A great story today, from Peter King. You can find his entire piece here, but his reporting on wide receiver Jesse Holley, of the Dallas Cowboys, is good. You can read it below.
But it begs the question … if you had just once chance to do what you loved the most, what would you do?
It’s the story of the man who won an NFL game on Sunday, Jesse Holley of the Cowboys, and the man who gave him the chance, Michael Irvin.
“After all my mess in life,” Irvin told me late Sunday night, “God still used to me to influence somebody’s life for the better. This is such an incredible story no one should believe it.”
Irvin and Spike TV had this idea three years ago: give every red-blooded American who thought he could play in the NFL a chance to. Irvin got Dallas owner Jerry Jones to agree to reserve the 80th spot on his 2009 training camp roster for the winner of a reality TV show they’d call 4th and Long. Irvin would have six receivers and six cornerbacks compete against each other in a 10-show TV series, with the last man standing going to camp with the Cowboys in 2009.
First, the interested contestants — hundreds of players — were thinned out at a scouting combine in Los Angeles. One of those, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Holley, a former basketball and football player of little renown at North Carolina, came from a job working security and selling cellphones in North Carolina. But he made the cut to be one of the six receivers. He’d been cut by both the Cincinnati Bengals and BC Lions of the Canadian Football League, and was moving on with his life when he heard of the opportunity with the TV show. “He was tall,” Irvin said, “and I know the Cowboys like tall receivers.”
So Irvin put Holley in competition with five other receivers (coached by former Cowboy coach Joe Avezzano) and six corners (coached by ex-Cowboy Bill Bates), while he — Irvin — oversaw the series and workouts. They taped 10 episodes of the show in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. “I worked them harder than they’d ever have to work in the NFL,” said Irvin, now an analyst for NFL Network. “I wanted to see who wanted it, who would survive.
“One time I put them all at the bottom of the Cotton Bowl and told them to run the stairs,” he added. “They were going to run the stairs, up to the top, down to the bottom, ’til one of them quit. I told ’em: ‘Go! Go ’til someone quits!’ That’s how you tell who really wants something. Jesse wanted it. You know, whoever won this, the only shot they’d have right away is playing special teams. So you’ve got to want it.”
As Holley said via a crackling cell from the Cowboy locker room Sunday: “All I ever wanted was a chance. I thank God for Michael Irvin giving it to me. I thank God for Mr. Jerry Jones giving it to me.”
That desire won Holley the job. “There’s no way I’d ever be here right now without that show,” Holley said.
Holley got cut by the receiver-full Cowboys in 2009 and 2010, and was signed to the practice squad each year. When Dallas let Roy Williams and Sam Hurd go this offseason, Holley capitalized and made the roster as the fifth receiver. When Dez Bryant couldn’t go Sunday because of a quad injury, Holley became the Cowboys’ third wideout for the game in San Francisco. “I tell guys all the time, ‘It’s going to take all 53 on the roster to win,’ ” coach Jason Garrett said.
Often, that’s pie in the sky. On Sunday, it was real for Holley. He caught his first two NFL passes in the fourth quarter. And when Miles Austin strained a hamstring late in the fourth quarter, Holley was in the lineup for overtime.
“I wasn’t supposed to be the guy Tony [Romo] was going to on that play in overtime,” Holley said.
Well, you weren’t supposed to even be in the stadium now, were you?
On Dallas’ first possession of OT, when the safety over the top of him bit on play-action, Holley was the open man. Romo found him. Perfect throw, easy catch. If he hadn’t showboated a little around the five-yard line, he’d have taken it in for a 78-yard touchdown. Instead, he was knocked out at the one-, and a chippy 19-yard field goal won it. The Cowboys, in desperate straits after blowing the game last week in New Jersey, were 1-1.
After the game, Irvin texted Holley thusly: “Man, that’s an SS.”
“What do you mean?” Holley texted back.
“A season-saver,” Irvin texted.
As Irvin told me: “Every kid has the dream in the backyard of one day lining up and catching the big pass in the NFL. Today, Jesse lived it. I still can’t believe it. Can you believe it! It’s better than the Vince Papale story! [That’s the story of the Philly-area Eagles fan who made the roster as a special-teamer under Dick Vermeil.] This one tops it. This guy won a game for the Dallas Cowboys! What a story! If he keeps playing and the Cowboys go on to the Super Bowl, this is a movie! This is Hollywood!”
Not so fast. But for one day in California, the kid from the reality show played in the reality sport — and he played big.