My summer as a Dallas Cowboys 'call girl'

If you wanted to talk to one of the players, you had to go through me first

"Now darlin', if anyone gives you any trouble, my office is right there. ANY trouble. You girls are the very front lines of our operation."

Back in the day, being called "girls" or "darlin'" wasn't an insult, especially from a gruff — but kindly — old school taskmaster whom we knew would protect us, no matter what.

This bear of a man, whom we had nicknamed "The Enforcer," winked at us and walked away. Tex Schramm was the general manager for the Dallas Cowboys football team and his very presence commanded respect.

The year was 1986. That summer, as with previous ones, the Dallas Cowboys football team had descended on our small, private liberal arts college in Thousand Oaks, California, for its annual summer training camp. Along with them came the throng of news vans, lookie-loos, and super fans. From 1970-1979, the Cowboys had won more games than any other football team and played in five of 10 Super Bowls, taking home the Vince Lombardi Trophy twice. They were the NFL's winningest team and were on television more than any other team in that decade, which earned them the moniker of "America's Team." They were BIG.

Helen and I, both seniors at California Lutheran University in a sleepy suburb of Los Angeles, had been hired to be the receptionists — the "call girls," as we were lovingly called — and concierges to all the players and the organization during its annual training camp. This was, of course, before you could Google the answer to almost any question. Our version of Google was the phone book, the Thomas Guide, and 411.

Our job was not only to have all the answers for team members, but also convey messages to them, and to keep the peace and suss out the real reasons behind visitors' arrivals. And by the end of the summer, we'd heard — and seen — everything.

Office hours ran from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, and we had beepers for emergencies. The jobs were not posted publicly, but rather, they were passed on by word of mouth from friend to friend. I'd proven myself as a campus phone operator in dealing with emergencies and irate parents, donors, and panicked students, so when my fellow operator, Nancy, offered me her spot as a call girl, I jumped on it. She was moving to another state and knew I could handle stress with a cool head. The Cowboys organization never interviewed us, but left the vetting to its existing call girls. We were instructed to keep all team matters private and never to gossip, or risk immediate dismissal.

One of the first things Helen and I were given was a list of family and friends' names who were allowed to contact the players directly. And lists of those who weren't. There were a lot of people who tried everything to get some face time with these celebrity football players.

"Hiya, I'd like to see Bill. I'm his cousin," the woman said.

"Okay, I'll just have to double check that Bill is expecting you. Your name, please?"

"Oh, just tell him Carmen is here. He'll know who I am."

The response seemed fishy.

"But you just said you were his cousin."

"Well of course I am. But Bill has many cousins," she replied confidently.

I rang Bill's room and announced Carmen's arrival.

"Uh, no. Tell her I'm not here. Make up something. I don't care what it is."

"Carmen" wasn't happy. In fact, she had a fit. She started screaming at the top of her lungs and threatened me until Tex emerged from his office and led her away, never to be seen by us again.

Another day, a little kid on his skateboard stopped short of crashing into my desk and asked, breathlessly, "Have you met the Dallas Cowboys?"

"Why yes. I have. Would you like a team photo?"

The boy looked at me with wonder.

"You've met the Dallas Cowboys?" he repeated.

"Yes, sweetheart. I can give you a photo ... "

"Can I shake your hand?" he blurted out.

We shook hands and he lingered a little, smiling sheepishly. "Thanks," he said, before riding off.

It wasn't just super fans we had to fend off. News outlets from all over would try to get exclusive stories about the team, its politics, and its secrets. They tried every tactic in the book on us, ranging from monetary offers to gift certificates to downright begging. We were told never to reveal any information, no matter how innocent it seemed. Tex would — and did — take care of it.

Some of the most entertaining calls we got were from the team members themselves, especially the rookies. They'd call wanting to know where to find the hippest L.A. nightclubs, restaurants, concert venues, and hot spots. I often knew more about the players' schedules and outings than I did about my own. But sometimes I found myself acting as a sort of therapist. For example, late one night I received a call from one of the rookies' wives. Her husband had called me earlier in the day about finding a private strip club downtown. I told him we weren't allowed to provide such information and he cursed me out and slammed the phone down so hard that I thought it would break.

When his young wife called, she was crying so hard she couldn't breath, let alone speak. She needed her husband because their newborn had a fever and she didn't know what to do.

"I need help! What if our baby dies?" she screamed.

I rang his room. The call, not surprisingly, went unanswered.

Within a few days, his name had been removed from the roster. I never found out what happened to him, but he was no longer a part of training camp.

Another rookie's wife called late one afternoon. She was screaming. "I can't see! I can't see anything!"

I worried she was being attacked.

"Are you alone? Are you injured? Your husband is not in his room. How can I help you?" I asked.

"All the lights went out! I can't see anything! Everything is pitch black and I'm scared! He needs to fix this!"

A power outage. I sighed in relief and called 411 for her area and got the power company's phone number.

"All you have to do is hang up, call them, and wait for them to fix the power outage," I explained.

"No, no, no. I can't. I'm scared. I'm all alone."

So I called the power company in her little town on my second phone while I kept her on our original line. I stayed on the phone with her until the lights came back on an hour later.

During that hour I discovered that she had never lived on her own. She'd gone from her parents' house to her husband's house and had never had to fend for herself. I found myself teaching her the basics of surviving a power outage: Keep some candles and flashlights in every room along with extra batteries and matches. Make a list of contacts to call in case of emergency and keep a copy at home and in your purse. Keep a stash of emergency cash and coins.

When the power came back on, she laughed a little. Out of nervousness, maybe even out of embarrassment.

"Thank you. You've been so patient and kind," she said.

What she said next broke my heart.

"My daddy would've call me stupid if I'd called him instead."

"Well, I'm glad you called me. You're not stupid at all," I said, trying not to let my voice crack.

Before we knew it, camp was over. The campus cleared out and the players, managers, and coaches all stopped by to thank us and say goodbye. We looked at the remnants of our office, the press room, and the managers' offices. Papers were everywhere and whiteboards stood unattended.

As Helen and I cleaned out the residences, we found a giant tub of unopened chocolate ice cream in one of the room freezers. We brought it out to the grassy slopes of the hilly campus and sat in the warm sun to reflect on our summer.

Between the two of us, we'd processed about 14,000 incoming calls during the three-month training camp. Add that to all the "cousins," fans, media, and kids who'd stopped by to try and get closer to the players. We'd barely had a moment's rest. We lived on the edges of stardom for those few months, and were truly sad to say goodbye. It had been hectic. It had been fun. But most of all, it had been unforgettable.


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