Surreal scene at Valley Ranch after roof collapses
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
IRVING, Texas -- It was easy to tell the survivors from the onlookers Saturday afternoon at the Cowboys' practice facility. Even an hour and a half after 64 mph winds ripped the club's practice facility to shreds at 3:27 p.m. local time, some of the reporters who'd been inside the facility when the storm arrived had shell-shocked looks on their faces.
I had been at Saturday's morning practice and subsequent interview session, but wasn't attending the afternoon workout. When I returned to Valley Ranch at about 4:30 p.m., there were fire trucks and police cars everywhere. Gawkers were walking up and down the street taking pictures of the area where the practice bubble once sat. If you've ever driven through the area surrounding Valley Ranch, you know how prominent the structure was. It was 85 feet tall and it took up 80,000 square feet. The practice bubble looked like a gigantic white tent, and I can remember thinking how unnatural it looked in the neighborhood when it opened in the summer of 2003.
The morning practice had been held outside, but with dark clouds forming, the Cowboys held the afternoon session indoors. According to people I talked to at the scene, the first sign of trouble was when the light fixtures atop the facility started swaying violently. And then the entire building began to shake back and forth. By the time people started racing for the exits, the structure was already crumbling.
My former colleague at the Dallas Morning News, Todd Archer, was trapped in one of the doorways. Here's his account of what happened. He credits former Texas Tech defensive end Brandon Williams and Cincinnati safety DeAngelo Smith for lifting the door frame so that he could escape the building. Nick Eatman of Dallascowboys.com attempted to help Archer, but said it was like "lifting a car."
The Cowboys didn't reveal the names of the 12 people injured in the collapse, but I've confirmed that special teams coach Joe DeCamillis was transported to a local hospital for a possible neck injury. I'm also told that assistant secondary coach Brett Maxie suffered a laceration on his leg that required stitches. As I left the building Saturday night, a longtime cameraman for the local Fox affiliate, Larry Rodriguez, was about to receive treatment for a gash in his hand.
"I reached up to try and block a beam that was falling on me," he said. "But then I realized that wasn't a wise move."
Most of the reporters who were inside the building during its collapse appeared to have minor cuts and bruises. It created a surreal scene in which the reporters were being interviewed by other reporters. I reached one of the rookies by cell phone this evening, but he said players had been instructed not to talk about the situation.
In some of the TV footage following the collapse, you could see guard Greg Isdaner, a free-agent rookie out of West Virginia, holding onto a pole inside the practice bubble with a look of sheer terror on his face. According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips attempted to direct emergency crews to three people who were trapped underneath the debris.
I walked out toward the practice bubble at about 6 p.m. local time Saturday and couldn't believe the sight. As one reporter who was inside the building said, "It's like a bear ripped up a tent."
When you look at the destruction, it's hard to imagine how everyone survived. It's not like a couple of steel poles fell down. Pretty much the entire framework came tumbling down. I shudder to think what the result would've been if this were a full-roster minicamp. The head of emergency services in Dallas County, Dr. Paul Pepe, said there were only three "serious" injuries and that none of them were life-threatening. And according to the latest report from the Star-Telegram, only one person will have to stay in the hospital overnight.
Team spokesman Rich Dalrymple said owner Jerry Jones had cut his trip to the Kentucky Derby short and was flying home Saturday night. The players participating in this weekend's minicamp are expected to hold meetings Sunday, but they probably won't practice. We'll obviously keep you posted on any new developments.
Update: As of 12:08 a.m. ET, a Cowboys scout named Rich Behm is undergoing surgery on his spinal cord at a Dallas hospital, according to a source close to the family. DeCamillis, who is former NFL head coach Dan Reeves' son-in-law, has two broken vertebrae, according to sources.
Update 2: Very sad news Sunday night. Word is out that Behm is paralyzed from the waist down.