See photos from #Cowboys25, celebrating the 25th anniversary of the 1992 Super Bowl team.
DALLAS – Just like old times.
Oh sure, we age. We gain weight. Some gain a lot of wait. Yet some shrink to proportions belying their previous profession. Some might have a limp. Hair turns white or diminishes all together.
Some have even passed away.
But if you knew them, if you had been around them, even their wives or girlfriends who eventually became wives, if you had seen the blood, sweat and tears of some through the late 1980s or witnessed the young pups who arrived precociously in the early '90s, you'd swear they had never been apart for some 25 years.
Some things never change.
Why that might have been Gilley's just south of downtown here Saturday night. There might have been a stage, a band and dinner served, but this 25th anniversary of the Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl-winning 1992 team could just as well been in the locker room at The Ranch.
You know, you know how it is when getting back together with the best of your friends, how there is this inescapable bond allowing you to pick up right where you left off, no matter how long it's ever been.
That was this.
Troy Aikman back in charge, just the way he was in that huddle when the Dallas Cowboys' first new regime in club history returned this franchise to prominence, not only winning Super Bowl XXVII that season, but going back-to-back in Super Bowl XXVIII and making it three Lombardi's in four years that 1995 season.
Michael Irvin virtually the last one to arrive, always having a way of making an entrance.
Offensive line coach Tony Wise the day before insisting he's going to Coppell Deli to get him one of those Stubbs sandwiches, named after former Cowboys defensive lineman Daniel Stubbs, a breakfast cholesterol bomb the heart could handle back in those younger days.
Kevin Gogan, always the great, big boisterous one, booming out story after story, holding court only the way he would, making you laugh so hard your head hurts.
Guys still making fun of Dale Hellestrae's physique, or lack thereof.
Nate Newton, one of those locker room cops, patrolling the Blue Carpet, and not anonymously, either.
Emmitt Smith dapperly dressed as always.
Mike Saxon still with that ridiculously cotton-like blond mop.
Vinson Smith's voice deeper than the deep it was.
The threesome of Jim Jeffcoat, Tony Tolbert and Russell Maryland, three-fourths of that defensive line, also including Charles Haley and Tony Casillas, dominating the width of that carpet, just as they did for what many have forgotten the NFL's No. 1-ranked defense that season.
Dave Wannstedt and Dave Campo excitedly telling stories as they were want to do back in the day.
Norv Turner playfully giving me grief for asking more questions than I promised to do.
Jason Garrett, now the Dallas Cowboys head coach these 25 years later, but then no more than the third quarterback, so glad to be along for the ride as he was his rookie season on the practice squad.
And maybe this, one of those priceless scenes, a Norman Rockwell of Cowboys life moment, Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson during the after-party nearly chest to chest so they could hear themselves over the music, in animated discussion, just as they had been back in the day, as if they were discussing trading for Steve Beuerlein in 1991 or if they should trade for Charles Haley in 1992 or select Kevin Smith with their first-round pick in 1992 or claim Plan B free agent Jay Novacek in 1990 or draft this 6-7 kid Leon Lett out of Emporia State in the seventh round of 1991 or use a 1991 seventh-round pick in 1990 on but a deep snapper, Hellestrae, who the Cowboys then couldn't bear to part with for 11 seasons.
Or if it was worth keeping veteran Bill Bates as just a special teamer. Or how much they enjoyed Kenny Gant firing up the special teams with his "Shark" dance. Or how much they should pay Emmitt during his 1993 holdout and subsequently how long they could live with rookie Derrick Lassic as his starting replacement.
Or heck, where should they go for nachos and beers after work.
What a sight to revisit for a guy who was trying to make his way freelancing in this Dallas media business after his newspaper was pulled out from under him with two games remaining in the 1991 season. Gosh, I had one of the best sideline seats ever to document all this, their success pulling me along in the wake.
You know, when you hear guys say the thing they miss most about the game after retirement is the locker room camaraderie, the bonds they formed with teammates? That how close they became as friends? How they spent more time with these guys than their families?
Man, that's real.
And as always, leave it to Troy, who organized this event in conjunction with raising money for the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas – he's this year's co-chair – to hit the nail right on the head.
"These teams were so special and the guys' relationships meant so much that we needed to do something," said Aikman, also inviting guys from the 1993 and 1995 Super Bowl teams. "The achievements were great, the rings were awesome. But the reason I believe everybody is here is because of the relationships.
"I'm seeing people that I haven't seen in 15 years, and you see them and give them a hug and feel like you saw them yesterday."
Like earlier Saturday afternoon at the hotel hospitality room for the guys coming in from out of town. Can't tell you the last time I had talked with Beuerlein. We spoke, as Troy said, during an interview for 20 minutes as if it were 1992 all over again. Same with Ken Norton Jr., last having seen him two years ago, passing in the tunnel in Seattle after that Cowboys 2014 victory over the Seahawks but really hadn't spoken to him since he left in 1994 on a free-agent deal to San Francisco.
Same with Saxon and Vinson and Step. Even with some of the guys' wives, or folks in the organization like operations director Bruce Mays, former head trainer Kevin O'Neill, Jerry's former administrative assistant Carol Padjett, folks you would see just ever so often or not even at all since those times.
Even Jimmy. Funny aside, was hoping he would come up to the penthouse hospitality room to be interviewed, but didn't. So we packed up our camera equipment to head out. Weren't two floors down on the elevator, the door opens and who should be standing there, but Jimmy.
He looks in, somewhat surprised, and goes, "Mick!" Squeezes in and we have a nice conversation with about three stops on the way down as yes, if it were yesterday. Reminded me of the time in 1990 when with my family at the team hotel before a preseason game in San Diego he jumped into the elevator, and after proper introductions, he smiles at our daughter and says, "Boy, your daddy is really hard on me," Jimmy's way of saying something nice.
The only hard part of the evening was the video tribute paid to those who couldn't be there, the ones who had passed away. Had known Mark Tuinei since my 1984 arrival in Dallas until the day he tragically passed away from the drug overdose in 1999. Can remember him giving me a beer out of his hotel room iced-down bathtub way after Super Bowl XXVII. But great to see the guys continue to embrace his widowed wife Pono, who was here.
Shed a tear when former running backs coach Joe Brodsky was honored, having died in 2006. A 180 from having died laughing over some of his brutal common-sense honesty all those years. The guys didn't forget "Axe" either, wide receivers coach Hubbard Alexander, Michael Irvin's human pacifier, who passed away this past August.
And then there was Coach Joe, former special teams coach Joe Avezzano. Still not enough time has passed since he died while in Italy coaching an American football league team in 2012. So many radio shows together. So many charity dinners. So many long talks, to the point Haley would make fun of us if he came upon our conversations. So many times seeing Joe and Troy jogging through Valley Ranch together. But great to see his wife Diann and son Tony here. Yep, another tear or three.
But how great is it to have known guys worth crying over?
And finally, what a thoughtful gesture by the guys in the end, six of the Cowboys Pro Football Hall of Famers – Troy, Michael, Emmitt, Roger, Tony and Charles – presenting Jerry Jones a commissioned painting by local artist Vernon Wells of the Cowboys owner in his gold Hall of Fame jacket that will be presented to him in Canton, Ohio, this August.
Charles handing Jerry the painting, with Michael saying, "Welcome to the Pro Football Hall of Fame."
Great to see all the guys back together again after all these years.
Seemed as if they had never left.