Visitors to Johnson's big house in Valley Ranch have to stay on the balls of their feet, with their knees slightly bent, to keep up with him. His first move is to check on his aquariums. "See that spotted brown one right there?" he says. "He eats a lot of fish. He's going to go hide now. He's shy. That's a marine beta. Here's another anemone, and there's a clown in there. Look at this damn thing hiding in there, 'cause these other tomato clowns will get after his ass." Johnson is partial to the tomato clowns, ferocious little defensive linemen. All-out rushers.
"And over here...I put these pencil urchins in here to eat some of these algae. There's some tube worms in here, and he [an anemone] was heading over here, and I didn't want him to eat the tube worms, so I picked him up and put him back over there." Coaching. Always coaching.
"And over here...." This looks like a designed route to the TV room, and if a visitor breaks in that direction right away, he might be able to cover. Don't buy the shoulder fake; Johnson's just picking up a speck off the spotless floor—"my raisin bran from last night"—because he's a neat freak of the first order. "Have you seen this movie?" asks Johnson. "Terminator II?" And there is Arnold Schwarzenegger's head, filling the big screen, and the floor and walls begin reverberating when Bad to the Bone pours through the sound system. Johnson is intense, waiting for Schwarzenegger to deliver the big hit. There it is: "Breakin' bones!" Johnson says with a gleeful giggle.
TV timeout! As Schwarzenegger kicks butt on the screen, Johnson settles down a bit. "This is kind of my world," he says. "My world is here, and over there." He gestures toward the Cowboys' complex. Both of his sons live in Dallas, and occasionally they come over. "Last Christmas we stopped by and watched football on TV and ate some ribs," says Chad, a stockbroker.
"Any special occasion we go get about a hundred dollars worth of Tony Roma's," says Brent, a lawyer turned short-story writer, "and everybody eats until they're sick."
Just some grown men kicking back together. "I think we're so much closer now than we had been," says Chad. "It's probably because I'm older now, and he can relate a little easier to me."
"I've had some of the best times with them in the last few years," says Jimmy. "We can do things and talk, and it doesn't have to be fatherly advice. It can be as a friend."
At the time Jimmy came to Dallas, Chad was just graduating from college. "The watershed time" in deciding to get a divorce, says Jimmy, "came when Brent and Chad were responsible for themselves. It was a combination of the boys' having grown, and my going into pro football, and my being to the point in my life that I ought to be able to do what the hell I want to do."
"Coming to Dallas, my mom and my dad were both kind of alone and left with each other, and they discovered that it wasn't what it once was," says Brent. The parting "wasn't traumatic, but it wasn't really easy for Mom. For 26 years she hadn't known anything else. I think she just didn't know what she was going to do. But once she figured it out, she was fine."
Last Memorial Day, on the porch of his cabin at Crystal Beach, Texas, Jimmy is looking out to sea, thinking of Linda Kay. He's drinking a beer, and he's gazing toward the southeast, past the offshore oil rigs on the Gulf of Mexico's horizon, in the direction of Venezuela. "It changed her life-style," he says of the parting. "Mine didn't change. I'm still coaching football. Still coming to the beach. Still drinking beer. Still laughing and cutting up with my family. And her whole life was centered around my job. And that's the thing I feel worst about."