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Tackling Life and the NFL

By Dat Nguyen and Rusty Burson; Foreword by Darren Woodson

Publication Year: 2005

In a quintessentially American game, for an organization often called America's Team, Dat Nguyen stands as the first player of Vietnamese descent ever to play in the NFL. Yet if asked for his job description, he would probably answer simply, "I tackle." He tackled so well at Rockport-Fulton (Texas) High School that he earned a scholarship to Texas A&M University, becoming the first Vietnamese American football player in school history. As part of the storied "Wrecking Crew," Nguyen's tackling earned him All-American honors and led the Aggies to their first Big 12 title. And, even though he was once deemed too small to play middle linebacker in the NFL, he has earned All-Pro recognition with the Dallas Cowboys. For Dat Nguyen, though, tackling the various obstacles of life—not just running backs—gives him the most pride. He learned how to tackle life from his parents, who narrowly escaped from the North Vietnamese Army in 1975. Nguyen offers the story of his faith, his family, and his career, a true story of the American dream lived out, as an inspiration to others. He recounts his father's decision to flee Vietnam; the boat trip that took his family to freedom; and their eventual settling in Rockport, Texas, where a community of Vietnamese shrimpers established an economic livelihood using skills brought from the old country. He describes the racism his family encountered while he was growing up and how the friendship of one young Caucasian boy and his family overcame prejudice through an invitation to participate in sports. Nguyen's insightful look into the life of a big-time football player offers first-hand glimpses of the personalities and playing (or coaching) styles of many celebrated stars of college football and the NFL. His stories offer excitement, romance (as he pursues his college sweetheart, now his wife), faith, fatherhood, and humor. Dat is a lively, engaging story of growing up in a refugee family, of big-time football, and of human struggle and success.

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

Title Page

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pp. 9-11

OVER THE YEARS, I’ve learned that you don’t simply watch Dat Nguyen. More often than not, you’re mesmerized by him.
I began to realize that the first time I ever watched him play. It was in 1998, and I was at the Dallas Cowboys’ training facility in Valley Ranch prior to the start...

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1. Odds Breaker

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pp. 13-25

MY ALARM CLOCK IS SET, but there is really no need for it to go off. My own nervous energy has already triggered my internal clock, and I am eager to get out of bed even before it rings. It’s Sunday morning, December 26, 2004, but with all the butterflies in my stomach, I feel like a kid...

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2. Village People

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pp. 26-35

IT’S DIFFICULT TO DESCRIBE the emotions that suddenly overcame me when I opened the letter. It was my senior season at Texas A&M, and as I scanned the scathing words, a mixture of shock, disbelief, anger, and perhaps even a little uneasiness rushed through me. ...

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3. Flee for All

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pp. 36-46

BY EARLY JANUARY in 1975, the news coming across my father’s four-band radio was not good. Despite a cease-fire that had been signed in Paris two years earlier, the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) launched a major offensive on January 6, capturing Phuoc Long City and the...

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4. Born in the U.S.A.

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pp. 47-62

I’VE PROBABLY BEEN ASKED hundreds—perhaps even thousands—of times, “What’s the best thing about being a player in the National Football League?” Honestly, there are plenty of good things about being in the NFL, beginning with the economic opportunities. ...

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5. The Beauty of Sports

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pp. 63-79

UNSUSPECTING FRIENDS fall for my antics almost every time I take them to my hometown for a stroll down memory lane or to eat at my parents’ restaurant. I’ll start building it up long before we approach the Rockport-Fulton area, and by the time we hit the Copano Bay Causeway,...

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6. Texas A&M's Big, Fat Failure

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pp. 80-95

ONE OF THE MORE MEANINGFUL compliments I’ve ever received came from a man I barely even knew. Retired Maj. Gen. Ted Hopgood, a two-star general in the Marine Corps, was the commandant of the Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M when I was in college. ...

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7. Labels Are for Canned Goods

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pp. 96-116

As you might imagine, many people—especially witty newspaper headline and cutline writers—love to have fun with my name. I’ve seen and heard plenty of puns and pronunciation plays on words through the years. There’s the “Win- Nguyen” situation, the “Nguyen-ing Edge,”...

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8. Dance Hall Daze

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pp. 117-136

Trust me: it’s not nearly as bad as Becky makes it out to be. If you listen to her, you might be tempted to believe that I have so little rhythm I couldn’t even play a radio. That’s simply not true. I’m not holding out any long-term hopes that I will ever be asked to join a hip-hop boy...

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9. Clock Management

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pp. 137-157

ONCE A FOOTBALL SEASON BEGINS, eliminating as many distractions as possible ranks high among my top priorities. During the off-season, I thoroughly enjoy working with charitable organizations, donating time to my church, and making public appearances. ...

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10. The Lombardi and the "Oscar"

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pp. 158-175

I’M NOT A SLAVE TO THEM, but I must reluctantly admit that I do have my superstitions. In fact, as a culture, the Vietnamese tend to be extremely susceptible to superstitions. Not just the well-known, garden variety, such as breaking mirrors, walking under a ladder, or allowing a black cat to cross your path. ...

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11. Moving and (Milk)shaking

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pp. 176-196

I THINK IT’S PROBABLY ABOUT TIME I came clean on some things regarding my lifestyle. Many of the sports books you see on shelves today feature some scandalous revelation about a professional athlete’s lifestyle, so I feel compelled to do the same, shedding some light on my...

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12. The Ride of My Life

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pp. 197-217

A CAREER IN THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE can be like taking an elevator ride in one of those gigantic, upscale hotels. You have a destination in mind, but how long it actually takes you to get there can depend completely on the people who are sharing the ride. ...


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pp. 218-220


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pp. 221-228

Image Plates

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E-ISBN-13: 9781603446082
E-ISBN-10: 1603446087
Print-ISBN-13: 9781585444724
Print-ISBN-10: 1585444723

Page Count: 232
Illustrations: 49 b&w photos.
Publication Year: 2005

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Asian American football players -- Biography.
  • Nguyen, Dat, 1975-.
  • Football players -- United States -- Biography.
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