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"Then Landry Said to Staubach ..."
The Best Dallas Cowboys Stories Ever Told
By Walt Garrison, Mark Stallard
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2007 Walt Garrison and Mark Stallard
All rights reserved.
And Then There Were Cowboys ...
You could make more money investing in government bonds, but football is more fun.
— Clint Murchison Jr., Dallas Cowboys owner, 1960–89
Most people think of the Dallas Cowboys of the 1960s and 1970s and think of the great offenses that we had. Exciting, point-a-minute teams. We were called "Speed Inc.," with Meredith throwing long bombs to Bob Hayes and Lance Rentzel. Don Perkins, Calvin Hill, and Duane Thomas chewed up the yards out of the backfield.
But the Dallas defense was even better than the offense. The Cowboys could always score big with Landry drawing up those plays for Meredith and Staubach. But until Tom put together that great defense we didn't win any championships.
"The Doomsday Defense," they called it. Chuck Howley, Lee Roy Jordan, Cornell Green, Mel Renfro, Charlie Waters, Cliff Harris, Jethro Pugh, and the big boy in the middle — Bob Lilly.
Of any single player from that first era of great Dallas teams, Bob Lilly had the most to do with the success of the Cowboys. Lilly was the key to the success of the Flex defense because the Flex counts on the play of one dominant tackle on the line to make it work. His job is to try to use his speed and quickness to beat the "choke" block — when the offensive guard pulls and the center tries to block back for the guard, tries to "choke" the hole.
Lilly could beat that block with ease. He was simply the quickest defensive lineman ever to play the game. Before the center could take one step, Lilly was by him. His ability to get off the line of scrimmage at the snap of the ball was awesome. The center would snap the ball and try to block Lilly and he couldn't touch him. Bob would be past him standing in the other team's backfield. A lot of times Lilly would get to the quarterback before he had time to hand off to the running back.
So they couldn't pull the guard on Lilly because it was like an invitation for Bob to cream the quarterback. That eliminates about 40 percent of a team's offense right there.
Lilly made the Flex possible, which made our defense great. Most 4-3 linemen sat back and tried to read the offense. But in the Flex, Lilly's job was to create havoc. He had to control his gap, but as soon as something happened, he could take off. And Lilly was awesome at screwing up an offense before it could get out of its tracks. — W.G.
The Birth of the Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys were born in 1960 when the NFL, with the blessing of George Halas of the Chicago Bears, sold Clint Murchison a franchise for the then-whopping sum of $600,000.
The Cowboys got most of their players in a special expansion draft in which Dallas got to choose three players from each of the other NFL teams. But first those teams were allowed to "freeze" the top 25 players on their rosters. The Cowboys picked over what was left — a bunch of marginal players with little talent, serviceable players on the downside of their careers, or the "attitude" guys.
And the NFL gave Landry and his staff all of 24 hours to make selections.
What were the early days of the Cowboys like? Not good. The team offices were in a room shared by an auto club. Practices were held at Burnett Field, an old baseball diamond. The players weren't the only ones using the lockers at this cockroach den. They'd come back from practice and find rats had eaten the tongues out of their shoes. When they'd shower, scorpions would scoot across the shower floor.
The early Cowboys teams weren't just bad, they were awful. They didn't win a game the first year. In the 11th game of the season, they managed a tie with the New York Giants, 31–31, and they tore the locker room apart celebrating.
In a 1962 game against the Steelers, Cowboys quarterback Eddie LeBaron threw a 99-yard touchdown bomb to Frank Clarke. But Dallas guard Andy Cvercko was caught holding in the end zone. According to the rules, the other team is awarded a safety when a hold is committed in your own end zone. So the longest TD in Cowboys history was wiped out, and Pittsburgh got two points.
In 1961, Dallas beat the Giants in New York and it made their year. They were 4–9–1. In 1962 they won five games, but in 1963, after being tabbed by Sports Illustrated as the team to beat in their division, they had only four victories. In 1964, they were back up to five wins, with eight losses and a tie.
But Landry was slowly building his team. He had a stud at quarterback in Don Meredith, and Bob Lilly was a force at defensive tackle, but there just weren't enough other good players to help those guys out.
In 1965, things started to turn around. That year's rookie crop was one of the best in Cowboys history. First they landed Craig Morton, a quarterback from California with a .45-caliber arm, who would eventually lead the club to two Super Bowls. Dallas also got Ralph Neely, an offensive tackle from Oklahoma, who was All-Pro for the next decade; Bob Hayes, the fastest man in the solar system; plus Jethro Pugh, Dan Reeves, and Jerry Rhome.
Dallas promptly started to win some games. They ended up 7–7 in 1965, finished second in their division, and got a trip to the Runner-up Bowl in Miami.
From 1966 through 1969, Dallas continued to draft quality players, and the winning snowballed. In 1966, the Cowboys were 10–3–1 and played Green Bay for the NFL championship. And the winning never stopped. The Cowboys went 21 straight years without a losing season.
Two Teams, Too Many
The prospect of Dallas having a successful professional football team was not always a foregone conclusion. After failing miserably to support a pro team in 1952, the city found itself in the peculiar position of having two professional football teams in 1960.
There were the NFL-expansion Rangers, who just a few weeks into existence changed their name to the Cowboys, and the Dallas Texans of the newly formed American Football League. The duel for the heart of the city pitted local millionaires against each other: 37-year-old Clint Murchison Jr. of the Cowboys, and AFL founder Lamar Hunt, who was just 28.
The Cowboys-Texans rivalry mirrored the larger struggle between the NFL and the AFL, which filed and lost an antitrust suit against the longer- established league. The rivals competed to sign college prospects, insulted each other, wooed fans in different ways, sold a few tickets, gave away a lot of tickets, and tried not to lose too much money.
When it appeared that neither team would win a solid fan base any time soon, Murchison proposed a mock settlement to Hunt.
"We'll flip a coin," he said. "The winner gets to leave town."
The duel in Dallas finally ended when Hunt saw the future with realistic eyes: his team would die first in a long war with the NFL Cowboys. So, following the 1962 "championship" season — the Cowboys won five games that year — Hunt moved his franchise to Kansas City for the 1963 season.
Dallas belonged to the Cowboys.
Building a Winner
It took time, but after the first few seasons, the Cowboys slowly started finding the pieces to field a winning team.
"We were putting together a lot of free agents and people who weren't supposed to be big enough, like Lee Roy Jordan, and people who weren't supposed to be able to hold the ball, like Mel Renfro, and basketball players, like Cornell Green, and track guys, like Bob Hayes and Mike Gaechter," Bob Lilly said of the Cowboys' growth into a winning team. "Getting Ralph Neely, through a series of breaks, was very important. See, he had signed with Houston, which was then in the other league [the rival American Football League], but he really wanted to play for us and so he signed with Dallas, too. That went to court, and he was awarded to the Cowboys, but after the two leagues merged , I think we gave the Oilers something in the draft the next year to make the deal official. Ralph became a very integral part of our team."
As Landry assembled his team, the wins came more frequently.
"In the beginning, we had a lot of trouble stopping the good teams," Lilly said. "We had a hard time with Cleveland and Jimmy Brown, Green Bay and Paul Hornung. The New York Giants always gave us trouble, and because Coach Landry had played and coached there, he always tried a little harder, walked around all week just a little more intense ... and we paid a little more of a price if we lost to them. It was a slow, slow process, but eventually we learned what he wanted, and he got together the kind of players he needed. Suddenly, we had our defense and the people to play it."
The Loser Bowl
"Nineteen sixty-five was a big year for us," Lee Roy Jordan said of the Cowboys' first non-losing season. "We ended up 7–7 and beat some good opponents, such as the Giants and the Steelers. And we ended up going to what they called 'the Loser Bowl' back then, played by the two division runner-ups." The game was actually called the Playoff Bowl, and proceeds went to the players' retirement fund.
"We played the Colts in a little playoff game down in Miami," Jordan said. "We didn't play too good, but we sure had a good time in going. That was the turning point for the Cowboys in making us realize that we had a lot of talent and that with experience we could be a good football team. It took us a long time, but we finally did prove that, after struggling through some great seasons in which we were unable to win it all, like when we lost to the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs in two consecutive years."
"I named the team," Cowboys president and general manager Tex Schramm said of the franchise's name selection. "I did the logo and picked the colors. Before we got the franchise, we planned to name the team the Dallas Steers. But after thinking about it, nobody liked the idea of a castrated bull." Of course, that's what the team played like its first few years.
"So we decided to name them the Dallas Rangers," Schramm continued. "Rangers was a good name; it embodied the state. But then there was a professional [minor league] baseball team calling itself the Dallas Rangers. Clint was leaving for vacation in the Bahamas — he said, 'Well, you make this decision.' So he took off, and I named them the Cowboys."
While the Country Cried, They Had to Play
As the country mourned the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, the NFL's top man, Pete Rozelle, made arguably the toughest decision of his career — the NFL would play all games that weekend.
The Cowboys were in Cleveland for a game that suddenly had no meaning. None of the other 13 NFL teams that played on Sunday, November 24, 1963, carried the stigma that was now attached to Dallas, the city where Kennedy had been assassinated two days before.
"We felt like we were some real hated bastards," Cowboys fullback Don Perkins said. "The sentiment was that Dallas had killed the president. It wasn't a good time to be a Dallas Cowboy ... We felt the whole country indicting us."
The Cowboys knew they were being viewed differently by the people of Cleveland the night before the game.
"I didn't blame people for being mad at us," Bob Lilly said. "I think I probably would've felt the same way."
In a 1982 interview, Don Meredith, the Cowboys' starting quarterback, described hearing a haunting sound as his team made its way through a tunnel, through the visiting dugout, and onto the field. Stepping onto the field, Meredith realized the sound he heard was the pounding footsteps of 400 servicemen during a pregame ceremony in honor of the late president.
"Here we come out, the Dallas Cowboys, with our stars on our hats," Meredith told Michael Granberry, now a reporter for the Dallas Morning News. "And it was like going to the lions with the Christians."
"We were really kind of worried about getting killed," Lilly said of playing in Cleveland. "We stood there going, 'I wonder if there are any snipers around here?' We wore our helmets the whole time and wore those big parkas."
Meredith had a poor game, throwing two interceptions and fumbling once as the Cowboys lost, 27–17.
"I can remember we were really in no frame of mind to play a ballgame," Meredith said. "It was really a listless game, and I'll never forget that."
Frank Clarke, a receiver on that Cowboys team, has no memory of the game.
"I wasn't really there," Clarke said. "I don't even remember how I did."
"It wasn't much fun the rest of that year," Lilly said of the 1963 season. "It kind of killed our [spirit]. You know, we tried and went out and went through our motions. But I don't think we had it. I think the assassination affected the Cowboys for at least another year, as far as feeling guilty about our city. Dallas was kind of a coming star and then all of a sudden it was tarnished. It took Dallas a long time to get over it. It didn't take the team quite as long. Meredith and I, as Texans, probably felt it a little more. Coach Landry, too. We were kind of ashamed of our city. It's not the best mentality for playing football. Somehow, emotionally, it did something."CHAPTER 2
The Coach — Tom Landry
Landry was a great football coach. You can pick on his weaknesses, but you have to look at history. Over a long period, what he did was pretty darn good.
— Roger Staubach
Landry — The Coach
I'll tell you something about Landry: I never met a more caring guy in my life, but he was all business on game day. During the week, he'd crack a joke every once in a while when he thought things were funny, but he was usually all work. On Sunday he concentrated on the game. Dan Reeves said something that made probably the most sense about Coach Landry. Reeves said, "You know, I always wondered why Coach Landry never smiled and never got into the game. I mean, when a play was over it was over. He didn't jump up on a good play or get disappointed on a bad play."
Dan says that when he first went to Denver and was coaching up there and standing on the sideline, he would get too much into the play he'd called rather than worry about the next play: "You know I'd be arguing and looking at what happened out there and trying to figure out what went wrong or right. Then I'd look up and there'd be only 10 seconds left on the play clock and I wouldn't have time left to call a play and I'd have to call a timeout. So I learned to be like Coach Landry. Once you call a play, that's it. There's nothing else you can do."
So he started thinking like, If this play works and it's second and four, what am I gonna call? If it doesn't work, and it's second and nine, what am I gonna do? He put his head in the game the way Coach Landry did. That's what good coaches do. They think ahead and don't worry about the play that's going on now, because you can't do anything about it. Good or bad, you can't do anything about it.
Coach Landry gave some pep talks before games. And he would chew you out pretty good at halftime if you weren't doing your job. But if I had one word to describe Coach Landry, it would be fair. He was a fair coach. If you were better than the guy that was playing ahead of you, then you would be in there; and if you weren't, you wouldn't.
I don't think Coach Landry ever got close to any players. After I retired, my wife and I went into a restaurant, and Landry and his wife came in. And he said, "Hey Walt, you come over and sit with us. We went over and sat with them and visited, and then he picked up the check. And I told him, "Coach, you've never said this many words to me in nine years." He said, "Walt, you can't get close to players when you're coaching while they're playing, because if I become friends with the players, it might change the way I look at them as football players, and it might alter the team decisions that I need to make." Which makes a lot of sense. He didn't want to be close to you while you were playing, because he didn't want to keep a guy he liked over a guy who might have been a better football player. –W.G.
"Three Times, At Least"
If people had a hard time figuring out Landry's system, it was nothing compared with the trouble they had trying to figure out his personality.
A reporter once asked me if I'd ever seen Tom Landry smile.
"No," I answered, "I only played nine years. But I know he smiled at least three times, because he's got three kids."
Excerpted from "Then Landry Said to Staubach ..." by Walt Garrison, Mark Stallard. Copyright © 2007 Walt Garrison and Mark Stallard. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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