operators in Dallas say when a person calls 911?
A: Did you get the jersey number?
Alas, a lot of the items in the Cowboy blotter are wholly unfunny. Some of the saddest in the team’s annals:
Harvey Martin: During his 11 years with Dallas, the defensive end and franchise career sack leader, nicknamed “Too Mean,” was named Super Bowl MVP once, All-Pro three times, and a suspect in drug investigations on numerous occasions. He recovered a fumble in the closing seconds to seal the famous/infamous 1974 Thanksgiving Day win over the Redskins. In 1983, coach Tom Landry, responding to questions about Martin’s drug use, assured reporters that Martin wasn’t an addict. “A year or two years ago, I don’t know,” Landry said. “Somebody can use coke and it’s like beer to some extent. We’re talking about recreational coke. That’s a big difference with chemical dependency.” In August 1996, after what police described as a crack binge, Martin was arrested and charged with assaulting his girlfriend. It was the third time in five months he’d been arrested for the same crime, and in October of that year he was sentenced to a rehabilitation facility for the offenses. In December 2001, after a brief and very private battle with pancreatic cancer, Martin died. He is the first and only Super Bowl MVP to die.
Lance Rentzel: The Cowboys’ first glamour-puss receiver, he led the team in receiving from 1967 through 1969. Rentzel was married to bimbo lounge girl Joey Heatherton, best known as a Golddigger dancer on The Dean Martin Show. Heatherton would show up to Cowboys games in hot pants and knee-high boots. Her husband’s image as an all-American stud took a big hit in November 1970, when he was arrested for exposing himself to a 10-year-old girl. He was subsequently sentenced to five years’ probation. His Cowboys career and marriage both ended shortly after the prosecution.
Rafael Septien: The Cowboys place-kicker led the team in scoring every year from 1980 to 1986. His leadership streak was snapped after his January 1987 arrest for sexually assaulting a 10-year-old girl. He pleaded guilty to indecency with a child and was given 10 years’ probation and a $2,000 fine. “I’m let down by the attitude of the Cowboys,” Septien said when the team quickly booted him off the squad.
Bob Hayes: Hayes changed the way the game was played when he joined the Cowboys in 1965, a year after winning an Olympic gold medal in the 100-meter dash. Nicknamed “Bullet Bob,” Hayes is credited with single-handedly inspiring the concept of zone defense. Local fans remember him for making a catch on fourth and long in the closing minutes of the Cowboys 1974 Thanksgiving Day game with the Redskins to keep alive the drive that would end with Clint Longley’s Hail Mary to Drew Pearson, giving Washington the most deflating defeat in team history. Hayes retired as the team’s career leader in touchdowns, and as the only athlete to have won both an Olympic gold medal and a Super Bowl ring. In 1979, Hayes’ reputation was irreparably tarnished when he delivered drugs to an undercover cop in a sting operation. He later pleaded guilty to three narcotics offenses and served 10 months in jail. His drug use and the notoriety it caused have kept Hayes out of the Pro Football Hall of Fame; he wasn’t enshrined in the Cowboys’ Ring of Honor until last year. In September, he died of liver and prostate ailments in Jacksonville, Fla., where he lived with his parents.
Larry Bethea: The defensive end was the Cowboys’ top draft pick in 1978 and starred in the team’s 28-0 victory over the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC championship game during his rookie season. His career nose-dived from there. In 1986, Bethea was charged with assaulting his estranged wife. Then, during divorce proceedings, he was charged with stealing $64,000 in cash from his mother’s attic. In April 1987, three months after receiving a suspended sentence for that theft, Bethea shot himself in the head in a Newport News, Va., rooming house. Police said that the .38 caliber pistol Bethea killed himself with was the same gun he’d used while robbing two neighborhood convenience stores on the last day of his life.
Mark Tuinei: The offensive lineman made two Pro Bowls and was part of three Super Bowl championship teams during his 15-year Cowboys career. He was released against his wishes before training camp in 1998. On May 6, 1999, Tuinei was found dead in his car in Plano, Texas, a Dallas suburb, after a night out with Cowboys reserve fullback Nicky Sualua. Coroners later ascribed the death to the mixture of heroin and an Ecstasy-like hallucinogen found in his system.
Thomas Henderson: The Cowboys got Henderson with their top pick in the 1975 draft. He claims he played in Super Bowl XIII while carrying an inhaler filled with cocaine inside his uniform. The Cowboys lost to the Steelers in that game, 35-31. Henderson’s problems quickly exceeded his talent, and in November 1979 he was cut by Landry just before the team’s annual Thanksgiving game. In November 1983, Henderson was arrested and charged with sexual assault and false imprisonment after exchanging crack for sex with two minors, one of whom was wheelchair-bound. After his parole, Henderson proclaimed himself clean and sober and began charging fees to speak out against drugs. For years, he dedicated a good bit of the honoraria—as much as $500 a week, Henderson said—to buy lottery tickets. In November 2000, Henderson won nearly $14.5 million in the Texas lottery. “Now, without hesitation, I’m proud to say that Thomas Henderson is a friend of mine,” former teammate Pearson declared after Henderson got his lump-sum lottery check.—Dave McKenna