This week on A Cowboy Life, Former Cowboys Tight End James Whalen (#83) sits down with Brady to recall his journey into professional football at the University of Kentucky and a brief stint at Miami before digging into a persistent injury that chased him across his career and a painfully penultimate conversation with former Cowboys Head Coach Bill Parcells.

James Whalen began his journey into Football after a high-school Baseball coach at La Salle High School in Oregon told him he simply wasn’t good enough to qualify for Division 1 Football. That experience drove him to want Football more than anything else, which led him to a run-in with coach Hal Mumme at the University of Kentucky. Fortunately for Whalen, Kentucky happened to be in great need of a Wide Receiver, so he got the position as a walk-on and ended up playing a breakout season in his Senior Year and setting NCAA records for most receptions in a season and most receptions per game by a tight end.

Whalen went on to be selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the fifth round of the 2000 NFL Draft, but was signed to the Cowboys practice squad in December of that same year. Much to the glee of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, he decided to stay in Dallas- at least until he was allocated to the Scottish Claymores of NFL Europe. Unfortunately, an injury that he’d acquired in college chased him to Europe, but he rallied in his third year and was positioned as a core special teams player on the Cowboys roster under Dallas’ new head coach, Bill Parcells.

Parcells was a former coach from New York who’d taken the Giants and the Jets to two straight super bowls, and he did it by writing his own playbook. He’d grown a reputation in locker rooms everywhere for the mind games he utilized to keep players focused, but his individual treatment of specific players tended to turn some players away. And while James Whalen was always a team player, the return of his injury in 2003 led to a painfully sobering conversation with Parcells that would change his life forever.

A special thanks for this story goes out to James Whalen, but also to Hal Mumme, his former college coach from Kentucky that was kind enough to speak to us about his experience with Whalen as a player. James’ story is triumphant, painful, and ultimately, a brilliant look at the Cowboys as an institution, from both far and away and inside the helmet.

Show Notes & Links:

  1. Want to know more about James Whalen? Here’s a little more info on him.
  2. What about Bill Parcells? Sure, we’ve got him covered too.
  3. What were these “mind games” that Parcells would play? The rumors are true – it’s fascinating stuff.
  4. What’s Coach Mumme up to lately? He’s a cancer survivor – check it out here.
  5. Wait, how’d the Cowboys do in 2003? They made the playoffs, but got knocked in the first round. You can read about it here.


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