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"Cotton Bowl Days" Cracks List of Greatest Texas Football Books

To commemorate the approach of another football season, the "Lone Star Literary Life" website has published its rankings of the best all-time Texas football books. It's a spectacular top-ten list that includes seminal works such as "Friday Night Lights," "The Last Picture Show," and "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk."

I was beyond honored to find "Cotton Bowl Days," my 1997 book about growing up as a Dallas Cowboys fan, ranked No. 5 on the list. It's a book I'm proud of, and even though it is nearly two decades old, I still hear regularly from football fans just reading it for the first time. Love seeing it get recognized this way!

Here's a link to the full list: http://www.lonestarliterary.com/texas-football-books-2015_080911.html

(The book can also be found as an eBook titled "Chronicles of a Dallas Cowboy Fan.")


A comeback story

“That First Season,” my book on Vince Lombardi’s inaugural year as the coach of the Green Bay Packers, was published in the fall of 2009 — more than five years ago. But if its Amazon page is any indication, it is attracting new readers as if it just hit the market.

Every book sold by Amazon has its own page, an online home base of sorts featuring sales figures, updated hourly, and reader reviews. It is wise not to put too much stock in what you see there, but most authors check their pages and their “numbers” anywhere from occasionally to compulsively, as it does provide a general picture of the interest level in their books.

“That First Season,” published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, had a nice run when it first came out in the fall of 2009. Sales were healthy and 40 readers posted reviews on Amazon within the first few months. That rush inevitably slowed, as happens with most books, or for that matter, most products after several years on the market. In 2012, five readers posted reviews on Amazon. In 2013, 11 did.

But interest has picked up. The book is experiencing a significant rebirth, at least according to its Amazon metrics.

Thirty-eight readers posted reviews in 2014, and 27 have already posted reviews this year – 17 in March alone and we’re barely halfway through the month. Those are healthy figures for a brand-new book, let alone one that came out in 2009. Fortunately, most are four-star or five-star reviews. People seem to like it.

You can now find the book on several of Amazon’s bestseller lists, ranking No. 23 in books on American football as of Tuesday morning.

When I see a spike like that, I wonder what happened. Did an influential publication post a review? Did someone in Green Bay mention it? Or is this just a function of the power of the Lombardi legend?

I don’t know the answer. But I’m not complaining.


Steve Sabol's infectious enthusiasm

I considered it praise of the highest order when Steve Sabol of NFL Films called me out of the blue one day in 1997 to say how much he enjoyed “Cotton Bowl Days,” my then-new book about growing up in Dallas as a fan of the Cowboys. No one loved pro football more than Sabol. He loved everything about it – the games, the drama, the winners, the losers, the sights, the sounds, the smells … and most of all, the stories. Sabol’s genius lay in the fact that he understood the importance of storytelling, and it meant a lot, a whole lot, if he thought I had told a good one.

We weren’t in contact much after that. I called him now and then as a source on a book project or newspaper feature. (He always gave you terrific material, the best of anyone, no matter how many people you spoke to.) He would let me know whenever NFL Films referenced my book in one of its many projects.

“We love ‘Cotton Bowl Days’ up here,” he told me once from NFL Films’ suburban Philadelphia offices. This was years after the book had disappeared from most shelves, and needless to say, the author appreciated that anyone remembered, much less someone who was so esteemed and valued a good story.

In 2009, when the people at NFL Films were pulling together their documentary on the history of the American Football League for Showtime (Full Color Football”), they asked to interview me on the subject of the early years of pro football in Dallas, when both the AFL and NFL had teams there and those teams, the NFL’s Cowboys and AFL’s Texans, fought to gain the favor of the city’s fans. I had devoted a chapter to the subject in “Cotton Bowl Days,” so they figured I could comment.

The interview took place at NFL Films’ headquarters, and the producer decided to tape my segment right in Sabol’s office. (Steve was out of town.) As we headed in, I noticed there were two team helmets positioned on a table in the waiting room outside his office. Of all the helmets the NFL had seen through the years, Sabol, the ultimate pro football connoisseur, had picked out two to greet his visitors. And one was the helmet the Dallas Texans wore for three years in the early 1960s.

It was a classic, to say the least, bright red with a map of the state of Texas outlined on the side. The Texans had to give it up when they moved to Kansas City and became the Chiefs, but Sabol understood what a beautiful football artifact it was. So it was lost but not forgotten.

I happened to be searching for a new book subject at the time, and soon after that interview at NFL Films, the light bulb came on in my head. Even though I had written a chapter about the war between the Texans and Cowboys in “Cotton Bowl Days,” the subject was so rich in character and narrative that it deserved an entire volume. Seeing that helmet didn’t hurt my enthusiasm. Within months, I had a signed book contract.

That book is coming out next week, officially published on Oct. 2. The title is “Ten-Gallon War: The NFL’s Cowboys, the AFL’s Texans and the Feud for Dallas’s Pro Football Future.” I’m excited about it, and pleased to report that the book’s black-and-white photo insert includes a close-up of the Texans’ helmet. How could I not include it after seeing it in Sabol’s office?

It saddens me terribly that Sabol won’t be able to read the book and tell me what I got right or what I should have emphasized more. He passed away from brain cancer earlier this month at the age of 69.

 “Ten-Gallon War” is rightfully dedicated to someone far closer to me, Mary Wynne Eisenberg, the love of my life, who married me 28 years ago and continues to put up with me disappearing into the computer room to write for hours. But the book’s existence and spirit trace at least in part to Sabol, a man of great generosity and infectious enthusiasm who loved nothing more than a rollicking football tale and, alas, had many more to tell.


Ten-Gallon War goes on the road

In conjunction with my new book about the Dallas Cowboys-Dallas Texans war offically hitting the stores on Oct. 2, I will be making a handful of promotional stops in Dallas, Kansas City, Houston, and Austin that month.

Here are the dates, times and details:

+ Tuesday, Oct. 2, Dallas - I will be at A Real Bookstore, a great independent bookstore in the Dallas suburb of Fairview. Signing event begins at 7 p.m.

+ Thursday, Oct. 4, Kansas City - I will speak to the Rotary Club of Kansas City at noon. The club meets at the Marriott Hotel on 12th and Wyandotte. The event is sponsored by Rainy Day Books in Kansas City. For more details, here's a link to the club's home page.

+ Monday, Oct. 22, Houston -- I will be at the Brazos Bookstore for a 7 p.m. signing event. There's a lot in the book about the beginning of pro football in Houston as well.

+ Saturday, Oct. 27, Austin -- I'm excited to announce I will be appearing at the 2012 Texas Book Festival. Details to follow. This year's author list includes huge names such as Robert Caro and David Maraniss.

I'll have more news soon about other events and media appearances. I hope to see you at one of these events.


A 'starred' review for Ten-Gallon War

The pre-pub review season continues for my latest book TEN-GALLON WAR, which officially hits the stores on October 2 (but should be available before that). I'm pleased to report that the reviews in book trade publications such as Publisher's Weekly and Library Journal have been uniformly positive, culminating with a 'starred review," signifying a standout volume, in the September 1 issue of Booklist.

Here's the Booklist review:

"The Dallas Cowboys, now one of the NFL’s key franchises, took the field for the first time in 1960, the same year the Dallas Texans were debuting in the newly launched American Football League. Initially, it looked like the Texans, the stronger team, would rule the city. Eisenberg, a Baltimore Sun columnist for many years, chronicles the launch of both teams and their fight for the heart of Texas. Aided by dozens of interviews with surviving players, coaches, and team officials, he charts the intense rivalry between Texans owner Lamar Hunt (who eventually moved his team to Kansas City) and his Cowboys counterpart Clint Murchison. The sparring was conducted through the press (like Donald Trump versus Barbara Walters), and, amazing as it seems now, it was a close battle until Hunt—disappointed by the lack of support his Texans were receiving in 1962, on their way to the AFL championship—decided to jump ship. This is an entertaining and significant football history that should attract a deservedly large readership."

For those so inclined, the book can be pre-ordered here: