SPORTS CAMP WALTER MITTY

Like most every dreamer at the Dallas Cowboys’ annual tryout at Texas Stadium on May 20, I died a quick NFL death. The coaches saw enough of me in two 40-yard sprints to declare me dead at the scene. “Too old, too slow, and too short for pro ball, son,” they said. The coaches delivered 750 or so eulogies the day I was there. Nobody survived the cut. In fact, since the team first began holding open camps more than twenty years ago, no one has ever made the non-strike Cowboys.

You get only the two dashes to achieve pro warp speed: 4.7 seconds for aspiring backs and 4.9 seconds for aspiring linemen. When my turn came, I cued up the mental tape of my big high school game and replayed it against the expanse of Texas Stadium. For an instant, I was the Quarterback, stiff-arming Lawrence Taylor, looking deep for Michael Irvin.

Then, disaster. Halfway through my second 40, I felt my hamstring constrict with pain. I limped past the stopwatch coach nearly a second slower than the NFL’s slowest quarterbacks. Still, the fantasy was complete: in my mind, Irvin had caught the pass.

About seventy guys with healthy hamstrings survived the sprints and advanced to the second phase, the agility drills. After a written exam to test education and logic, quarterbacks, backs, and receivers work on pass patterns while linemen do lateral motion sprints. The coaches make notes, check phone numbers, and say “we’ll be in touch.”

Well, they weren’t. All seventy got the axe. But if this year’s eighty-man roster limit had not been in effect, “the team probably would’ve taken four or five kids from the tryouts” to training camp, says John Wooten, director of personnel.

And that’s what I wanted to hear. Hope. Now I can wait till next year.

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