Landry's Boys: An Oral History of a Team and an Eraby Peter Golenbock
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Tom Landry was a highly respected but little-known assistant coach for the New York Giants before being named the first head coach of the expansion Dallas Cowboys. Stoic and unprepossessing on the sidelines but brilliant and unyielding off the field, Landry guided the Cowboys for their first 29 years, leading them from league laughingstock to 18 playoff appearances, five Super Bowls, and two world championships. So sustained was their success and so magnetic was the way the franchise was run that the Cowboys became known as America's Team.
How did it happen? In Landry's Boys, best-selling author Peter Golenbock goes directly to the source: the men who made it happen. In this oral history of the Dallas Cowboys during the Landry years, Golenbock interviewed the players, coaches, and front-office personnel who forged the Cowboys legacy. Revealing, engaging, and evocative interviews include such Cowboys luminaries as Don Meredith, Roger Staubach, Bob Lilly, Drew Pearson, Lee Roy Jordan, Bob Hayes, Calvin Hill, Chuck Howley, Randy White, Mel Renfro, Eddie LeBaron, Frank Clark, Tex Schramm-and Landry himself.
Landry's Boys tells how Landry shaped the Cowboys, with exacting precision, to become the dominant team in the NFL; how the assassination of President Kennedy in the team's home city of Dallas seemed to place a curse on the fortunes of the Cowboys; how, in the end, the Cowboys helped to pull the town out of its civic hell; how quarterback Craig Morton almost led the Cowboys to the mountaintop, but was cast down to the shadows by the rise of his successor, Roger Staubach; how Duane Thomas rallied the team to two Super Bowls while waging a war against the game's racial double standard.
It's all here, from the Cowboys' bumbling beginning at the Cotton Bowl in the early sixties to the team's misses later in the decade, its ultimate victory in the seventies, and the crumbling of the dynasty in the eighties. Landry's Boys is the definitive oral history of America's Team through its first three decades.
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An Oral History of a Team and an Era
By Peter Golenbock
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2005 Peter Golenbock
All rights reserved.
The Two Clints
During the fall of 1958, as America was approaching the end of the tranquil Eisenhower era, Texas oil baron Clint Murchison Sr. and his wife Virginia left their two thousand–acre homestead south of downtown Dallas and flew from Love Field, Texas, to Los Angeles as guests of Californian Ed Pauley, another oil tycoon. Pauley, a former wildcatter who had literally struck it rich, was one of the owners of the Los Angeles Rams football team. As their limousine drove them to the massive Coliseum, the L.A. businessman and philanthropist enthusiastically regaled Murchison with stories that conveyed the joy Pauley derived from owning a pro football franchise.
Murchison listened politely. The Dallas oilman, known for his no-nonsense, bottom line–seeking demeanor, then asked Pauley, "Did the Rams make any money last year?"
"Oh no," said Pauley. "It's just a fun thing."
When Murchison arrived back home, he couldn't wait to tell his rash and foolish son, Clint Jr., who seemed intent on pursuing a quest to blow a large wad of Murchison dough on a pro football franchise for Dallas. Ever since Clint Sr.'s younger son had sought to buy the failing Dallas Texans back in 1952, the old man was constantly irritated at the thought that Clint Jr. wanted to invest in this toy. He couldn't understand why his 29-year-old offspring, an intellectual with degrees from both Duke and MIT, a man of great wealth and impeccable taste, would want to invest in a small-potatoes business that earned very little money for anyone.
When Clint Sr. told his son what Ed Pauley had said, his son was undeterred and unfazed, which was as his father had anticipated; he knew the worst thing you could do was tell the boy either that he was destined for failure or that he shouldn't do something. Clint Sr. suspected that despite his best advice, Clint Jr. would do the opposite: plunge ahead, unmindful of cost, secure in the knowledge that his instincts had more validity than either logic or the balance sheet.
In this respect the son was no different from his old man. The father, Ethelbert Clinton Murchison, one of the world's richest men, was a true Texas folk hero. Though he had started life with the financial advantages that come with being the son of a well-to-do banker, he earned his niche in Texas history by becoming immensely wealthy the Texas way: mano a mano, down and dirty, dog eat dog, me against you. Like the expert poker player he was, Clint's main pursuit all his life was the "big score." And if he had to win by dealing from the bottom of the deck, well that was too bad for you. For Clint Murchison, it was no holds barred and every man for himself.
As a youth Clint Sr. learned about ruthlessness from the Yankee-owned railroads. The citizens of his rural hometown of Athens, Texas, located 60 miles southeast of Dallas, had always resented the Texas & Pacific Railway because the line had passed up their town in favor of going through Dallas, where the citizens had ingratiated themselves with the railroad by buying $100,000 in T&P bonds and then pressured the state legislature to twist the track toward them. Dallas grew dramatically. Athens did not.
Murchison, moreover, was aware that the railroad habitually cheated the Athens farmers by fixing freight rates, charging higher rates for farm products than other goods. Clint also saw that the railroad hired the best lawyers, steeling itself against the little guys trying to get a fair deal. In later years, when Murchison was in the oil business, he would remember that the railroads had extracted the last penny from the citizens, and he would ask himself, "If the railroad could do it, why can't I?"
When Clint Sr. was seven, he sold animal pelts to fur traders. He also learned the art of horse and cattle trading, in which the goal is to outwit (read: cheat) the other guy as badly as possible, preying on his ignorance or weakness. In his very first trade, Clint himself was taken when he traded a decent horse and a healthy calf for a handsome horse he didn't know was injured. As he did all his life, Murchison learned from his mistakes and didn't repeat them. Once he figured out the trading game, Clint Murchison could look a man in the eye and overstate the quality of his steers, at the same time finding imaginative flaws in the opponent's herd. Through his cunning and his charm, as a youth Clint Murchison made more money animal trading than a lot of adults who worked fulltime jobs in his Athens hometown.
In 1915 Clint interrupted his practical training when he enrolled in Trinity University, a Christian school in Waxahachie, Texas, 20 miles south of Dallas. Clint found college life unbearably tame. He became restless, stifled by the regimentation, bored with the curriculum. His prime activity at Trinity, a school run by Christian brothers, was organizing a floating crap game. When, during his freshman year, one of the other boys ratted on him, school authorities told him that he wouldn't be suspended if he revealed the names of the other participants. Said Clint years later, "I thought that was a very unethical approach for men operating a Christian school."
He opted to return to Athens to work as a teller in his father's bank, an activity that also proved too mundane. Early in his employ, he quit after an examiner complained that Clint was mixing the nickels with the dimes. He disgustedly told his father he could make more money in a day trading cattle than in a month at the bank.
Soon after leaving the bank, the 20-year-old Murchison learned that the U.S. Army needed wood. He knew where there was a supply of East Texas pine available, but it needed to be cut. He cut a deal with the army, then hired local Mexican workers for booze and a meager salary. He cleaned up.
During World War I Clint enlisted in the quartermaster corps of the army. While in the service, he took advantage of his trading skills. In Michigan he had his men collect salvage lumber, which he was supposed to burn but instead sold for $15,000 for the mess fund. He was loved by his men, though he was almost court-martialed.
When Clint got out of the army in 1918, his close friend Sid Richardson begged him to become his partner in the oil business. Richardson, Clint Murchison's childhood friend, had been involved in the oil business since 1911, hauling pipes and working on an oil-well platform at night, but also trading leases for himself. In 1918, when Richardson was 24 years old, he had made $100,000 buying and selling oil leases. Richardson and Murchison had done a lot of successful horse trading together before Clint's stint in the army, and Richardson figured that Murchison would be a natural at trading oil leases. He was right; Clint caught on very quickly.
Lease trading, like horse trading, is an art unto itself. If leaseholders sense a well near the property will come in, the value of the lease goes up. If the leaseholder sells and the well comes in, the buyers are winners. If the well comes up dry, the sellers are the big winners. Accurate news is the key to success, and Clint Murchison became skilled at locating the right people to hang around (and pay off) in order to learn the secrets of where oil was about to be found. Late in 1919 he and his partner made $200,000 selling leases just before an oil strike on the Texas-Oklahoma border.
In 1927 Murchison invested in the Hendrick oil field near the Texas–New Mexico border. The wells came in, but the oil and natural gas couldn't be shipped. A pipeline was needed, and Clint built it. He then began supplying large cities like Santa Fe and Albuquerque, New Mexico, with natural gas. By 1930 he was supplying 43 towns in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and Arkansas.
In the spring of 1931 oil was discovered in Woodbine, Texas, and shortly thereafter 13 miles to the north in Kilgore, Texas. The question this time was whether the two finds were connected, whether this was a huge pool of oil or a series of finds. Clint Murchison gambled everything that it was one pool. Early in 1931 Clint drew a circle around the Kilgore strike and told his employees to lease everything they could within the circle. He financed the purchases by offering little up front but a decent return should the wells come in. "Give them a dollar, two or five, whatever it takes, but give it to them out of a quarter of their oil," ordered Murchison.
Within three years that East Texas oil field was recognized as the largest in the world, a gigantic pool holding more than 1 billion barrels of oil. To take further financial advantage, Murchison built a pipeline to take the oil west to Tyler, Texas, where he would refine it.
Clint built on his fortune using OPM, other people's money. Clint reasoned, "When you start using your own money, you start thinking you can do anything. Don't do it. Cash makes a man careless." He also taught his sons, "If you are going to owe money, owe more than you can pay, then the lenders can't afford to foreclose." One time when a banker from the Bank of Manhattan wanted to invest in one of Clint's pipelines, he asked how much Clint wanted. "All the money I can get," Clint replied. The bank loaned him more than $1 million.
After netting profits estimated at between $20 million and $30 million, Clint's next move was to drill his own wells on a large scale. Well drilling is not only an expensive endeavor but it is also extremely risky. Not even Frank, his own brother, thought it prudent. But Clint believed in his instincts, and once again he was proved prescient. Drilling a Kilgore well was as sure a thing as there ever was in the oil business. Of the twenty-nine thousand wells sunk into the 40-square-mile oil field, only 555 of them turned up dry. By 1934, when most people couldn't afford $50 for one of Henry Ford's used Model Ts, Clint Murchison was estimated to be worth $50 million.
Murchison added to his wealth by engaging in practices that were forbidden by both federal and state laws. Many Southerners had lost their land and their homes after the Civil War. Their whole way of life had been changed. And it was all because of Abraham Lincoln's government in Washington, D.C., and his damn Yankee soldiers. Then when Northerners invaded their states in order to help the ex-slaves gain the vote, their contempt for outside regulation intensified dramatically. Their lives had already been turned upside down once, and Southerners, including most Texans, swore that they would defend their land and their property and their right to do anything they wanted to do without interference of any kind from any government, including the one in Austin, and especially the one in Washington, D.C.
In August 1931 the Texas oil commissions limited the amount of oil Murchison and the other oil barons could pump. Murchison and hundreds of oilmen refused to follow the rules. Murchison had such contempt for these regulations that as a form of protest he changed the name of his company from Golding-Murchison to the American Liberty Oil Company.
The excess oil was known as "hot oil," and competitors charged that Murchison's company not only sold hot oil but that it stole oil from East Texas competitors through the installation of mysterious pipelines with destinations known only to Liberty Oil Company installers. Murchison was accused of opening hidden refineries in the backwoods, miles from the wells, enabling him to produce excess oil without getting caught. There was a saying: "The American Liberty pipeline was so hot, you couldn't sit on it."
If the state enjoined a well for overproducing, Clint would switch the property into the name of another company and keep drilling. There was only one set of rules: Clint's. Murchison's renegade reputation was such that when he later showed up in Washington to argue against federal regulation, he was told that because of his rogue reputation the most helpful thing he could do would be to get back on the plane and go home.
Murchison, though, did not care what others in the industry thought of him. He could recall how the railroads had cheated the farmers of Texas with the help of federal regulation, and he was determined to keep Washington from interfering in his affairs.
To protect their oil investments, the Texas oil barons reached out to men in high political office sympathetic to their cause. Texas Representative Sam Rayburn chaired a House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce to study the question of whether the federal government should step in and cut oil production in order to raise the price. The plan was to make the East Texas pool an oil reserve. Under the plan, the U.S. government was going to issue bonds for the value of the property taken. Murchison was dead set against such a plan, even though in May 1933 oil was down to 4¢ per barrel. Clint's rallying cry was, "You are taking away my liberty."
In the end, Murchison's friend Sam Rayburn recommended the bill not pass, and it did not. It wasn't until 1935 that the Connolly Hot Oil Act was passed. According to the act, if you were caught piping hot oil, the government could confiscate it. Only then did the Hot Oil War end. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the validity of the law. Many years later Murchison was still bitter about it.
Beginning in 1939 Clint Sr. began to diversify, to add properties other than oil and gas to his portfolio. Looking into the future and seeing potential growth of a company proved the key to his unwavering success. Clint demonstrated a genius for searching out companies with untapped growth potential based on trends in America and around the world. Clint saw the future growth of the insurance industry, and that year he and a partner, Toddie Lee Wynne, borrowed $1 million and bought the Reserve Life Insurance Company of Indianapolis and moved the corporate offices to Dallas the following year.
If the times were a-changin' and a certain company seemed ripe for improved earnings, Murchison would buy it. In the forties Clint Sr. saw the potential for curbside convenience stores. His friend Earl Cabell had founded the 7-Eleven stores. When Cabell became mayor of Dallas, he sold 75 percent of the company to Murchison. Clint Sr. wanted to open a chain of these stores all across the country. Cabell didn't have Clint's foresight, and when Cabell said he wasn't interested, Clint Sr. immediately sold out his shares to a third party. As any of us who ever needed a loaf of bread at 3:00 in the morning can attest, Clint turned out to be very right.
Clint then purchased Henry Holt and Company and saw the publisher's profits double as servicemen returning from the war bought millions of its textbooks. In 1957 Clint Murchison Sr. was listed as one of the richest people in America, along with Vincent Astor; John Hay Whitney; Mrs. Edsel Ford; Doris Duke, the tobacco heir; several DuPonts; and the Rockefeller boys, Nelson, David, John D., Laurence, and Winthrop.
Clint had married young, and in 1921 his wife Anne gave birth to a son, John Dabney, and in 1923 to Clint Jr. Two years later a third son, Burk, was born, but he died in April 1936 of pneumonia. In 1926 Anne died suddenly, leaving Clint Murchison shattered. The boys, raised by servants and nannies, were sickly and frail. When Clint Jr. was eight years old, he told his grandmother, "I'm just the shyest little boy in the world." As a child Clint Jr. hated the outdoors, much to his father's dismay, preferring to sit at home and read Popular Mechanics magazine and the dictionary. On their two thousand–acre farm in south Dallas, where Clint Sr. developed championship racehorses during the rare times that he was home, the boys grew up with the children of servants, seeing few white children and even fewer women.
Neither John nor Clint Jr. showed any interest in the oil business, so in the forties their father preordained their future by acquiring for them a series of companies under the umbrella of Murchison Brothers — without their knowledge.
At the end of 1949 Papa Murchison popped a surprise on the sons. He presented his two boys with a portfolio of 20 major companies. He wasn't giving them the stock in the companies. He was giving them the companies. Part of the arrangement was that John and Clint Jr. were to be 50-50 partners in everything they did. "Have at it," he told his sons.
The two Murchison boys, very different in personality, were thrown together as a team. John, the more outgoing and social of the two brothers, took to the task with great relish. A Yalie, he was conservative, too deliberate his father thought, but thoughtful and intelligent. John had flown during the war, and he loved to fly and to ski, so when a friend asked him to invest in a new ski area in Vail, Colorado, he did so. In the early sixties John built a private airport for his fleet of planes and ran it at a profit.
Clint Jr. was different from both his father and his brother. Clint Jr. was a small, owlish-looking man who, as in his childhood, assiduously avoided the outdoors, preferring an easy chair and the company of Popular Mechanics and scientific journals. His great loves were teaching and mathematical theory. After graduating from Lawrenceville Academy with the highest grade point average in the school's history, he went on to Duke University, where he graduated magna cum laude with a degree in electrical engineering. From there he got his master's degree in mathematics at MIT. He was an A student there as well. Shy and introverted, Clint Jr. believed himself intellectually superior to others, and he could be abrupt to the point of being impolite. He shunned social events, spending most of his time in his office, making deals.
Excerpted from Landry's Boys by Peter Golenbock. Copyright © 2005 Peter Golenbock. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Peter Golenbock is a five-time New York Times bestselling author and is widely acknowledged as the best oral historian in the literature of sport. Some of his best-known books include The Bronx Zoo, which he wrote in 1979 with New York Yankees pitcher Sparky Lyle; BUMS: An Oral History of the Brooklyn Dodgers (1984); Personal Fouls (1988), a look at corruption in college basketball; American Zoom (1993), a history of NASCAR; and Wild, High and Tight (1994), his lurid biography of Yankees manager Billy Martin. Golenbock lives in St. Petersburg, Florida.
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