Commentary

Cowboys carry on a year after collapse

New batch of rookies reports to site where facility crashed down and left visible scars

Updated: April 30, 2010, 12:55 PM ET
By Calvin Watkins | ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- There are intense reminders at the Dallas Cowboys complex of what happened on May 2, 2009.

A winding ramp is connected to an automatic door that leads to the Cowboys' scouting department.

Inside the offices is a man who uses a wheelchair to get around.

Down the hall in another office is a man with a long scar on the back of his neck who has problems sleeping at night because of pain and discomfort.

Inside the Valley Ranch complex sit several employees of Jerry Jones' who battled injuries the day the Cowboys' indoor practice facility collapsed when winds gusting at 64 mph sent an 80-foot-high facility crashing down.

One of the more serious injuries was suffered by scouting assistant Rich Behm, who was left paralyzed from the waist down. Joe DeCamillis, the special-teams coordinator, suffered broken vertebrae.

DeCamillis said doctors have told him it's amazing he's walking because his injuries should have left him paralyzed. The circumstance of the injury makes it difficult for doctors to treat him.

It was May 2009 when Cowboys rookies, second-year players, coaches, scouts and team personnel gathered together in that practice facility only to escape with their lives as the storm burst through the area.

Friday, on the site where the practice facility collapsed, a new batch of rookies will step on the field for minicamp.

Sitting next to the spot where the practice facility once stood are two football fields. The three fields are all that's left of what happened in May.

"It's just a reminder of how tragic that is," Jones said.

To those who were injured, assigning blame is complex territory.

Jones, who has owned the Cowboys since 1989, does not directly own the building or the land on which the Valley Ranch complex sits. One of Jones' companies does. That company, along with Summit Structures LLC of Allentown, Pa. -- which built the structure -- are likely responsible for the facility's collapse, according to an investigation.

In October, the National Institute of Standards and Technology found the Cowboys' facility fell in winds of 55 to 65 mph -- far less than the 90 mph wind speed specified by engineering standards. At least five other Summit-designed buildings are known to have collapsed since 2002.

[+] EnlargeCowboys facility collapse
AP Photo/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Ron JenkinsWind gusting at 64 mph knocked down the Cowboys' 80-foot practice facility on May 2, 2009.

The investigation discovered that the companies had failed to review plans for repairing the facility in a timely fashion, which has prompted lawsuits from Behm and DeCamillis.

Behm's case will be heard in October, DeCamillis' in February.

The Cowboys filed a suit against Cover-All, which made the material for the roof, and Summit, claiming they failed to consider a warning from an engineer retained by the team that found fault with the facility.

But on March 26, Cover-All filed for protection from its creditors in an effort to restructure its finances under court supervision while continuing to operate under a limited basis.

Cover-All has laid off nearly 500 employees, according to The Associated Press.

Behm and DeCamillis have hired Dallas attorney Frank Branson to help them in their lawsuits.

"They both have serious injuries," Branson said. "If you notice Joe during games, his neck is bent forward. Rich is in a wheelchair. These are the two of the nicest, hardest-working people I've ever had a chance to represent. The injuries they've suffered are horrible to both, and it's affected not only them but their families, as well."

Officials from Cover-All and Summit declined comment with the litigation pending.

It wouldn't be a stretch to believe that intense moments have surfaced with Behm and DeCamillis filing suit against one of Jones' companies. But Branson said his clients love working for the Cowboys.

"To their credit, there's sensitivity but no strain," Jones said. "There is no awkwardness there in terms of our relationships. We will have the issues that we are involved with, but those will be resolved. It certainly won't have a situation that creates any ongoing bad feelings."

The future of the practice facility comes into focus for one of Jones' crowning events, February's Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium. The NFC team is scheduled to practice at the Cowboys' facility and, if there's bad weather, would have to practice indoors.

Jones doubts he will build another indoor facility and has proposed moving the NFC team to a high school facility in case of bad weather.

NFL officials said they have talked to the Cowboys about this and are working with them to make this happen.

"It's a possibility," Jones said of a temporary practice facility getting built. "But I don't know if that's the way we want to go. I'm a little sensitive about the temporary aspect of that thing."

Without a practice facility, the Cowboys players traveled to numerous high schools and Cowboys Stadium to practice in bad weather during the regular season.

It's something you don't complain about after seeing Behm around the complex still doing his job despite his injury.

"When you see Joe DeCamillis, when you see Greg Gaither, the trainer [who recovered from leg injury], when you look, drive down 635 and you don't see that bubble with the big star," outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware said. "You know it's where I am going to work today."

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.