A Daily Conversation About Dallas


Sonny Dykes Saved SMU Football. Will He Stay to Sustain It, Too?

| 2 weeks ago

Consider, for a moment, the following scenarios. 

Scenario one: SMU ponies up and makes a serious financial commitment to Sonny Dykes in order to keep him in Dallas. The school and Dykes are negotiating a significant offer, according to multiple reports, and if Dykes accepts, he could become one of the highest-paid—if not the highest-paid—Group of 5 coaches. His assistants would get raises, the facilities would be upgraded. Dykes can continue his grand plan of building SMU into “Dallas’ Team” and create a sustainable winning culture.

Scenario two: Dykes rejects the offer and leaves SMU for the head coaching vacancy at TCU, where there is rumored interest, or another Power Five job opportunity. The Mustangs lose their recently built-up cachet, then plenty of games, before plunging back into national irrelevance.

What’s playing out in Dallas is a pivotal moment in program history. We know about the Pony Express and the Death Penalty and the decades of bad football that followed. Dykes is the one who changed everything. Over the past four seasons, he and SMU have rehabilitated one another, the coach dragging the program out of its depths and, in so doing, restoring his reputation after he flamed out at Cal, where he coached from 2013 through 2016. Now the two sides are at an inflection point. 

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Big Dreams, Big Money, Big Stadiums: How Dallas Remade Pro Football

| 3 weeks ago

Dallas used to be a college football town. The art deco facade of the 75,000-seat Cotton Bowl stood as a monument to how much Dallasites loved the amateur game. In fact, it was the frenzy to see SMU running back and Highland Park native Doak Walker that motivated Cotton Bowl officials to add a second deck in 1948. Since then, it’s been known as “the house that Doak built.” 

Perhaps hoping to capitalize on that enthusiasm for football, Dallas attempted its first foray into the pro game in 1952. Led by the son of a cotton-milling magnate, a group of Dallas businessmen purchased the lowly New York Yanks of the National Football League. The ownership group of the renamed Dallas Texans included oilman J. Curtis Sanford, founder of the Cotton Bowl game; and architect George Dahl, designer of the Cotton Bowl stadium. Combining Dallas, football, and millionaires seemed like a can’t-miss idea.

It was an absolute failure.

The problem was simple: no one in Dallas cared. The Texans went winless at the Cotton Bowl playing in front of paltry crowds. Their sole victory that year came against the Chicago Bears on Thanksgiving Day in Akron, Ohio. Finally, in November, with the team deep in the red, the Texans left Dallas for good, finishing the season as a traveling team based in Hershey, Pennsylvania. The team relocated the following offseason to Baltimore, where they’d find success as the Colts. The Texans were the last NFL team to go bankrupt.

Dallas, then, figured to be an unlikely place to see professional football thrive and the game transform. But that’s exactly what happened.

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Jason Witten’s (Second) Second Act

| 3 weeks ago

Jason Witten began his first season coaching high school football with a win. Last week, he concluded with one, too. In the fairy tale, this would be a year filled with triumphs, the most decorated Dallas Cowboy of the millennium riding into Argyle, Texas, where he takes Liberty Christian, with a high school enrollment of 372, to a state championship. It didn’t happen that way.

The Warriors finished 2-8; the season prior, they’d gone 2-7. It’s an inauspicious beginning to his second retirement from the NFL. After the first one, he spent one season in the booth doing color on Monday Night Football. That also didn’t go well.

Whether on national television or on the sidelines at a small private school’s field, he draws attention. There is a curiosity about Witten doing this, of all things, at Liberty, of all places. Back in August, an intrasquad scrimmage on a hot day filled the stands halfway. A throng of media was in attendance. Athletic director Johnny Isom says it was nothing compared to the day they announced Witten’s hiring.

“Bananas,” he says. “We knew it would be a big deal. But you’re never sure how big a deal.”

At Witten’s one scheduled media availability of the season, Isom introduced him by comparing his arrival to some of the school’s great milestones over the last 20 years, from moving out of Denton and settling in Argyle in 2005 to the construction of its two-story high school to the expansion of its athletic department. A standing-room crowd hung on each word.

“We don’t have press conferences like that—and definitely don’t fill rooms like that,” Isom says.

That’s not how Witten would prefer it. The attention is like an uncomfortable suit that he’s forced to wear and sheds as quickly as he can. For this story, I got exactly five minutes with him after a game. Were it up to him, he’d be just another coach in a navy blue polo, khakis, and a ball cap.

He can’t be, of course, probably not anywhere but especially not here. Immediately, Jason Witten became synonymous with Liberty Christian in a way few Texas high school football coaches ever have been with a program before their even first season kicked off. Former Cowboys quarterback Jon Kitna coaches in Burleson, while longtime Philadelphia Eagles backup Koy Detmer does so in the Rio Grande Valley. Deion Sanders broke into the scene as head coach of Prime Prep Academy, the ill-fated charter school he founded. But, at least in recent memory, there is no corollary to Witten in the state: a bona fide NFL legend beginning his coaching career as a high school head coach somewhere other than a school he created.

So why this and why here? Witten may not say much to the media, but those around him have the answer.

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What Keeps Wealthy Dallasites Up at Night

| 3 weeks ago

The chatter among Dallas’ hoi polloi throughout the spring, summer, and into the fall has been, of course, about Mike McCarthy’s clock management and the vaccines and whether the 2021 Tesla Model S Plaid really is fast as all that. But the monied have been wagging their chins for months about the SALT cap and the Angel of Death loophole. In other words: taxes.

For the wealthy, a comeuppance is coming. President Joe Biden wants the rich to pay a bigger share in taxes so he can “Build Back Better” by spending trillions of dollars on infrastructure.

“Yeah, we’ve been talking about whatever Washington is going to do,” one of Dallas’ top-tier earners, an attorney who has done deals with the likes of Mark Cuban, tells me. “We’re mainly worried about capital gains going up. But capital gains will likely top out at 25 percent. No way they’re going to 43 percent or whatever the percentage was that was bandied about in the spring. That extra 5 percent still sucks, though.”

Those extra percentages—and how to get around them—are just the kinds of things that the rich have been yammering about at the bar at Al Biernat’s and on the 19th hole at Preston Trail and at that one four-top on the little patio at Cafe Pacific where you can see everyone who comes and goes because you’re right next to the valet stand. Mostly, though, and in part due to our masked-up, distanced times, I’m told that these conversations have unfolded in more mundane fashion, by phone in a recently remodeled home office or just by text.

“Does your company have an outlook on the likelihood of the passage of the new tax laws?” one wealthy Dallasite recently texted to a much wealthier Dallasite—a centimillionaire, in fact. “We’re all guessing, like everyone else,” the centimillionaire replied. The conversation continued, diving into a proposed 3 percent surcharge on adjusted gross income over $5 million, which happens to be the closest thing to an honest-to-goodness wealth tax in all the serious proposals that have come from the Biden White House or the Democratic-controlled Congress this year. “That 3 percent will kill me if I have a liquidity event in one of my private deals,” the less wealthy texter continued. The centimillionaire shrugged it off. “Hard to believe it would pass,” he said. “But even harder to proactively defend against it.”

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The Unusual Origins of the Dallas Bluebonnets, the Trailblazing Women’s Football Team

| 1 month ago

Editor’s note: Forty-eight years ago, back when the Cowboys were just two seasons removed from their first Super Bowl victory, another Dallas professional football team took the field at Texas Stadium. It was February 18, 1973, and the Dallas Bluebonnets were set to play their first-ever game in the National Women’s Football League, which spanned eight states (and a few iterations) in the 1970s and ’80s. The Bluebonnets would lose that day, badly, to the visiting Toledo Troopers, the league’s most dominant squad and among the most successful football teams in American history. But their participation is about so much more than the 37-12 scoreline that day.

During their two seasons of existence, the Bluebonnets represented an opportunity for women in Dallas who wanted to play a sport intertwined with the state’s culture, even if it paid just $25 a game. They also provided a community for lesbians who had few such spaces in 1970s Dallas. Along the way, the Bluebonnets and the NWFL at large became a forum where women of different backgrounds and sexual orientations could come together, understand each other, and compete.

Their history is just one part of Britni de la Cretaz and Lyndsey D’Arcangelo’s stellar new book, Hail Mary: The Rise and Fall of the National Women’s Football League, which is out today. What follows is an excerpt on the Bluebonnets, from their origin in an Oak Lawn lesbian bar, the challenge of navigating an often-hostile city, their camaraderie with the Cowboys, and more.

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Mental Health

How to Talk to Your Teen About an Imploding World While Saving Yourself

| 2 months ago

Dr. Ronnie Pollard remembers the moment he knew he was in the middle of a mental health crisis. It was the fall of 2020, and an influx of teen patients was forcing the pediatric unit of Medical City Green Oaks Hospital to expand. The 125-bed behavioral health hospital for children and adults in North Dallas, where Pollard serves as executive medical director, normally reserves 12 beds for pediatric mental health patients. Now they were converting an adult unit to a pediatric one, taking the total to 36. The psychiatric hospital was filling up with teenagers in critical distress.

“Something’s not right,” Pollard thought. “We are in a crisis, but we’re not hearing about it from anybody.”

Dr. Ronnie Pollard

Dr. Ronnie Pollard
Jonathan Zizzo

One of the new patients was Katie (not her real name), a 15-year-old girl trying to wade her way through virtual high school. She didn’t like attending online, missed her friends, and lacked the organizational skills to keep up with her studies on her own. Her grades dropped, and the months of isolation made her irritable and defiant.

Also struggling with the pandemic, her parents didn’t know what to do. They couldn’t ground her; she was already trapped at home. So they took her phone away. For Katie, her phone was her only lifeline, the last remaining means she had to connect with friends whom she saw as more supportive than her parents. She became depressed, and one night she drank an entire bottle of Benadryl. When pressed, she confessed to her mother what she had done. Her mom called 911, and Katie, like many others, ended up at Green Oaks.

To better understand how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting kids and find out how parents can help improve their children’s mental health, we spoke with two mental health providers in addition to Dr. Pollard: Dr. Hayley Fournier, a psychologist in private practice in Dallas who treats adolescents; and Dr. Meghna Joshi, a psychiatrist specializing in child and adolescent psychiatry based in Allen.

Their top advice? Stop with the old-school, Mister Rogers-style face-to-face conversations about feelings. Come at things sideways, and be prepared to shut up and listen.

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My Father, the Hitman

| 2 months ago

Doc Dolan was connected to the JFK assassination and some of Benny Binion’s bloodier work. When I was a kid, he pulled a con on me that I’m still struggling to understand.

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Awesome Things

The Loudest, Most Badass, Full-Throttle Family Business in Dallas

| 2 months ago

Years ago, as their kids tore up the yard on dirt bikes, Rick Fairless and his buddies would flip on the stereo, pull cold ones out of an icebox, and hash out their motorcycle nirvana: a custom shop with a bar where they could drink alongside their choppers instead of leaving them out front to be tampered with by passersby. Fairless had put in 20 years selling paint for Glidden before he decided to make a couple of calls, just to get the stupid idea out of his system. He opened his shop a year later, in 1996.

Strokers Dallas encompasses 2.5 acres off Harry Hines, offering everything necessary to get into the motorhead subculture. In the retail store, you’ll find the whacked-out Rick Fairless custom bikes on glorious display, plus plenty of gear and get-ups. Grab a pair of chaps, but don’t forget to cover your ass: Strokers is a licensed Allstate agent.

Strokers mechanics service American-​made bikes and produce five to 10 custom builds each year. A Rick Fairless design doesn’t come cheap. His kaleidoscopic Woodstock bike would set you back about $100,000. If you have a classic auto that’s been collecting dust, Punch Wally Garage will get it car-show ready. Taz’s Detail makes your hog sparkle, and outdoor vendors will accessorize you with silver skull rings and custom-designed patches.

Behind Strokers Ice House, the asphalt courtyard fills with everything from Big Dog V-twins to Stella scooters and, of course, a hell of a lot of Harleys. The clientele isn’t discriminatory. You’ll find old-timers and infants, Southwest Airlines’ white-collar staffers who cross the street for after-work drinks, babes as hot as the decal on a mudflap, tattooed outlaws, and fresh-faced tourists who may have caught one of Strokers’ reality shows, Texas Hardtails and Ma’s Roadhouse (the latter spotlighted Fairless’ salty-mouthed mother, rest in peace). If you’re looking to witness a barstool-shattering brawl, however, ride elsewhere. “A lot of bike clubs come here, but we’re all cool,” one full-patched 1-percenter told us. “This is neutral ground.”

The sprawling complex off Harry Hines includes plenty of ephemera, and will introduce an 80-foot tie-dye carpet to celebrate its 25th anniversary.
Elizabeth Lavin

We spent a recent Sunday at Strokers to knock back a few beers, eat the Herschel Walker-raised chicken (the football great is their most loyal custom bike client), and experience the Rick Fairless pipe dream in full-color high definition. It turns 25 years old on October 1, and Stroker’s is celebrating with a weekend full of events, headlined by Warrant.

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Meet Anze Macek, Luka Doncic’s Slovenian Trainer

| 2 months ago

A normal NBA offseason runs anywhere from three to five months, depending on how deep a given player’s team goes into the postseason. Luka Doncic’s was three weeks. 

Actually, “offseason” is not the best word to describe what Doncic did this summer. “In-between season” is probably a better way to put it, because those three weeks of rest amounted to a stint of a few days, one that quickly got lost in the shuffle of training and highly competitive international basketball.

On June 6, the Mavericks lost Game 7 of their first-round playoff series with the Los Angeles Clippers. After that, Doncic was part of two training camps with the Slovenian national team, with whom he played 10 win-or-die games in the qualification and the main Olympics basketball tournaments. On top of that, Doncic completed his own individual three-week training cycle to prepare for the upcoming NBA season. 

Which explains his wry smile this week at Mavericks media day when he was asked whether he’d gotten enough downtime to be fresh for training camp. “Obviously, I didn’t get enough,” he said. He added that he regrets nothing. “Always, when I’ll have the opportunity to play for my country, I’ll play. It’s something that you do with your heart.”

The man who helped Doncic stay in shape throughout what was the most grueling summer of his career is Anze Macek, a former basketball player and co-founder of Slovenia’s 2A Sports Lab, a strength and conditioning company for professional athletes that primarily focuses on basketball players. The 30-year-old has been training athletes since 2014, but his big break came five years ago, when he began working with the Slovenian Basketball Association. He built a “special bond and friendship” with then Miami Heat and current Toronto Raptors guard Goran Dragic, who brought Macek on to work with him privately. That led to frequent trips to Miami, where Macek saw firsthand how the Heat, who are known in professional basketball for their rigid conditioning, conduct business. 

“Their requirements are wild,” Macek says in Slovenian over coffee in Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital city and Doncic’s hometown. We’re at a spot called Winner’s Lounge, just around the corner from Gym 24, where he primarily trains his 2A Sports Lab clients. “They test players every week. They measure body fat. If you don’t reach your target, you are listed on the board right away.” He pauses for laughter. “When you go through that experience to prepare for the Miami Heat season, you are ready for anything.”

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