Sunday, July 6, 2014

Through the Cracks

When I think of Dave Campo, I think in superlatives. Three Super Bowl rings will do that for a man. They represent the highest rung in the most popular sport in the United States. Dave also has an NCAA national championship on his resume, representing another pinnacle. Come to think of it, the most fun I've ever had in a restaurant was dining out with him and seeing the reaction of the maitre d' and servers after they realized what kind of celebrity was in their establishment that night. Words like best and friendliest cling to Dave like static electricity. He can't walk the midway of the Texas State Fair without being swarmed by autograph-seekers, perhaps the most popular coach in Dallas Cowboys history. He may be the most talented person I know _ as a teenager, he sang professionally in and around Mystic Seaport, Conn., once as part of the opening act for a Peter, Paul and Mary concert, and he used to turn out exhibition-worthy paintings in his spare time. Superlatives all.

Currently the cornerbacks coach and assistant head coach at the University of Kansas, Dave has at least one negative superlative in his past as well: the worst head-coaching record in the history of the Cowboys. But it's tempting to argue that no one could have done better than his 15-33 from 2000-2002, given that the Triplets _ Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith _ were down to Twins by the time he got the reins. Irvin retired before Dave's first season, Aikman retired a year later, and Smith's string of 11 consecutive seasons with more than 1,000 yards rushing ended in 2002.

Dave moved on to the Cleveland Browns for two years, then joined the Jacksonville Jaguars for three as secondary coach and assistant head coach, adding another coaching superlative when Rashean Mathis became the Jaguars' first Pro Bowl cornerback after the 2006 season. Dave returned to the Cowboys in 2008 for four more years before he was released again.

I've had a few superlatives in journalism, including the New York State Bar Association's Best Legal Reporting award for a profile of the St. Lawrence County district attorney in 1985. But Dave Campo figures in my personal -est parade for giving me the top compliment I've ever received as a writer. That was when he acknowledged that recruiters talk all the time about the ways a blue-chip player can fall through the cracks into the basement of college football. It made me happy to think I'd actually come up with something in a work of fiction that sounded real to a professional coach. He made the comment after reading the part of a manuscript which is now Chapter 8 of my novel "The Leather Man." It highlights Ben Steinbrecher, the defensive coordinator at Canyon State College, discussing the subject with his friend Sam Moody after a dispiriting, season-ending loss in Billings, Mont.

Steinbrecher is absorbed in his thoughts:
What we really need is an NFL prospect on offense, somebody like ... okay, somebody like I used to be to play tight end, or a hard-nosed tailback like Roy Shivers from Utah State. Ugh, I don't even want to think about that game in Logan next year. Or like Billy Cannon. Forget that, you're not going to get any Heismans out of this school.
Moody tries to cheer up Steinbrecher, who is in his first year on the Canyon State staff, by saying the Wranglers need to get lucky. Steinbrecher doesn't want to hear it, but Moody persists.
"I meant when you're recruiting. It takes great players to beat great players, so you need an upgrade."
That prompts Steinbrecher to discuss the difficulty a small college would have trying to lure an elite player:
"You're talking blue-chippers, and the only way a blue-chip player could land at this level is if he slipped through the cracks, like if he had lousy grades or wrecked a pool hall and had to skip town. There has to be something off about a kid of who's born for the big pond and slips into a little one."
"Why do you think I said you had to get lucky?"
Later in the chapter, Moody rehearses the conversation while he waits for Steinbrecher to return his call. Moody, the Canyon City police chief, has had a young man who looks and talks like a blue-chipper fall into the law-enforcement net because of raising a ruckus on a bus in the city limits, and has talked the prospect into taking a look at the Canyon State campus before continuing his trip. The chief tells Steinbrecher that Quintus LeClaire may have some head problems but could use a little Ziklag from authorities. The meaning of that teaser isn't revealed until Chapter 13.


No comments:

Post a Comment