The Bill Out Of Sight

morning after one of those killer losses down the stretch this past season, he was really dragging when we bumped into each other, and I said, "Ever get any sleep after ones like that?", and he would say, "Those are tough . . . you never do."

Now for sure he was a fan of the needle. Like the time I passed him one night outside scouting heading out in tennis gear with my bag slung over my shoulder, thinking the minute I saw him, oh boy here it comes, and he didn't disappoint with an audience of scouts around him saying, "There goes Agassi."

Consider that getting off light.

Now it wasn't always that way. We had our moments, and I remember the first, his first training camp at the Alamodome. It was after the day's second practice, and after his between-practice media conference, so technically he was off limits since he only talked to the media during those 30 minutes. But hey, I passed Larry Allen talking to one of the trainers outside the locker room on my way to a practice that already had started, and then Allen didn't practice, the start of his Tour de San Antonio that summer. I sensed something wasn't kosher.

Well, as Bill was loping into the tunnel coming off the field, I approached him, asking him if he knew what was wrong with Allen, and he shook his head no, and when I persisted, asking if he was upset his Pro Bowl guard wasn't practicing, he kept walking, then turned to bark, "You're not supposed to be asking me these questions now."

Well, OK then, but he had answered my question. He was P-O'ed.

So the next day as he passed me in the interview room on his way to take his place at the makeshift podium, he already had a nickname for me: "Mickey The Nose," and in his New Jersey way, that was a term of endearment and not a derogatory shot - his way of letting you know all is well.

But coach, The Nose?

He accused me of having "my nose in everything going on," and was very satisfied with himself.

I took that as a compliment.

Funny thing, it took quitting for Bill to further reveal this side rarely seen. I told you guys how for those final two weeks here he appeared a man who had the weight of the world lifted off his shoulders. He suddenly had time to make small talk. Somehow I think he delighted in seeing us still working hard on covering all the guys being interviewed to become his successor while he was living the life of Riley.

He'd stick his head into our office just to be a wise guy. I'd tell him, he'd didn't have enough to do. "Oh, I got plenty," he'd say, then go over his list of chores checked off that morning trying to make the home he built in Saratoga, N.Y., operational for his impending arrival.

He even engaged in a little football talk one day. He said he really thought Tony Romo could be a good one, but that he needed to be careful about a few things. He admitted to having spent the two weeks after the season trying to talk himself into coming back before realizing he was kidding himself, that he was through, that he just couldn't get in the plane bound for the Senior Bowl to start all over from scratch just to reach the Seattle 2-yard line again.

Upon leaving, the guy had little to clear out of his office. It's almost as if he had never been there. But one of the last days he came walking by with a black Louisville Slugger bat, waving it around in one hand, smiling the whole time.

"You know coach," I said, "you really don't have enough to do."

And this will surprise you, too, because it sure shocked the hell out of me: He told a close friend that had he not built that house in Saratoga, he would have stayed here in Dallas, and that contrary to popular belief, he liked living here.

Liked living here? Bill, you never got out. You never immersed yourself into the community. Never seemed to make friends away from the game, aside from the club's golf pro. I don't think a soul ever saw him in a store or at a restaurant - just maybe Cowboys Golf Course, where I'm told he was known to hold court in the clubhouse on off-season Saturday's with whomever. The lady at the Valero station just around the corner from The Ranch told me the other day she'd already talked to Wade Phillips, that he had come in to buy

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