Since 1960, the Cowboys have never been just about football. From their ego-driven owner and high-profile players to their state-of-the-art stadium and iconic cheerleaders, the Cowboys have become a staple of both football and American culture since the beginning. For over 50 years, wherever the Cowboys play, there are people in the stands in all their glory: thousands of jerseys, hats, and pennants, all declaring the love and loyalty to one of the most influential teams in NFL history. Now, with thrilling insider looks and sweeping reveals of the ever-lasting time, place, and culture of the team, Joe Nick Patoski takes readers - both fans and rivals alike - deep into the captivating world of the Cowboys.
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The Dallas CowboysThe Outrageous History of the Biggest, Loudest, Most Hated, Best Loved Football Team in America
By Joe Nick Patoski
Little, Brown and CompanyCopyright © 2012 Joe Nick Patoski
All right reserved.
The Boy Who Loved Football
THE TWENTY-NINE-YEAR-OLD GENTLEMAN watching the football game at the Cotton Bowl, the storied stadium on the grounds of the State Fair of Texas, would have been called a nerd if the word had been in general use in 1952. His close-cropped hair was a modified crew cut, sensible if not particularly dashing. Above his bulbous nose and small mouth were black horn-rim glasses. He favored short-sleeved white shirts with ties, a realistic compromise between minimalist formality and the blazing extended summer heat that defined the climate of the North Central Texas prairie.
The one feature that didn’t match the rest of his bookish appearance was his icy-blue, beady eyes. They radiated intelligence and dominance, although they didn’t necessarily reveal the deep mind behind the face. He could have been an engineer at the new Texas Instruments company in Richardson, just over the Dallas line, a spin-off of an oil-industry and military electronics contractor that was hiring engineers from all over.
The man had been a Phi Beta Kappa at Duke University and was at the top of his class at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he had indeed received his master’s in mathematics. He did regard himself as the smartest man in the room or in the state, depending on the situation. But he was neither an engineer nor a TI rising star. He was one of the richest men on Earth. More significant, he was a full-blown football nut, watching the Dallas Texans and the New York Giants do battle in the first official professional football game played in his hometown, and in its most storied stadium.
Clinton W. Murchison Jr. was a son of one of the Big Four of Texas oil. A storied wildcatter and the ultimate Texas wheeler-dealer, the elder Clint grew up in Athens, Texas, eighty miles east of Dallas, where he and his best friend, Sid Richardson, shared a fondness for cattle- and horse-trading as boys, a game of skill that was all about getting the better end of a deal.
The gift served the elder Murchison well as a wildcatter, lease hound, and driller capitalizing on some well-placed bets on where oil deposits were located under the surface of East Texas. His success led to an audacious construction project: the first major pipeline to transport oil from the East Texas field, the biggest oil discovery ever, to refineries. Despite the well-intentioned good breeding that went with being grandson of the founder of the Athens bank, there was a touch of outlaw in old Clint. The wealth created when some of his wells struck oil grew considerably larger when he ran what was called hot oil through that pipe during the Great Depression.
Throughout his life, the elder Murchison was constantly railing against state and federal regulation of private industry, especially the industries he was involved with. But Murchison also curried favor with powerful politicians, especially during and after World War II, when the oil reserves of the Big Four of Texas gave Allied forces a decided edge over both Germany and Japan. It wasn’t a coincidence that President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s hunting and fishing trip to Clint’s very own Matagorda Island off the Texas coast in 1940 occurred around the same time that the government decided to maintain the 27½ percent tax deduction known as the oil depletion allowance, a tax break for oilmen created in 1926 that had been unprecedented in American business. It was old Clint’s kind of government welfare.
CLINT SR. MOVED TO Dallas in 1928 because that’s where the banks were and it was a good place to raise his sons, John Dabney, Clint Jr., and Burk Yarbrough. They had lost their mother, Anne, when Junior was only two. The boys slept in their father’s bedroom on the farm they lived on that sprawled across several hundred acres of what is today prime North Dallas real estate and they were looked after by nannies.
Clint Murchison Jr. developed a love for football at an early age. The five-foot-seven, 130-pound teen was a fair halfback at the Lawrenceville School prep academy in New Jersey, a boarding school for the privileged that was not particularly noted for its football program. After graduating from Duke, joining the Marines in World War II, and marrying his Dallas sweetheart, Jane Coleman, Clint Jr. played club football at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where despite his small size, he earned a reputation for being someone who liked to hit.
In 1950, Clint Jr. and John Dabney joined their father in his unpretentious office at 1201 Main in downtown Dallas and began doing business as Murchison Brothers, an enterprise created by their father that included Murchison Brothers Oil, and they separately launched ventures such as Clint’s Tecon Construction Company (pronounced “take on,” as in “We’ll take on any project”). They took their cues from the old man, who had diversified and expanded his holdings to satisfy the trader in his soul.
The Texas to which the Murchison boys had returned after college and military service was in dramatic transition; the rural population was moving to the city as prosperity ran rampant in business sectors far beyond oil. Trammell Crow was constructing and operating warehouses in a dozen states. Carr P. Collins and his sons made millions selling insurance. Texas Instruments chairman Erik Jonsson built up a multimillion-dollar fortune through electronics, while Leo Corrigan used his acquisition of small shopping centers in Dallas to create a far-flung empire of office buildings, shopping malls, more than four thousand apartment units, the Emerald Beach Hotel in the Bahamas, the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, the Hong Kong Hilton, and the Adolphus in Dallas.
The Murchison brothers built their own impressive portfolio: Centex Construction company; Tecon general construction; the company that made Daisy BB guns in Arkansas; housing projects and land development from coast to coast; the Royal Gorge Bridge in Colorado; a motel chain; a chain of drive-in movie theaters; Henry Holt publishers in New York; and an array of other entities.
The brothers embraced their father’s method of finding good people to run operations and then stepping aside. They were about making deals and borrowing as much as bankers would bet on their deals, which was a lot. Tecon Construction, Clint Jr.’s baby, started up with little more than a bulldozer, a concrete mixer, and a load of cement and went on to tackle such massive projects as a sixty-million-dollar joint venture on a dam in Iraq, the Eisenhower Lock of the St. Lawrence Seaway, the Barkley Lock Project on the Cumberland River near Paducah, Kentucky, and the removal of a hill that was threatening to slide into the Panama Canal.
Not every venture panned out. John lost millions in a timber investment in the Pacific Northwest and in uranium mining. And early on, Clint and his business associate Robert Thompson bungled an opportunity when Clint Sr. gave them a new subdivision of affordable concrete homes in North Dallas and the directive to sell them to veterans returning from World War II. But the two ex-Marines were having too good a time chasing skirts and traveling around (thanks to Clint Jr.’s unlimited funds) and failed to sell a single home over the course of several months. So Clint Sr. handed the task to a woman who had once sold hats at Neiman-Marcus and now ran her own millinery shop. Ebby Halliday sold all of the homes, launching her career as the top residential real estate agent in Dallas. Clint’s company Centex Homes expanded to build residential communities, apartments, military housing, office buildings, shopping centers, and industrial plants across Texas and throughout the United States.
Clint Jr. was a red ass, brusque and acerbic to one and all. “You have all the qualities of a dog except loyalty,” he once informed a business competitor. He often walked past acquaintances without acknowledging them. “Why should I? I saw them yesterday,” he said more than once. He was abrupt and curt on the telephone. Clint Jr. had no use for social niceties. His business was business. Friends attributed the harsh facade to his introverted shyness. His comportment also spoke to a greater truth: with his kind of wealth, Clint didn’t have to make nice.
But there was one subject where Clint showed another side of his personality. Talk about the game of football, and he perked up. Like many Texans, he was completely hooked on the sport.
THE GAME WAS a good fit for Texans. From the time of its inception as a popular team sport, in the late nineteenth century, it had spoken to Texas’s legacy as a republic that had won its independence from Mexico by fighting hard and using whatever means necessary, the rebels ultimately surprising the enemy during their traditional siesta and taking them in a rout. Thoroughly modern in its warlike representations, football appealed to a population of optimists, boosters, and true believers who considered themselves the chosen people, befitting their fresh arrival on a frontier only newly established. “Texas is a rough land, and Texans are a rough people,” Texas high school football coach Sonny Detmer observed, and no other sport was as rough and physical as football.
By 1900, thousands of small towns had been established across the state, most lacking amusements and diversions but brimming with citizens hungry for something to get excited about. Football delivered. Since then, the two most popular sports in Texas have been football and spring football.
A team formed at Dallas High School in 1900 by George Sergeant and Marion F. Brinker was the first high school team in North Texas. The same Dallas team played through the 1901 season as North Dallas, and the high school version of the game grew quickly, becoming a state religion in the fall. For many smaller communities, especially, high school football was the biggest entertainment around.
College football was the Southwest Conference, which ultimately included the University of Texas Longhorns, the Texas A&M Aggies, the Texas Christian University Horned Frogs, the Baylor Bears, the Rice Owls, the Arkansas Razorbacks, the Texas Tech Red Raiders, and the hometown Southern Methodist University Mustangs.
SMU’s trip to the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day 1936 sparked the beginning of three decades of football greatness at the local college, highlighted by running back Doak Walker, a product of Highland Park High, just down the street.
Walker’s play earned him the Heisman Trophy in 1948 and attracted such huge crowds that for Walker’s last year, Southern Methodist moved its home games from the 23,700-seat Ownby Stadium on campus to the Cotton Bowl at Fair Park, home of the postseason classic of the same name, where the SWC champion played a worthy national competitor on New Year’s Day. The Cotton Bowl subsequently expanded capacity from 46,000 to 75,504 and became known as the House That Doak Built.
At the time, professional football didn’t have much of a following in Dallas or elsewhere in Texas. Pro teams were clustered in the Northeast, the Midwest, and on the West Coast. The closest franchises—the Chicago Bears, the Chicago Cardinals, and the Washington Redskins—were more than eight hundred miles away.
The hugely popular high school and college versions of football were often cited as the two greatest obstacles to professional football’s gaining a foothold in Texas. Sunday blue laws, which restricted commercial enterprise in deference to churches, didn’t help. Good Christians were supposed to be home with their families after church, not sporting around.
Professional sporting events in Dallas were pretty much limited to golf with the standout players Byron Nelson and Mickey Wright; baseball with the minor-league Dallas Rangers; and rassling at the Sportatorium, a rickety, sheet-metal glorified gospel tent down in the Trinity River bottoms on Industrial Boulevard.
Dallas’s growing population was primed for bigger sports entertainment to rally around, but pro football wasn’t quite as much of a civic plum as a big-league baseball team. And compared to the Southwest Conference, the National Football League appeared rather pissant.
THE GAME OF PRO FOOTBALL, its roots extending back to 1895, when the Latrobe, Pennsylvania, team beat the Jeanette team 12–0, was a risky financial enterprise and, at best, a rich man’s toy. Founded in Canton, Ohio, in 1920, the American Professional Football Association awarded franchises for $100 to the Canton Bull Dogs; the Cleveland Indians; the Dayton Triangles; the Akron Professionals; the Massillon Tigers; the Decatur Staleys; the Chicago Cardinals; and teams in Rochester, New York; Rock Island, Illinois; and Muncie and Hammond, Indiana. Two years later, the National Football League was born, and owner-coach George Halas of the Chicago Bears, the former Decatur Staleys, took his team on a seventeen-city tour. By 1933, the year the forward pass was legalized, franchises cost $10,000 each, and the championship game between the Bears and Giants took in a gate of $23,000.
A rival league called the All-America Football Conference popped up following the end of World War II, adding additional drag to the National Football League’s efforts to make professional football more than a rich man’s toy. The rival league was merged into the NFL in 1951, prompting the Boston Yanks to move to New York. One season later, though, Ted Collins, the owner of the Yanks franchise, now the New York Yankees, returned the franchise to the league after losing $1 million. Pro football fans in New York preferred the city’s established team, in residence since 1925: the New York Giants.
Dallas radio-station owner and sports broadcaster Gordon McLendon first championed the idea of bringing professional football to Texas in 1951, believing that the professional version of Texas’s favorite spectator sport was a viable concept despite the state’s football-saturated Fridays and Saturdays. Bert Bell, the commissioner of the National Football League, wanted nothing to do with McLendon, whom he regarded as an outlaw.
Unlike most broadcasts of sporting events, McLendon’s Liberty radio network’s baseball games were called by way of delayed re-creations assembled using ticker-tape information provided by a Western Union operator, accompanied by sound effects to make the broadcasts more authentic. McLendon himself announced, greeting listeners in his booming baritone—“Hello, everybody, everywhere, this is the Old Scotchman from high atop the press box way up in the azure skies”—and he was so good at taking advantage of radio as theater of the mind that his re-creations on the Liberty network often attracted larger audiences than the actual real-time broadcasts of the same games.
“We would be about one batter behind the actual play,” Wes Wise, McLendon’s protégé (and Dallas’s future mayor), explained years later. “The telegrapher was right here next to us, and he would give us a signal, okay, this is going to be a triple. And so then we’d hit that baseball bat [dangling from a cord] so it would sound like a triple. We’d hit the baseball bat harder if it was a triple, and harder still if it was a homerun. If it was a single it would just be click. When people began to find out that it was recreated, instead of resenting it, they liked it better.”
The Old Scotchman’s Game of the Day calls were so good, the Liberty network grew to 458 affiliates at its peak; Major League Baseball tried to shut down his broadcasts, which led to a flurry of lawsuits and countersuits and ultimately intimidated owners of all professional sports teams as well as the NFL’s commissioner, Bert Bell.
MCLENDON MAY HAVE BEEN considered unworthy of a pro football franchise in the eyes of the National Football League commissioner, but McLendon knew there were others with the wherewithal—namely, Giles Miller, a thirty-two-year-old Dallas millionaire who was an ardent fan of the Southern Methodist Mustangs. Miller, who also followed the University of Texas Longhorns in Austin and attended high school games weekly, had been promoting a new postseason college game in Houston called the Lone Star Bowl in 1951 when McLendon told him the New York Yanks were up for sale.
In January of 1952, Giles Miller and his brother Connell, sons of the founder of Texas Textile Mills, bought the team with the help of several oilmen; the head of the 7-Eleven convenience stores; the president of the Mercantile Bank; sundry relatives and associates; and J. Curtis Sanford, the founder and initial underwriter of the Cotton Bowl Classic. The Miller group paid $300,000 for the Yanks, a princely sum that was largely the assumption of a $200,000 eight-year lease at Yankee Stadium for the departed team. The relocated team was chartered as the Texas Rangers; by September, when they played their first National Football League game in the Cotton Bowl, they were the Dallas Texans.
The Texans games aired on Gordon McLendon’s KLIF, but instead of the Old Scotchman doing the play-by-play, Jerry Doggett and Charlie Boland called the games.
The Dallas Texans roster included a local SMU grad named Jack Adkisson, who would later achieve notoriety as the professional wrestler Fritz Von Erich; two future Hall of Famers, defensive end Gino Marchetti and defensive tackle Art Donovan; and two African American players: halfback Buddy Young, the five-foot-four onetime track star known as the Bronze Bullet and the Fastest Human in Pro Football, and halfback George Taliaferro, the first black player to be drafted by an NFL team.
Black fans had been turned off after an August preseason exhibition against the Detroit Lions at the Cotton Bowl because they weren’t allowed to purchase the good seats, which sold for $3.60, only the $1.80 end-zone tickets. The roped-off colored seating area was overflowing, moving Dallas Express columnist C. H. Gentry to comment, “Someone has made a sad underestimation of the buying potential of the colored citizen relative to better seating capacity at sports events, and that they should be made to realize that black or white, the average fan wants the best seat available, regardless to prices.” Attendance at the exhibition game was 34,035. Half as many turned out to see the first game that counted.
C. W. Murchison Jr. was among the 17,499 fans on hand on September 28 to witness the first official Dallas Texans game, a National Division match against the New York Giants. Clint had purchased twenty season tickets in advance. Texas governor Allen Shivers, also on hand, thought he had seen the future, declaring, “This is a new era in sports in Texas.”
One of the few opportunities for the crowd to get worked up came when the Texans drew first blood: after Giants defensive back Tom Landry fumbled a punt return on the Giants 22-yard line, halfback George Taliaferro took a pitchout and threw a pass to Buddy Young for a touchdown. The Giants took control from there, emerging victorious, 24–6.
Clint Murchison Jr., along with a few thousand others, showed up for three more Texans games—all of which the home team lost. The enterprise that Giles Miller and his investment group funded was drowning in red ink. As attendance declined, Washington Redskins owner George P. Marshall dismissed the Texans’ dire financial straits by quipping, “They’ll just dig another oil well if they need more money.”
But Giles Miller became desperate, and he proposed making the team civically owned, like the Green Bay Packers. He sent co-owner D. Harold Byrd to the all-powerful Dallas Citizens Council to ask for a loan of $250,000 so the Texans could finish the season. The Dallas Citizens Council rejected the request. Their financial support was for the Dallas Symphony, Fair Park, and fine art—entities that enriched Dallas—not for football. Rejected, Byrd told the others in the owners group, “It is time to call in the dogs, piss on the fire, and go home.”
The Millers returned the franchise to the league in early November. The final two games on the original home schedule were played on the road, with the team practicing in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Its final game was at the Rubber Bowl in Akron, Ohio, where they beat the second-stringers of George Halas’s Chicago Bears 27–23 on Thanksgiving Day, part of a Turkey Day doubleheader. Seeing the three thousand spectators there for the game, far fewer than the number who had watched the earlier game between local high school teams, Texans coach Jim Phelan told his players they should “go into the stands and shake hands with each fan” rather than be introduced by the PA announcer.
The Texans’ failure could be blamed on Bert Bell’s oversell on the joys of ownership, on Bell’s failure to warn the Miller group about the hidden costs of operations, and on Bell’s meddling in selecting front-office personnel. Texans management had no selling strategy, in spite of team publicity director Tex Maule, who had given up the same position with the Los Angeles Rams to come to Texas. And competition was brutal. The Cotton Bowl hosted high school games on Friday nights and sometimes Thursdays, and Saturday day and night games for SMU and other colleges. It wasn’t just because of low turnout, but the season proved so demoralizing that almost half the team retired from pro football when it was over.
AS THE DALLAS TEXANS were going down, disappointed season-ticket holder Clint Murchison approached the NFL commissioner, Bert Bell. It was Murchison’s business to know what kind of deals were being done around Dallas, and he knew most of the owners in the syndicate well enough and had read Bill Rives in the Dallas Morning News closely enough to glean the team’s financial situation. Murchison proposed to Bell that he buy the team, on the condition that his accountants had sufficient time to examine the team’s books, due diligence and all.
Bell turned down Murchison. He’d already set it up for the defunct Texans to be sold to Carroll Rosenbloom, who would move the team to Baltimore and have them play as the Colts. Bell had been sued for breach of contract when he moved another franchise out of Baltimore two years before, and this move would render the lawsuit moot.
Bell carried a high opinion of himself and may not have taken the twenty-nine-year-old Murchison seriously. Bell clearly didn’t realize he was dealing with the smartest man in the room, as well as the richest, nor did he realize how badly Clint Murchison wanted a football team.
Clint Jr. sincerely believed a professional football franchise could be a wise investment, a classic low-buy, high-sell proposition. He showed his doubting father how much the value of franchises had increased since World War II and talked about the potential that television presented in broadening its appeal. Clint continued to sniff around the league and was a frequent visitor with Bert Bell and with George Halas, the Chicago Bears owner-coach who headed up the NFL’s expansion committee—even though the committee’s position was there would be no expansion. Bell advised Murchison he’d have a better chance buying an existing team and moving it.
Murchison later said, “I wanted the fun of being able to see professional football in my hometown.” He approached the struggling San Francisco 49ers football club, one of two NFL franchises on the West Coast. He was told the team wasn’t for sale. Bert Bell then persuaded him to talk with Violet Bidwell Wolfner and her husband, Walter, the owners of the Chicago Cardinals. But the Wolfners wouldn’t go in more than half and half and wouldn’t move the team from Chicago, even though the Cards consistently lagged behind their crosstown rival Bears in attendance.
Murchison came close when he turned his sights on the Washington Redskins. He knew DC well from frequent trips to lobby the federal government, and he had watched games at Griffith Stadium. The Redskins owner, George Preston Marshall, was in enough of a financial bind when Murchison came calling that he agreed to sell the team for $600,000 as long as he could continue to manage the franchise for five years. At the last minute, Marshall demanded that his management contract be extended to ten years. That was enough to throw cold water on the deal. Murchison never forgot, nor would he let Marshall forget. Soon enough, Bert Bell and George Preston Marshall would have their days of reckoning, and the immovable George Halas would be moved.
The Other Son of an Oil Baron Who Loved Football
THERE MUST HAVE BEEN something about the game of pigskin that affected geeky sons of filthy rich oilmen who resided at latitude N 32°85′, longitude W 96°85′. Blocks away from where Clint Murchison Jr.’s mind raced like a computer, bouncing from projects for his Centex Construction to land deals and oil-lease swaps to million-dollar bank loans and 100-yard-line fantasies, was Lamar Hunt.
It was no secret that many rich men wanted to buy NFL franchises, so many that in 1958, talk began to float around about developing a rival league. One of the disappointed suitors, the mild-mannered Hunt, was behind the talk, and it was no rumor.
Hunt was an even younger version of Clint Murchison, an affably meek young man with soft facial features and eyes that were framed by larger, darker horn-rim glasses than Murchison’s. He too had excelled playing football at prep school, quarterbacking the squad at the Hill School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, and suiting up at Southern Methodist University as an offensive end, although rarely playing.
If Clint Murchison Sr. was a character, Lamar Hunt’s daddy was flat-out gonzo.
Haroldson Lafayette Hunt had been an Arkansas gambler, bookie, and professional poker player known as Arizona Slim who would bet on two guys throwing a stick, as someone who knew him once said. That was before he started betting on plots of ground that might contain oil below the surface. His guesswork, gambles, and hunches paid off in spades and H. L. Hunt became the biggest of the Big Four of Texas oil. His biggest win came from besting Columbus Marion “Dad” Joiner, a seventy-year-old geologist and pioneer oilman whose well on Daisy Bradford’s farm in Rusk County had begun producing three hundred barrels of oil a day after four years of failed attempts. The two men holed up in suite 1553 in the Baker Hotel in downtown Dallas for thirty-six hours, deep in negotiations. No one, other than the two parties, knows exactly what went on, but at the end, a deal was struck. Joiner would escape the considerable debt that had built up in his speculative venture, avoid lawsuits for overselling shares of his leases, and walk away with $1.25 million. Hunt got the well, the Daisy Bradford No. 3, and four hundred acres, making several hundred million dollars by pulling oil out of the ground. A month after he bought Joiner’s leases, Hunt built his first pipeline, and his wealth increased exponentially until it was one of the largest fortunes in the world.
H. L. Hunt, pale-faced with prominent jowls and a white tuft of hair on top of his head, moved to Dallas after striking it rich and lived in a replica of George Washington’s Mount Vernon on White Rock Lake in Dallas, where the Stars and Stripes flew day and night. He was a religious man who neither smoked nor drank. He brought his own sack lunch to work and liked to exercise by crawling around his office on his hands and knees—a key to a long life, he believed. His charm, persuasive power, and ability to bullshit afforded him the luxury of setting up three separate families, all of them unknown to one another.
In the April 5, 1948, issue of Life magazine, Hunt appeared on the cover along with a headline that asked “Is This the Richest Man in Dallas?” That same month, Fortune magazine reckoned Hunt was the richest individual in the United States.
H. L. Hunt eschewed civic organizations and was not one for philanthropy or high society despite the prominence his money brought. He fancied himself a writer and published a science fiction book titled Alpaca, about a futuristic society where citizens were given votes according to their wealth. He also composed a song titled “We’re Just Plain Folks.” Hunt quietly underwrote the Facts Forum, a foundation that published political tracts and books written by Senator Joseph McCarthy and that evolved into the Life Line foundation, which produced a daily fifteen-minute radio program carried by more than four hundred radio stations across the United States. Mixing right-wing ultraconservative politics with Christian fundamentalism, the program featured spiritual hymns and diatribes against communists, socialists, liberals, the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (which ended slavery), and big government. Hunt owned a food company, HLH, and personally handed out food samples at the State Fair of Texas every October.
Lamar, the youngest of H. L. Hunt’s four sons from his first family, with Lyda Bunker, wanted nothing so much as to be an athlete. Perhaps it was in his genes, because his father had once tried out for a professional baseball team. After college, Lamar used his business clout to feed his passion for competition. He looked like Clark Kent, but his ambitions were more like Superman’s with the same gambler’s instinct as Arizona Slim.
Like Clint Murchison Jr., Lamar Hunt was a chip off the old block only to a point, a little more buttoned-down and a little less wheeler-dealer than his daddy, perhaps, but eschewing the pomp and refined preening of many of his second-generation big oil peers. Like Clint, Lamar saw potential in the entertainment value of professional football and tried to buy in early. In 1958, he approached the National Football League commissioner, Bert Bell, about buying an expansion franchise, but he, like Clint, was urged to buy an existing franchise, such as the Chicago Cardinals, instead.
Hunt made the obligatory run at Violet and Walter Wolfner but once again they didn’t budge. Hunt could have 20 percent, tops. Young Lamar graciously bowed out and started reviewing who else had been to Chicago. Clint Murchison Jr., whom Hunt knew of but did not know, had made a bid. So had fellow Texan K. S. “Bud” Adams of the Ada Oil Company in Houston. There were several people of means who wanted to be football owners: Barron Hilton of Los Angeles and the Hilton Hotels chain; minor-league baseball owner Bob Howsam in Denver; William Sullivan of Metropolitan Coal and Oil in Boston; Max Winter, a Minneapolis restaurateur who owned a piece of the Minneapolis Lakers of the National Basketball Association; and sports broadcaster Harry Wismer of New York, who’d once owned a piece of the Washington Redskins and the Detroit Lions.
National Football League teams rarely filled stadiums, and exposure on television was limited since each team cut its own broadcast deal. Its audience was nowhere near the size of baseball’s, and college and high school games still dominated fan interest. But Hunt and the other suitors saw potential, especially in Texas, and in early June of 1959, Lamar Hunt paid a visit to Bert Bell to ask again about expansion. Bell reaffirmed what George Halas had been saying. Expansion was off the table. If Hunt wanted in, he should buy an existing team.
Hunt then asked Bell another question: Would he consider being commissioner of both the NFL and the new league Hunt was thinking about starting? (“I told myself I didn’t want to go into this if it meant some kind of battle,” Hunt later said. “This was one of the more naive thoughts in the history of pro sports.”) Bell appeared startled before he demurred, but he gave Hunt his blessing to pursue his new league. In fact, he asked Hunt if it would be all right if Bell revealed plans for the new league when he testified in front of the U.S. Congress on July 29.
Bell’s testimony worked in his favor; it gave the impression that Lamar Hunt’s league was under the auspices of the National Football League, which would provide the NFL with immunity in case the rival league went out of business and antitrust charges came up. Lamar Hunt didn’t care. By Bert Bell’s saying so, “we were in business,” he reasoned.
But by Bell’s saying so, the previously intransigent George Halas and the NFL expansion committee suddenly had a change of heart. The league would expand after all, Halas announced in August, standing alongside Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney at the commissioner’s behest. The committee recommended that two new franchises be awarded to Dallas and Houston to compete in the 1961 season, although other cities were under consideration. And the owner of the Dallas franchise would be Clint Murchison Jr. Murchison’s persistence and known interest to Halas would finally be rewarded while at the same time conveniently providing the start-up league some direct competition.
Lamar Hunt did not mince words when he heard the announcement. “The American Football League has tried from its inception to operate its relationship with the National Football League from the highest plane and with an amicable attitude on all matters,” he said. “It is now apparent that Mr. Halas and the National Football League are not interested in this type of relationship but are interested in continuing the stalling and sabotaging efforts which have kept pro football out of Denver, Seattle, Minneapolis, Louisville, Buffalo, Dallas, Houston, and Miami despite repeated efforts from those cities to expand the National Football League.”
After Commissioner Bell died suddenly of a heart attack in October, Halas met with Murchison to convey the league’s support for a Dallas franchise to play in 1960, although the owners would have to approve the move at their annual meeting in January.
Neighbors and rivals, two of the richest men in the world living in the same part of the same city, both football hounds—only in Dallas. Pro football was coming to town.
The Great Dallas Football Pissing Match
THE FIRST HARD EVIDENCE that Clint Murchison was actually getting a National Football League team came on November 24, 1959. The loquacious Bedford Wynne, the well-connected socialite, political fund-raiser, and high-profile college football booster who was Murchison’s minority partner and the face of the franchise, had called a press conference. Though few knew much about Murchison, everyone knew Bedford, and Bedford couldn’t wait to get the radio, television, and newspaper reporters together and tell them the news.
There was going to be a team, and the team had a name—the Rangers, thought up by Murchison, who said it had come to him “like a bolt from the blue.” Rangers were “historical, proud, tough. My grandfather, who was one [a law enforcement Texas Ranger, that is], would have loved it.” It was also the name of the American Association AAA baseball team playing down on the river bottom in dilapidated old Burnett Field; up until that point, they had been the biggest professional sports team representing the city.
And there was a man hired to run it all. Tex Schramm was introduced as the general manager of the Dallas Rangers football club, contingent on the approval of the National Football League owners. The cherubic big-boned Schramm could have passed for a native son of the state, and not just because his name was Tex. Outgoing and effusive, backslapping and loud, he gave the impression of being a classic good ol’ boy, a born salesman with a confidence-winning smile.
The small gaggle of reporters had been informed that the designated general manager would be keeping his day job as second in command at CBS Sports until February in order to oversee the broadcast of the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, California, a personal project that Murchison’s new hire had championed over the objections of just about every other executive at the television network. For the first time, an Olympics would air on TV.
His name attached to the title of general manager at the press conference sounded sweet to the ears of Texas Earnest Schramm Jr. He was a football man to the core. His colleagues and friends would’ve sworn that he had been put on this earth to create the ideal National Football League franchise. He was one of those rare birds who were all about bigger and better, and he had the ability to promote any idea that popped into his head, convincing everyone within range what a great idea it was.
Tex Schramm had grown up in San Gabriel, California, born to parents with obvious Texas roots. His daddy, Texas Sr., had been a basketball player at the University of Texas. His job at a Los Angeles stock brokerage provided the means for his offspring, an irrepressible bundle of energy who was always thinking, always animated, always on the move, to pursue his own interests, which were mainly sports.
As a boy, young Tex, or Tec, as he was known around the house, did poorly at school as far as grades were concerned. But he was a popular boy. He sold more tickets to the school play in elementary school and to a puppet show in high school than had ever been sold at the schools before. In high school, he organized an elementary school all-star football game between rivals Alhambra and San Gabriel. A B-team high school football player, he raised money for letter sweaters from local merchants, then became manager of the track team and sports editor of the Alhambra High School newspaper, the Moor. While attending junior college, he worked as an usher at the Santa Anita racetrack, where he developed skills betting on the ponies. He then enrolled at the University of Texas, where he joined the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity (one of his frat brothers was Bedford Wynne), wrote for the Daily Texan, and eventually earned his degree in journalism after serving as one of the youngest captains ever in the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II. There, he refined his skills in running organizations and learned to surf with a longboard while stationed in Hawaii. After the war, Big Mama, as his young wife, Marty, the former Martha Anne Snowden, was known, read his required books so she could help him graduate.
The summer before graduation, Schramm interned at the sports department of the Los Angeles Times and impressed the staff with his personality and hustle. After Schramm graduated from college, Austin Statesman sports editor Wilbur Evans, who’d taught Tex at UT, hired him as a thirty-five-dollar-a-week reporter. Schramm was covering the Kansas Relays, one of the most popular spectator sporting events in the Midwest, when he got a telephone call asking if he would be interested in becoming the publicist for the Los Angeles Rams, a professional football club in the National Football League that had recently relocated from Cleveland. The Los Angeles Times’ Paul Zimmerman had recommended Schramm to Rams majority owner Dan Reeves after getting to know Schramm over his summer breaks from UT. Schramm jumped at the hundred-dollar-a-week position. The Rams were drawing large crowds, including Hollywood movie stars, to the Los Angeles Coliseum, in part because football was the only major-league sport in town. But the Los Angeles Dons, of the upstart All-America Football Conference, which was competing against the National Football League, were drawing even bigger crowds.
Alhambra High School graduate Texas Schramm was announced as the new head of publicity for the Los Angeles Rams on April 24, 1947. He was determined to outpromote the competition. To win the hearts of the LA fans, Schramm cranked out five customized stories a day, full of florid copy for sportswriters at the newspapers in the city. More often than not, what Schramm wrote was printed verbatim with the sportswriter’s byline.
The aggressive promotion contributed to the folding of the Dons and the All-America Football Conference at the end of the 1949 season, and the Rams kept on innovating.
They distinguished themselves as the first club to utilize a scouting system to evaluate college prospects; the first to hire a full-time scout, Eddie Kotal; and the first pro team to allow Negroes to play with whites, beginning with Kenny Washington in 1946. And in 1950, the Rams and the Washington Redskins became the first pro football teams to broadcast all their home and away games on television, the new entertainment medium that threatened to render radio and movies obsolete.
The Rams registered a precipitous drop in attendance when their home games were televised. Schramm, who was moving up in the front-office ranks to become majority owner Dan Reeves’s right-hand man, anticipated the impact and had worked out a deal with the NBC affiliate and sponsor Admiral Television to guarantee the Rams revenues equal to a 15 percent increase in attendance, which came to about $250,000, a significant sum, to compensate the club for lost ticket sales. The Rams subsequently became the first club to black out home games in order to draw bigger home crowds, although they had to contest their right to do so in federal court.
As part of his promotional juggernaut, Schramm came up with Tom Harmon’s Little All-American Team, a selection of small-college all-stars chosen by small-college coaches. By recognizing the best players, the Rams were effectively tipped off to small-college prospects who otherwise might have been overlooked.
Schramm attracted other talented people who knew how to promote. When his right-hand publicist, Tex Maule, a former sportswriter, resigned in 1952 to return to his native Texas and work for the new Dallas Texans team in the NFL, Schramm replaced him with an ambitious kid who had been doing publicity for the University of San Francisco and who had eyes almost as sparkling as his own pale baby blues, Pete Rozelle.
Schramm took full control of the team in 1954, when he was officially knighted as the Rams general manager. He held the position for three years until Reeves’s alcoholism and feuds with others in the ownership group convinced Tex to bail out and head for greener pastures.
With his jumped-up personality and knowledge of pro football and television, Schramm landed a job in New York with CBS Sports, a division of the most popular of the three national networks. Along with his wife and three daughters, who cried and yelled all the way about not wanting to leave Los Angeles, he moved east. Tex reported directly to new CBS vice president for sports Bill MacPhail, who had been hired from the Kansas City Athletics baseball club, where he had been publicist; MacPhail’s father had run both the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers. CBS started broadcasting National Football League games in 1956, working out separate deals with several teams.
The rival network NBC aired the Baltimore Colts versus New York Giants NFL championship game from Yankee Stadium in 1958. The game was tied at the end of regular play at 17–17, and fans watched the drama unfold on flickering black-and-white screens across the nation in the first overtime pro football game ever played. Finally, quarterback Johnny Unitas marched the Colts down the field, and Alan “the Horse” Ameche bulled his way into the end zone from the one-yard line to give Baltimore a 23–17 victory. The contest proved to be such riveting television, it became part of sports mythology as “the greatest game ever.”
“College football was the thing then,” Bill MacPhail explained. “Until [CBS] got the NFL, people in Texas and Nebraska had never seen it.”
Schramm’s greatest achievement at CBS had nothing to do with football. CBS already had rights to broadcast the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, but no one planned to air the 1960 Winter Olympics, which would be staged in Squaw Valley, California, six months prior. No Winter Games had ever been broadcast live, largely due to geographic and technological limitations. In fact, no Olympic Games at all had been broadcast on television in any form other than short film clips shown on newscasts.
Schramm lobbied his superiors at CBS and then the Olympic Committee. His CBS bosses were wary, but the Olympic Committee thought it would be such good publicity, they awarded CBS broadcast rights for $50,000. Schramm made over twenty trips to California to measure the terrain and even laid cable himself on the slopes above Lake Tahoe. The first live telecast of an Olympics aired on February 18, 1960, hosted by CBS News broadcaster Walter Cronkite, with skating legend Dick Button and ski jumper Art Devlin providing commentary. For ten days, the Winter Olympics was the talk of television viewers across America, climaxing with the U.S. men’s hockey team’s “miracle on ice,” a 9–4 upset of the Soviet Union for the gold medal.
Schramm managed to pull off the broadcasts, and by doing so, he helped the network tap into a potentially huge new pool of advertisers, which is the lifeblood of network television. The NBC network reached out to offer Schramm the title of director of sports; CBS wanted to give him the responsibility of broadcasting the Summer Olympics in Rome. But by the time the Olympics flame was extinguished on the ski mountain in northern California, the man who made the first televised Olympics possible was already hunkered down in his namesake state conjuring a professional football team out of thin air.
TEX SCHRAMM FULLY UNDERSTOOD that Clint Murchison was the kind of owner whom front-office types like himself fantasized about working for. He carried an apparently unlimited cache of cash and had the good sense to delegate, step back, and let his people run the operation. All Tex had to do was win.
But first, he needed to get paying fans into the seats, and fan interest was still tepid for pro football in Dallas. The local populace had better things to do, like making money, building companies, and creating empires. Tractor-trailer trucks painted with the message “Thanks to all of you for helping O. L. Nelms make another million” captured the feeling.
Egging that mood on was the mobility made possible by the automobile; the advent of air-conditioning, which made the torrid Texas climate tolerable; and the general feeling of prosperity in the economic boom following the end of World War II. Slowly but surely, outsiders became not only tolerated in Dallas but recruited—and welcomed to occupy all the new homes being built on the prairie and to work the jobs being created by businesses and corporations based in the city.
Growth was a constant. The city population according to the 1960 census was 679,684, up from 434,462 in 1950, while the metropolitan area had bulged to 1,083,601.
Inventing new businesses was practically a local tradition. In September of 1921, the Pig Stand, the nation’s first drive-in restaurant, opened at the intersection of Chalk Hill Road and the Fort Worth Highway. Seven years later, the first convenience store was created when Joe Thompson, an employee of the Southland Ice Company, started selling milk, bread, and eggs from an ice dock to customers who drove up in their cars. From that came the 7-Eleven convenience store.
Dallas was the home of the Frito corn chip, the number-one snack food in America. The company that produced the simple Texas variation on a fried tortilla chip was on the verge of joining forces with the Lay potato chip company in Big D, which would create the largest food distribution network in the nation. Dallas was also the national headquarters of Dr Pepper, a prune juice–based concoction invented in Waco that was the most popular carbonated soda after Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola, and 7-Up.
Snack foods and soft drinks complemented another Dallas first—the first employer-sponsored hospitalization plan in the United States, created in Dallas by Justin Ford Kimball in 1929. Kimball sold twenty-one days of hospital care for six dollars to schoolteachers, marking the beginnings of Blue Cross Blue Shield and the private health-insurance market.
In 1956, an executive secretary at the Texas Bank and Trust named Bette Nesmith Graham invented Liquid Paper, a product that allowed typists to correct typing errors flawlessly. Two years later, an engineer at Texas Instruments named Jack Kilby invented the integrated circuit, which effectively ushered in the computer age and which would eventually lead to replacing the typewriter with the computer word processor. Kilby went on to invent the handheld calculator and the thermal printer and was awarded the Nobel Prize for physics.
Real estate had become Dallas’s oil (there were 35 counties out of the 254 in Texas where oil had not been discovered; Dallas County was one of them). Residential real estate agents and commercial developers, including Trammel Crow and Ray Nasher, were focusing on new concepts like shopping malls and wholesale market centers. Highland Park Village, the nation’s first self-contained shopping center, opened in 1931 in North Dallas. Wynnewood, the first planned community in Texas, with homes, apartments, and a shopping center clustered together, was platted out on 820 acres in the Oak Cliff part of South Dallas in 1946.
Dallas had style, too, in marked contrast to other cities in Texas, the South, and the southwestern United States, an attribute directly linked to Neiman-Marcus, the department store established in 1907 that defined luxury on an international scale through its exclusive high-end merchandise and renowned customer service.
The store’s public face, the debonair Stanley Marcus, was known as the city’s merchant prince. It was because of Marcus and Neiman’s that “everybody got a fur coat on graduation if they were going somewhere north [to college], or even if not,” explained Anne Peterson, a well-heeled Dallasite.
Neiman’s reputation grew large in 1927 when the store became the first in the United States to stage a weekly retail fashion show. In 1952, Mr. Stanley, as Marcus was known, took the store to the next level by embellishing its annual Christmas catalog with over-the-top luxury gifts, beginning with a live Black Angus bull along with a sterling silver barbecue cart, priced at $1,925. He later introduced His-and-Hers Christmas Gifts for the catalog, trotting out the most expensive, outrageous gifts imaginable, starting with his-and-hers Beechcraft airplanes, priced at $176,000 for the two, and followed by a pair of camels, all of which generated reams of free publicity.
BIG D’S BIG GROWTH spurt really began in 1907, when the business establishment took control of the city government and promoted the idea that businessmen were best equipped to lead because they could run the government like a business. The leadership wasn’t always right. Banker and civic leader R. L. Thornton supported the brief resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan as a political force in the early 1920s, and the electric company even dimmed the downtown streetlights for the KKK’s first nighttime parade there. But the Klan soon faded, and in 1930 a civic-minded cabal of bankers, utility- and insurance-company executives, railroad presidents, and owners of major retailers put their heads together and formed an invitation-only business club of leaders called the Citizens Charter Association. After achieving their initial goal of persuading the citizens of Dallas to change the form of city government from the commission plan to the council-manager plan, they began endorsing city council candidates.
Business was Dallas’s business, and the oligarchs made sure the city was run like one, which meant efficiently if not always democratically.
By 1959, Dallas could claim the tallest skyscraper west of the Mississippi, the symbol of its self-generated prosperity. The five-hundred-fifty-foot, forty-two-story Southland Life building, a blocky, cool steel-and-turquoise porcelain enamel panel structure, was slightly taller than the spiky Mercantile Bank building, the smaller no-frills Republic National Bank tower with the arty spire, and the distinctive Magnolia building topped by the rotating neon Pegasus, advertising Dallas as much as Mobil gasoline. It was on the twenty-eighth floor of the Southland Life building in the offices of the Wynne law firm where the principals first came together to make an NFL franchise.
THE DRIVEN PART OF the zeitgeist, that determined something extra, came from Dallas’s being a city with no reason to exist, as it lacked a port or a navigable river. Its leaders had to will its success.
Dallas was actually founded by John Neely Bryan in 1841 on the east bank of the Trinity River for what seemed like good reason: it was near a limestone-bottom ford that was the only reliable river crossing for miles, a place where three forks of the river and two Indian traces converged (the area is right by the present-day Dealey Plaza and the Triple Overpass). The Tennessee-born Bryan had come from Arkansas to Texas to seek his fortune. He had been a farmer, lawyer, and land man, but most of all he was a trader.
Bryan started out with one hand tied behind his back. After he surveyed the land and returned to Arkansas to get his affairs in order, the Native Americans in the area—more than half of his prospective trading-post customers—signed treaties with the white man and left, while three major Indian settlements about fifteen miles west were destroyed by military forces in the Battle of Village Creek, which opened the territory to Anglos and their slaves arriving from the south and the east.
Though Bryan thought steamboats would soon be able to chug up from the Gulf and increase commerce, the river was not navigable.
So instead of opening a trading post, he started a town and wore many hats, including postmaster and ferry operator transporting customers across the Trinity River. His cabin served as the courthouse. Bryan endured for eight years before he left the community he’d established to join the California gold rush in 1849. He returned to Dallas the following year and stayed until 1855, when he fled to join the Creek Nation after shooting a man who had insulted his wife.
In 1852, Bryan sold the town site of Dallas and the ferry concession for seven thousand dollars to Alexander Cockrell, described by historian A. C. Greene as “Dallas’ first capitalist.” Cockrell built a toll bridge over the Trinity in 1855 to replace Bryan’s ferry, and he started a lumber business with a sawmill. After Cockrell was shot dead in 1858 by the Dallas marshal in a personal matter, Cockrell’s widow, Sarah, established a flour mill and built a fancy three-story hotel.
Three years earlier, Victor Prosper Considerant had brought a group of two hundred Belgian, French, German, Swiss, and Polish colonists to establish a socialist utopian community three miles west of Dallas on the chalk bluffs above the forks of the Trinity. The people of La Réunion followed the teachings of French philosopher François-Marie-Charles Fourier and introduced art, music, dance, fine cuisine, beer, and science to the primitive Dallas settlement. Idealism met the hard reality of the North Central Texas prairie within a year. A late-spring blizzard and the low productivity of the limestone soil that the commune was built upon spelled disaster. By 1860, the community was absorbed into Dallas, infusing the Cockrells’ settlement with refined elements including Dallas’s first piano, first brewery, first barbershop, first butcher shop, first photographer, and its second mayor, Ben Long.
John Neely Bryan returned to Dallas in 1861 to serve in the Confederacy in the War Between the States after Dallas County citizens voted 741–237 to secede from the Union. He served as a trustee in the Dallas Academy for Men and Women and played an instrumental role in lobbying the Houston and Texas Central Railway to reroute their east–west tracks through Dallas rather than Corsicana to the south—Dallas’s first communitywide effort to attract business.
In 1871, Bryan was one of the directors of the Dallas Bridge Company, which erected the first iron bridge across the Trinity, and Dallas welcomed the arrival of the Houston and Texas Central Railway and the first passenger train the following year. The Texas and Pacific Railroad came the year after that, the trains more than doubling Dallas’s population in a year, to seven thousand citizens.
John Neely Bryan’s last years were marked by a downward spiral leading to his admission to the Texas State Lunatic Asylum in Austin, where he died in 1877 and was buried in a pauper’s grave. As one denizen of the Capital City liked to point out, “The man who founded Dallas went crazy when he realized what he had done and did the only sensible thing to do by winding up in Austin.”
The next forty years were marked by growth (which attracted outlaws such as Doc Holliday and Sam Bass): East Dallas and Oak Cliff were annexed; levees were constructed along the Trinity River to prevent flooding; and in 1911, Southern Methodist University, the city’s first institute of higher learning, was established.
In 1914, civic promoters spearheaded by Dallas Morning News publisher George Dealey successfully lobbied for a Federal Reserve bank in Dallas as headquarters for the Eleventh Federal Reserve District, beating out other Texas cities and New Orleans, which was considerably larger and regarded as far more influential.
By 1960, Dallas’s identity was a bundle of contradictions. It claimed one of the highest church-attending populations in the country but also ranked high in divorces. You couldn’t buy mixed drinks in a bar or restaurant, but you could buy them in private clubs, which were a dime a dozen in the city. Gambling was considered sporting, and whoring was tolerated as long as it was discreet.
Outsiders regarded Dallas as a superficial place where a person’s net worth and ability to make more money were the only measures by which he or she was judged. Just as true then as now, if not for money, Dallas would not be Dallas. The Texas political pundit Molly Ivins wrote that Houston was degenerate, but Dallas was perverse.
THE MORNING NEWS, established in 1885, represented proper Dallas. So did insurance companies, which started appearing in 1898, the Federal Reserve System bank, Neiman-Marcus, and the twenty-five-thousand-member (including Billy Graham) First Baptist Church, a megachurch before megachurches were cool, with the largest Southern Baptist congregation in the nation; its sanctuary was the centerpiece of a chunk of downtown Dallas real estate worth several hundred million dollars.
Low-down Dallas operated in close proximity. Several generations of freedmen gathered east of downtown along Elm Street in an area known as Deep Ellum, a maze of cafés, bars, dives, and brothels. Historically a mecca for undesirables, in the 1860s it had attracted the outlaw Belle Starr, who settled in nearby Scyene; in the 1920s, the blues singer Blind Lemon Jefferson; in the 1930s, the bank robbers known as Bonnie and Clyde; and in the 1940s and 1950s, the gambler and hoodlum Benny Binion, who would go on to fame as one of the founders of Las Vegas after he was run out of Dallas.
Dallas’s modern era began in 1934, jump-started by R. L. Thornton. Thornton, the president of the Dallas Chamber of Commerce and head of the Mercantile National Bank, colluded with Nathan Adams of the First National Bank of Dallas and Fred Florence of the Republic National Bank to lead the civic push to stage the Texas Centennial Exposition in Dallas in 1936. They succeeded by promising to invest $10 million in the Fair Park grounds and despite the fact that Houston, San Antonio, and Austin had closer historical and geographical ties to the founding of the state. More than fifty buildings were constructed, and more than ten million visitors came to see the $25 million extravaganza.
Part of the centennial deal was the tacit understanding between the county sheriff and local hoodlums that gambling, prostitution, and other vices would be restricted to a specific area downtown referred to as the Zone. As long as the vice didn’t get out of hand and the tourists went home happy, no one would go to jail. “It was against the law but let’s just ease up—that was the attitude,” explained Eddie Stone, who ran numbers for Benny Binion as a young boy. “A lot of things are against the law. Going a mile over the speed limit is against the law, but everyone does it. They all bet. There wasn’t much other recreation, you know. Dallas was the center of the Baptist church, so they had to appease them and keep the law what it was. I never saw [First Baptist Church pastor] Dr. Criswell in those places but I bet he pulled a slot machine from time to time.”
The art deco buildings of Fair Park that had been erected for the centennial remained occupied through the next year after Thornton and his group of influential Dallas civic leaders offered incentives to the Pan American Exposition to stage its fair in Dallas. Millions more discovered the city, including Fortune magazine, a new publication devoted to business and finance as imagined by Henry Luce. It profiled the Marcus family and Dallas’s Neiman-Marcus department store, praising it as the greatest shopping experience between New York and San Francisco. Four years later, the Atlantic Monthly followed suit, describing Dallas in glowing terms as an ideal cross between east and west.
After the Pan Am Expo closed, the State Fair of Texas became the permanent occupant of Fair Park every October, attracting more than one million visitors annually.
R. L. Thornton had pushed for the creation of the Dallas Citizens Council months after the Pan Am fair closed, in 1937. He was tired of rounding up his business friends every time there was a reason for the city to chase greatness for the good of Dallas. Professional men, educators, artists, historians to cite lessons from the past, women, blacks, and Mexican Americans were excluded from the organization.
Besides successfully lobbying for the council form of local government, the Dallas Citizens Council bailed out the chronically underfunded Dallas Symphony, and through its political arm, the Citizens Charter Association, it endorsed mayor and city council candidates. Bond issues were won or lost on the CCA’s endorsement.
But for all the emphasis on and evidence of business as a model for greater good, a mean streak ran through Dallas, one that was common to the Protestant South: whites held tight control of the levers of power, and the Bible was regarded as sacred text to be read literally; thus did the Dallas Independent School District create a course for the Old Testament in 1952 in which Judaism was portrayed “as a half-baked religion awaiting Christ’s arrival for its completion,” one author wrote.
Segregation was historic and so was the hostility whites exhibited toward blacks.
In the 1920s, a city ordinance went so far as to designate specific whites-only and blacks-only streets. In 1950 and 1951, several South Dallas residences in the Exline Park neighborhood that were occupied by Negroes were bombed, an indirect result of a hate speech by Pastor John G. Moore of Colonial Baptist Church in Dallas; he headed a homeowner association and proposed an eight-foot-high concrete-block wall to separate black parts of town from white parts. The bombers included a labor leader and two Hispanics, and they were assisted by the Dallas police.
The Dallas Citizens Council was instrumental in calling for a special grand jury to investigate the incidents, which were defused without revealing names. Some South Dallas folks blamed the discretionary omission on the “white” Dallas Citizens Council, likening the business-leaders group to the Ku Klux Klan in coats and ties. But this citizens council was not associated with the White Citizens Councils in the South that were formed in the 1950s to fight desegregation; it had actually been working to improve race relations since the 1930s.
Dallas mayor Wallace Savage reckoned of the first bombing, “Actually neither the man who threw the bomb nor the Negro who moved into a white neighborhood is primarily responsible. The incident was a symptom of a serious condition in Dallas that must be remedied.” The real problem, the mayor recognized, was a black housing shortage. Negroes weren’t satisfied being clustered in the West Dallas floodplain, the traditional colored quarter. One of the few existing middle-class colored neighborhoods in North Dallas disappeared with the expansion of Love Field, Dallas’s municipal airport.
Progress came slowly. Negro Achievement Day at the state fair was abolished in 1953 when a fair official declared that all citizens were welcome on all days, and blacks were allowed entry to the state fair during its entire run. Although they couldn’t eat in restaurants or ride midway rides, they could pay to see the four-legged girl in the freak show. Mayor Thornton had been pressured to open rides and restaurants, but he wouldn’t budge on rides where there was the possibility that black skin might touch white skin.
Thornton, it was said, kept a statue of a Klansman in his home, which was not unusual considering the attitudes of the local white leadership. Dallas Morning News editor Dick West, writing an opinion piece headlined “Mixing Races in Schooling,” implied Negro students were inferior and all Negroes were immoral. The state of Texas attempted to outlaw the NAACP in 1956 for “drumming up lawsuits.” And in the summer of 1960, U.S. district judge T. Whitfield Davidson Jr. issued an opinion that justified slavery and demeaned blacks and tried to implement a system of voluntary desegregation.
Race problems were often swept under the rug and forgotten in the barrage of impressive numbers that city officials were continually touting. The Republic National Bank, with over $102 million in reserves, was the largest bank in the South in 1960. The Southland Life Insurance Company, with over $250 million in assets, was “prepared to meet the Challenge of the 60s.”
The city fancied itself an educational center with distinguished institutions scattered throughout, among them Southern Methodist University, the University of Dallas, the Hockaday School for girls and St. Mark’s for boys, the Southwestern Medical School of the University of Texas, and the Baylor University School of Dentistry. Culture and fine arts were represented by the Dallas Symphony, the Dallas Opera, the museums of art and natural history, and the Dallas historical museum.
In the northern part of the city were two self-contained, landlocked communities—Highland Park and University Park—where the wealthiest residents lived. Jews as well as people of color were banned from Highland Park.
If the state fair was not enough entertainment, every Sunday in October locals could take a three-hour trip on the Houston highway to Huntsville to witness the Texas Prison Rodeo “featuring Top TV Stars and Daring Inmate Riders.”
By adding Fort Worth’s 356,268 residents and another 245,270 in Tarrant County beyond the city limits, the expanded metropolitan population of North Central Texas swelled to well over 1.6 million, one of the ten most populous regions in the United States.
And with everything else it had going on, Dallas would soon be able to say that it had once been the largest metropolitan area in the United States without a major-league professional sports franchise.
Two Teams, One Town
TEX SCHRAMM’S BIGGEST TASK was to sell the pro game to the locals while simultaneously distinguishing his club from their crosstown rival Dallas Texans of the upstart American Football League. Just as the Los Angeles Dons and the entire All-America Football Conference had folded, so too would the Dallas Texans and the American Football League, Schramm believed. He knew he had the better product to sell in the form of the National Football League. But all was contingent on the NFL owners approving Dallas’s announced expansion franchise and fast-tracking the club for play in 1960 at their January meetings.
That did not stop the thirty-nine-year-old Schramm from taking care of the first two matters of business: securing a coach and players. Clint Murchison had already been in talks with two graduating college players, Don Meredith of the SMU Mustangs and Don Perkins of the University of New Mexico Lobos. Three days after Tex Schramm had signed on the dotted line, it was announced that Murchison had signed Don Meredith to a personal-services contract worth $150,000 over five years. If his new boss’s quest to snag an NFL team for Dallas failed, Meredith made clear his intent: “I’m going to law school,” he quipped; he’d already been accepted at SMU law school. Perkins was signed as a favor to Murchison’s friend Clinton Anderson, a U.S. senator from New Mexico, a member of the board of directors of the Dallas football club, and perhaps Perkins’s most ardent advocate after the Negro running back had broken rushing records at UNM. Baltimore had drafted Perkins in the ninth round in late 1959 and received a future draft pick in exchange for Dallas’s getting him.
Dandy Don Meredith was an even smarter signing than Schramm. He was a hometown hero who had quarterbacked the SMU Mustangs for the past three seasons and he drew huge crowds to the Cotton Bowl, where “Meredith to [Henry] Christopher TD” was the biggest playmaking combination in town.
As far as football in Dallas went, “that’s all there was,” as one longtime fan put it. That would be conveniently ignoring the Cotton Bowl Classic on New Year’s Day and the annual Texas-Oklahoma college clash at the Cotton Bowl that filled the stadium during the state fair every October and also filled the Dallas jail the night before the game with drunk and rowdy fans from both schools equally eager to settle the Red River Shootout on Dallas’s downtown streets.
Despite the Mustangs’ tepid record during Meredith’s three years at quarterback—their best season was his senior year, in 1959, when the team went 5-4-1—his passing set school, conference, and national records and put butts on the wooden bench seats.
Meredith wasn’t just football. The handsome kid with the eagle’s beak, known as Joe Don and as Jeff and Hazel’s kid back in his hometown of Mount Vernon, a hundred miles northeast of Dallas, oozed charm and charisma like a movie star with skills or a silver-tongued politician, not like some good ol’ boy football player.
His outgoing personality was honed at Meredith Dry Goods, the mercantile store on the town square that his father and mother ran. When Don was six, his father positioned him at the entrance of the store and told him, “Son, when you see someone come in that door, you greet ’em by their name. Even a dog likes to hear his name.”
At Mount Vernon High School, Meredith was elected senior class president; he won Mr. MVHS, was chosen by his classmates as most talented, and received best-actor recognition for his lead role in the school’s one-act play (which went to the state competition). He was active in 4-H, the FFA, and the Methodist Youth Church Fellowship.
An All-State quarterback for the Mount Vernon Tigers, Meredith turned down other colleges’ offers and went to SMU because, he said, “it was close to home and easy to spell.” He was better at basketball than football—his mother had been a high school hoops star in East Texas—and he even won a metal ice chest for scoring 52 points in a single game at the Dr Pepper Invitational Tournament in Dallas during his junior season in 1954.
MEREDITH HAD BEEN PICKED by the Chicago Bears in the third round of the NFL draft in November of 1959 and by the Dallas Texans in the first round of the upstart American Football League’s draft. Lamar Hunt pursued Meredith aggressively but to no avail because George Halas of the Bears immediately dealt rights to Meredith to the pending Dallas NFL franchise.
Subsequently engaged to Alma Lynne Shamburger, a striking blond SMU cheerleader and campus queen from Wichita Falls, and assured a handsome wage by Dallas, Meredith was anointed as the star who would play well and sell the football club to local sports fans. Having at least one player who talked like them, enjoyed the same things they did, and was already a fixture on the Dallas football scene could only help.
MURCHISON HAD MEREDITH, but he wasn’t stopping at players. In December, at the recommendation of Tex Schramm, Clint Murchison Jr. signed the greatest coach in football. At least, that’s how Jim Lee Howell, the head coach of the New York Giants, described his defensive assistant, Tom Landry. The accolade, as well as the interest in Landry expressed by Lamar Hunt and his Dallas Texans and by the AFL’s Houston Oilers, merited a personal-services contract from Murchison.
Landry had almost signed an agreement to coach Houston when Wellington Mara, the owner of the Giants, told him Dallas was going to get a franchise. So on his way to Houston, Tom Landry flew to Dallas, his offseason hometown, for an interview. He was picked up at the airport by Edwin “Bud” Shrake of the Dallas Times Herald, and when Landry returned to Dallas a few days later to sign a five-year deal at $34,500 per year, he was accompanied by that other University of Texas graduate Tex Schramm.
Though Charles Burton of the Dallas Morning News wrote that Murchison “expects to be awarded an NFL franchise at a January 20 session of the pro circuit,” George Halas still wasn’t sure if the votes were there. Ten of the twelve clubs had to approve the idea. Because of the uncertainty, Landry’s deal was similar to Don Meredith’s. If Murchison didn’t get a team, Landry’s contract would be null and void, and Landry could then either shift his focus to the insurance business he had established in Dallas or coach somewhere else. But Landry was born to have this job.
Tom Landry had grown up during the Great Depression in the small farming town of Mission in the Rio Grande Valley of far South Texas, a region whose culture was more Mexican than American. He was a son of Ruth and Ray Landry, an Illinois couple who had moved to the valley to relieve Ray’s chronic rheumatism. Ray worked as an auto mechanic in his shop behind the family’s house and he served as chief of the volunteer fire department as well as the Sunday-school superintendent at the Methodist church. Ruth was a hands-on homemaker known for her chocolate pies.
Tommy, the younger brother of Robert and the older brother of Ruthie and Jack, sold newspapers and caddied at the local golf course, spending his earnings watching Westerns at the local movie house, where he fantasized about being a cowboy. By junior high, when he started wearing shoes to school, football had captured his imagination; he organized a sandlot team and called the plays.
“I learned something playing in the sandlots, something that today’s youngsters aren’t able to experience,” Landry later related in an oral history. “Here is where you learn to cry and to fight, to overcome all situations according to your own abilities and initiative without some supervisor always looking over your shoulder.”
When the shy, soft-spoken Tommy entered high school, he fell under the influence of twenty-two-year-old Bob Martin, the newly hired junior varsity coach of the Mission High School Eagles. Martin had come from the storied football town of Breckenridge and lived in a garage apartment two doors down from the Landrys. He got Tommy to focus and practice by throwing footballs through a tire swing. In high school, Tommy became Tom, was elected president of his sophomore and then senior class, and was chosen as Cutest Boy twice. He started on the basketball team, ran track, and played softball. But football was where he excelled. Bob Martin was promoted to head coach and he switched Landry from center to quarterback. During study hall, Landry would learn defensive theory from Martin, who preached the importance of playing your position.
Coach Martin instituted tough rules during Landry’s senior year, banning soft drinks, imposing a curfew, and discouraging team members from dating—rules that young Tom dare not ignore, lest his neighbor find out. Martin challenged players to tackle him and to box with him. Martin’s discipline and his prize student’s exceptional passing, running, and punting helped lead the Eagles to an undefeated season in 1941, outscoring opponents 268–7. In the regional championship game, the farthest a Class A school in Texas could advance at the time, Landry threw two touchdown passes and ran 64 yards for another as the Eagles trampled the Hondo Owls, 33–0. Landry was voted onto the all-Valley team and rewarded with an athletic scholarship from the University of Texas.
He played freshman football at UT for D. X. Bible as a quarterback, defensive back, and punter while his brother Robert joined the U.S. Army Air Forces to fight Germany in World War II. After Robert lost his life while ferrying bombers to England, Tom enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces, where he trained in the Eighth Air Force and became a copilot and gunner on B-17 Flying Fortress heavy-bomber missions. Landry’s crew flew thirty missions and survived a plane crash behind enemy lines.
Resuming his studies and football at UT in 1946, Tom majored in business engineering, worked on oil rigs in the summer, and competed with future All-American Bobby Layne at quarterback before Landry broke the thumb on his passing hand. Texas’s new coach, Blair Cherry, had already decided to switch his offense from the single wing to the T formation and had been working with Layne, so Landry changed to fullback on the offense and became team cocaptain. The Longhorns won the Sugar Bowl against Alabama in 1947 and beat number-one Georgia in the Orange Bowl in 1949. That was the same year Landry married a fellow student, a dazzling redhead named Alicia Wiggs, a Highland Park High School graduate from the nicest part of Dallas and a Bluebonnet Belle finalist at UT. The two had met on a blind date outing to Hamilton Pool, a scenic cave and waterfall west of Austin.
Landry’s college experience convinced him to give professional football a try. Tom and Alicia moved to New York, where Tom joined the New York Yankees of the All-America Football Conference as a punter and defensive back. After the AAC merged into the National Football League in 1950, Landry moved to the New York Giants, receiving a seven-hundred-dollar bonus on top of his seven-thousand-dollar annual salary.
“He probably was the best defensive back in the business,” Giants running back Frank Gifford said of Landry. “He approached the game with a zeal none of us could match. He was cool and calculating about football. Emotion had no place in his makeup. He always appeared to be looking beyond the game itself, searching for an unknown key. He had to know why things happened. While most of us played the game, he studied it.”
It was almost natural, then, that in 1955, Landry became a player-coach, driven by economics as much as his critical thinking. “I didn’t have any money and the opportunity was there,” he explained in an interview. “Every team needed four or five coaches.” He retired as a player in 1956 after earning All-Pro honors as a defensive back two years in a row.
Coaching full-time, Landry developed the 4-3 defense formation for the Giants, which became the standard defense around the league: four defenders on the line backed by three linebackers, two cornerbacks, and two safeties. The relationship of the linebacker to the width of the playing field was redefined, establishing what Wellington Mara called “the inside-out theory of defensive football”—protecting the middle while trusting the flanks to pursue the ball.
Defensive back Dick Nolan was in awe of Landry’s work ethic. “The offense would go home, and we’d be sitting there going over the next opponent,” he said.
I remember one time Tom was at the blackboard, showing me that if their flanker came out on the strong side on a third-down play, and the fullback flared to the weak side, I was to follow the fullback out a few steps and then race back quickly because they would be bringing the wingback inside me to take a pass. “But Tom,” I said, “what if I commit myself that completely and the wingback isn’t there?” And Tom just looked at me without any change of expression and said, “He will be.” I had seven interceptions that year and Tom got me five of them.
Giants publicist Don Smith joked, “Once one of Tom’s defensive men lost a page from his playbook. We found it at a Chinese laundry. Someone had exchanged it for a dozen shirts.”
Another high-profile assistant coach, Vince Lombardi, directed the Giants offense.
Landry did not look at assistant coaching for a pro football team as a career mainly because the pay, though a help, was minuscule. “I figured I would coach for a while and then go home and earn some money in the off-season,” Landry said. Every year, he returned to Texas, first to resume studies at the University of Houston, where he received an industrial engineering degree in 1952, then to work for Cameron Iron Works. But in 1957, Tom and Alicia moved their offseason home to Dallas, where Tom intended to start a small insurance business.
The next year, he went to a men’s Bible-study breakfast at the Melrose Hotel in Dallas at the invitation of his friend Frank Phillips. “We probe into the Scriptures and have some good fellowship together,” Phillips told him. Landry was not disappointed. One passage, Matthew 6:25, grabbed his attention: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”
“Not a very dramatic story, is it?” Landry later said about the conversion that led him to dedicate his life to Jesus Christ. But it was true. “These informal sessions of probing, questioning and searching the Gospels together began a whole new era of my life,” he said. A devout churchgoer, he became a member of Highland Park Methodist, the church Alicia had attended as a child.
A year later, Tom Landry accepted Clint Murchison’s offer to coach the new Dallas franchise, even though he didn’t think the NFL team had much going for it. “This won’t last two years,” he confided to his wife after signing the contract. “You can’t build from the ground up.” Expansion clubs failed more often than they survived; at least, that had been his experience. “Certainly it’s a little bit of a gamble,” admitted Landry at the time. “Everything is. A major factor is that I want to stay in Dallas. And I believe Texas will develop into one of the nation’s major sports centers, along with California.”
Getting Tom Landry as coach was another step forward for the team. Tex Schramm was thrilled. “All we’ve got is a coach and a pitcher, but that’s a start,” he crowed. “Now we’ve got to get some more players.”
ONE OF THE FIRST CALLS Tex Schramm made after being offered the GM job was to his old team the Los Angeles Rams. The club was known for having the best scouts in pro football. Their people actually attended games and spring practices to size up talent instead of perusing the Street and Smith’s Sports Annual or calling coaches, as was the usual custom. If there were free agents to be signed, the Rams scouts would know, Schramm believed. So he phoned former Rams coach Hamp Pool, and Pool recommended Gil Brandt, a baby photographer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and one of the most astute scouts Pool knew. Brandt was a persuasive talker with a prominent boxer’s nose, but he had never been a full-time scout, nor had he played college or pro football or coached, although he had been a quarterback and defensive back in high school. Still, he knew how to analyze and evaluate players like few others did and he carried stats in his head with a photographic memory.
Brandt laughed when Schramm called.
“Tex, I don’t know anything about television.”
“No, we’re going to have a team in Dallas and I’m going to be the general manager,” Schramm told him. “Steal all the information you can from the Rams so we know who to go after.”
It didn’t take much to persuade the twenty-nine-year-old to join his football club. Brandt’s photography business was built on contracts with three hospitals. He’d bought the fourteen-hundred-dollar camera and arranged for nurses to take the pictures. Hospitals added three dollars to each patient’s bill and kept 25 percent. Brandt developed the pictures and took 75 percent of the action.
“That job left me free weekends for my hobby… football,” he explained.
Brandt developed his scouting skills in college at the University of Wisconsin and then, after being encouraged by former Wisconsin receiver Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, he started feeding information to Eddie Kotal of the Rams.
After Schramm left the Rams, Brandt scouted for the San Francisco 49ers. When Brandt arrived in Dallas, he immediately put to good use the blank standard contracts that Bedford Wynne had filched from an existing team and mimeographed with the addition of a new letterhead identifying the Dallas Rangers. Dallas was still awaiting approval by league owners when the 1960 NFL draft was held on November 28, 1959, so after the draft, Schramm instructed Brandt to get busy and find potential talent among the undrafted. “This will be easy,” Schramm told Brandt. (“Of course to Tex, everything was easy,” Brandt would later say.) Brandt rounded up twenty-eight players who signed the bottom lines with the understanding that the contracts were null and void if Dallas didn’t get a franchise.
Brandt’s first signing was a Dartmouth player named Jake Crouthamel. “The Dartmouth coach was a guy named Bob Blackman who had been a coach at Pasadena City College,” Brandt said. “So we knew him from Rams training camp. Tex said, ‘That’ll be easy, you’ll just go up there and Blackman will help you get the guy.’ ”
Unfortunately, the Los Angeles Chargers of the fledgling American Football League had drafted Crouthamel, so a bidding war ensued. The protocol, Brandt explained, was to send a contract through the mail to a draft pick. “If it was a first-round choice, it might have been for $5,500,” Brandt said. “If it was less than that it was for $4,500.” Brandt ended up signing Crouthamel for $7,500. He couldn’t wait to get out of Crouthamel’s residence and go to the White Bear Inn in Hanover, New Hampshire, to call Schramm and inform him the club had its first signing.
“How much did we pay?” Schramm asked.
“You have to understand why we paid him…” Brandt started to explain but Schramm cut him off.
“How much did we pay?” he asked again. As soon as he heard the number, Schramm heaved a sigh audible over the phone and then said, “We’ll go broke if we pay this kind of money.”
BACK HOME, detractors were already referring to the Dallas Rangers as the Halas Strangers in honor of their roster of discards and George Halas’s influential role in establishing an NFL franchise in Dallas.
Lamar Hunt’s Texans weren’t having that problem. “It’s a good name for a team in our area and people will associate it with pro football because it was used here before,” Hunt reasoned. “I’m not concerned because those Texans failed.”
Hunt played to the home folks by signing all–Southwest Conference fullback Jack Spikes from Texas Christian University in nearby Fort Worth; Cotton Davidson, the quarterback from Baylor; and an exciting halfback named Abner Haynes from North Texas State College in Denton, twenty-five miles north of Dallas.
Building a team that hadn’t even been officially approved appeared to be a giant challenge to almost everyone but Clint Murchison, who viewed the undertaking as just another deal to seal. Simultaneously selling that same team to football fans while fending off a competing entity in the same city whose pockets were just as deep as his turned out to be the hard part.
If the Dallas Rangers were going to put a team on the field for the 1960 National Football League season, they would have to overcome the objections of George Preston Marshall, the owner of the Washington Redskins. Marshall and Murchison did not like each other, going back to the time Murchison had tried to buy the Redskins. For his part, Marshall considered Murchison “personally obnoxious.”
Marshall threatened to go to court if Dallas was awarded an NFL franchise for the 1960 season. “I will go into the meeting with plenty of legal counsel,” he vowed. “The only reason for expansion I’ve heard from the other owners is that we could destroy the new [American] league. If that is the only reason, then we are guilty of monopolistic practices. No one can give me an intelligent reason for adding a couple more franchises.” Marshall called the signings of Landry, Schramm, Meredith, and Perkins “premature, without sanction, and against the constitution of the NFL.” He backed expansion, he said, if “the purpose was to improve conditions. I am against it so long as it involves anti-trust action and where it would hurt the colleges. I am unalterably opposed to expansion this year.”
Lamar Hunt agreed wholeheartedly. If Murchison was awarded a team in Dallas after years of George Halas’s saying there would be no expansion, it would be a direct response to Hunt’s American Football League. The newly appointed AFL commissioner, Joe Foss, chimed in. “They put a team in Dallas just to make things tough for us. Their actions have been aimed at destroying us rather than competing with us.”
“Ridiculous,” harrumphed Murchison’s man in charge, Tex Schramm. “The fact that we decided to enter this market at the same time as our competitors is just free enterprise in action.”
Schramm and Murchison had bigger fish to fry, anyway: convincing the National Football League owners to vote them in. It helped that Clint Jr. knew his way around the District of Columbia. He and the other half of Murchison Brothers, John Dabney Murchison, had several key operatives in place to grease the wheels of government, including the lobbyist Bobby Baker, a highly effective fixer known as the 101st senator; attorney-lobbyist Irv Davidson, whose clients included Caribbean dictators; and Tom Webb, a former football player for the University of Maryland Terrapins who had been a special assistant to FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, a friend of Clint Sr., before he started lobbying and working for the Murchison family in 1952.
Baker, who was then secretary to the Senate majority leader, Lyndon Johnson, would later get caught up in a corruption scandal linked to Johnson. After the fact, he explained the Murchison-Hoover dynamic: “Murchison owned a piece of Hoover. Rich people always try to put their money with the sheriff, because they’re looking for protection. Hoover was the personification of law and order and officially against gangsters and everything, so it was a plus for a rich man to be identified with him. That’s why men like Murchison made it their business to let everyone know Hoover was their friend. You can do a lot of illegal things if the head lawman is your buddy.”
Baker’s and Davidson’s official role in the latest Murchison Brothers deal was to reassure Congress. A Dallas NFL franchise would not threaten the league’s antitrust status, the lobbyists promised. The political contributions made on Murchison’s behalf, including $25,000 to Senator Estes Kefauver, calmed many doubters, especially after Kefauver raised red flags about George Preston Marshall’s Redskins television network being a monopoly.
THE NFL OWNERS HAD other matters to tend to first when they gathered at the Breakers in Palm Beach in 1960 for their annual January winter meeting. The league needed a new commissioner, since Bert Bell had died; the front-runners were interim commissioner Austin Gunsel, a former FBI agent, and San Francisco attorney Marshall Leahy. After twenty-three ballots cast over seven days, a surprise candidate was elected: thirty-three-year-old Pete Rozelle, the general manager of the Los Angeles Rams and former team publicist who had been hired eight years earlier by Tex Schramm.
Expansion came up for a vote once Rozelle was approved. First, Max Winter was awarded a franchise for Minnesota to start play in 1961, ending the American Football League’s incursion into the upper Midwest. The subject of Dallas came second, due to the expected objections of George Preston Marshall. However, Marshall voted yes. He had started to change his mind a few weeks earlier when Clint Murchison made a not-so-innocuous proposal to the Redskins owner over the telephone: Did Marshall want to buy the rights to “Hail to the Redskins,” the second-oldest fight song in professional football? Clint asked.
“Why would I want to do that?” Marshall asked. “I don’t need permission.” His ex-wife had written the popular anthem. “Yeah, you do,” Clint informed him. “I own it.”
CLINT’S LOBBYIST FRIEND Tom Webb had purchased the rights to the song from its composer, Barnee Breeskin, the orchestra director at the Shoreham Hotel in Washington and leader of the Redskins Wigwam band. Marshall’s ex, Corrine Griffith, was just the lyricist. Breeskin, who went to high school with Webb, worried that Marshall was going to try to obtain the rights for free, and he willingly transferred his rights, anticipating a handsome payment in exchange.
Murchison then had a face-to-face meeting with Marshall in his hotel room, and he reiterated his proposal. “No one else would introduce us, so here I am,” Murchison announced when Marshall opened the door. After a ten-minute chat, Marshall relented and got the rights to his beloved song. Murchison paid Breeskin two thousand dollars, and Dallas had a National Football League franchise.
As Tex Schramm would later observe, “People that are successful in this league have a little larceny in their hearts.”
TWO DAYS BEFORE the Dallas Rangers were given the green light to field a team for the 1960 season, the owners of franchises in the new American Football League elected Lamar Hunt president.
Less than six weeks later, the previously intractable Wolfners moved the Chicago Cardinals to St. Louis. Three months after that, the American Football League announced a five-year multimillion deal with the ABC network to broadcast league games, guaranteeing exposure and income to the franchises. The war was on.
Six hundred thousand dollars bought the newest National Football League club access to five players from each of the thirty-six-man rosters of the twelve existing NFL clubs. The league had created a player pool, allowing each team to freeze twenty-five players, leaving the rest of their roster up for grabs. Dallas was given the list of eligible veterans the day before the special expansion draft was held, on March 13, from which a thirty-six-man roster for the Dallas Rangers was filled out. “We didn’t have any chance to find out medicals or anything,” Gil Brandt later said. “You had to roll the dice.”
Several players were homesick Texans, such as running back L. G. Dupre, a Baylor star who played for the Baltimore Colts, and linebacker Jerry Tubbs, who signed after leaving San Francisco. “I had told the 49ers that if they could get me a good permanent job in Dallas for the offseason periods I might play with them again,” Tubbs said. “They tried but they couldn’t find one that was satisfactory to me. I don’t like to mix the two. I don’t like to have a job which may be dependent on how well I play football.” At the same time, he wasn’t thrilled to be coming back to Texas under those circumstances. “I don’t like the idea of losing,” said Tubbs, who never lost a game with the Breckenridge Buckaroos in high school or with the Oklahoma Sooners in college.
“The only reason that Tubbs was on the list is that he had convinced San Francisco that he was going to retire,” Gil Brandt said. “So he was on the list. But we had guys like Charlie Oney, who was really a good player but he lived in Hawaii and his father-in-law had some big company and Oney was making twenty-two thousand dollars a year, which was unheard-of at that time. He decided he could do better by staying in Hawaii and working.”
Don McIlhenny, the former SMU running back, came from the Green Bay Packers. And Gene Babb from Odessa and Austin College signed with the Dallas club after signing with the Houston Oilers of the start-up AFL.
Eddie LeBaron was obtained in a trade with Washington for future draft picks. Landry needed an experienced quarterback, and the former All-Pro known as the Little General (for his five-foot-seven, 165-pound frame) was the perfect fit, the kind of leader who could teach Meredith. It was a career move for the smallest quarterback in professional football. LeBaron had turned thirty and was contemplating practicing petroleum law in Midland, Texas, after spending the last three years with the Redskins and going to law school at George Washington University in the offseason. LeBaron’s incentive with Dallas would be his hiring on with minority owner Bedford Wynne’s law firm.
Meanwhile, college and high school officials complained about the entry of two professional teams in Dallas and the likelihood that Friday and Saturday pro games would infringe on their turf, especially if the games were televised. That, said Howard Grubbs, the executive secretary of the Southwest Conference, would be “ruinous to college and high school athletics.”
IN JUNE, Tex Schramm’s wife and daughters arrived in Dallas, stepping off the airplane at Love Field into a furnace blast of summer heat like nothing they had ever experienced in Southern California or Connecticut. They were not amused.
“We just looked at each other and said, ‘Oh my God!’ ” said one of Tex’s daughters, Christi. That night, Tex took his brood to the Rib on Lover’s Lane for their first taste of Texas barbecue, which the girls liked. He then drove his family to Sunnybrook Lane on the northern fringe of Dallas to inspect the site of their new home. When completed, it would be Tex’s vision of a Southern California–style ranch home, with lots of trees, a creek running through it, and plenty of privacy. A faux Tudor or French Provincial manse in more prestigious Highland Park with its snooty traditions and high-achieving schools was not Tex. His Dallas was wide open, shiny and new, and growing by leaps and bounds—just like LA, only without the mountains and the beach.
“You’re gonna love it, you’re gonna love it,” Tex promised his daughters.
To his girls, the two-acre tangle of vegetation on Sunnybrook Lane looked like an impenetrable thicket. “We got out to look it over, it’s hot, and we’re walking around looking at all the brush,” Christi said. “Of course, we hated it.”
“You have to have a vision, you have to see what we’re going to do,” Tex insisted. “We’re going to put the house down here, we’re going to have a long drive. It’s going to be private, it’s just going to be beautiful.”
“We thought, there’s just no way this could be beautiful,” Christi said. After the tour of their home-to-be, the Schramm family returned to the temporary living quarters with red bites and ferocious itches all over their bodies. It was their introduction to Texas chiggers, which had burrowed into their skin. “We’d never been exposed to chiggers before,” Christi said. “So once again we all screamed and yelled and cried, ‘We hate Dallas!’ ”
Little by little, they adjusted. A professional golfer named Lee Trevino moved in next door. A neighbor across the creek, Ray Nasher, collected and displayed giant fine-art sculptures in his backyard. Tom Landry and Gil Brandt lived five minutes away. Clint Murchison’s home was a ten-minute drive. Tex and his wife, Marty, sent their girls to public schools. The family’s phone number was listed in the local directory. If someone wanted to call and talk about the team, Tex was easy to find. He was an open book. He knew his target audience, showed his enthusiasm by buying into the market, and wanted nothing so much as to hear from the customers.
CLINT MURCHISON delegated operational control to Tex Schramm, who delegated to Tom Landry and to Gil Brandt. Landry enjoyed absolute authority over the day-to-day running of the team. Brandt was unhindered in the area of drafting and scouting players. Schramm orchestrated it all.
Clear lines were established between the owners, the front office, the coaches, and the players. Like the military, they had a policy of no fraternizing among the troops (although it did not necessarily apply to owners and certain women). This both acknowledged and eased the arrangement between Tex, a man who enjoyed a Bullshot, his beloved vodka-and-beef-bouillon concoction, every afternoon and was not easily shocked by human behavior, and Tom, man of faith whose ability to look the other way when necessary underscored the respect he had for the other man’s capabilities.
The only time all the characters gathered on the same stage was Sundays. Even then, Clint and his sidekick Bedford Wynne, his party pal and crony, stayed in the background, preferring to work hard at having fun.
The Wynnes and the Murchisons were part of the same East Texas story, going back to when Toddie Lee Wynne of Wills Point was the attorney and business partner of Clint Murchison Sr. of Athens. Toddie Lee’s brother, Angus Sr., was known as the king of the boomtown lawyers. Clint Sr.’s grandfather had founded the Athens bank and was a recognized trader, a trait that still held two generations later. Clint and Toddie Lee’s partnership unraveled in 1944 when Murchison discovered Wynne had done an outside oil deal behind his back. They split the proceeds and went their separate ways. Clint took the ranches in Mexico. Toddie Lee took Matagorda Island off the Texas coast. Wynne kept American Liberty Oil and American Home Realty, among other holdings, putting his nephew Angus Jr. in charge of the realty company. Their building of the Wynnewood housing development project helped trigger the real estate boom that drove Dallas’s economy following World War II. Toddie Lee and his wife famously lived in a pink mansion on Lakeside Drive in Highland Park.
Clint Jr. and Bedford rekindled the old Murchison-Wynne partnership through football. Family members thought Bedford’s involvement was predicated on his knowledge and passion for the game. But Clint liked Bedford just as much for his garrulous manner and considerable wild streak. He was the popular guy that Clint wasn’t. As a friend and business partner, Bedford kept an eye out for potential female companions for Clint and himself.
Bedford was the rainmaker at the family law firm. A first-class trial lawyer, he was also general manager of the firm, charged with bringing in new clients. “He was always on the golf course and getting into all these deals,” his nephew David Wynne explained.
In early 1960, the venture Murchison had put together with Wynne as front man moved from the Wynne and Wynne law firm’s high-rise digs to a single rented office at 4425 North Central Expressway, where Schramm, Landry, and Brandt worked with hardly any elbow room to set up their respective operations.
Tex Schramm enlisted Kay Lang, a onetime Ice Follies chorus girl who had worked with Tex for the Los Angeles Rams, to help arrange ticket sales. The temp gig turned permanent in a matter of weeks, with Tex bragging, “I don’t believe there is any other woman holding such an important office in major league sports.” Jimmie Parker, the assistant athletic director for the Dallas Independent School District, was hired as business manager. Larry Karl, Tulane University’s sports publicist, became the team’s director of public relations.
The team practiced at Burnett Field, the derelict home of the Dallas Rangers baseball club on the levee banks of the Trinity River just south of downtown. The dark and dingy facility was “like a dungeon,” said lineman Jerry Norton. Players were advised to hang their equipment over rails rather than put it in the locker because the rats would eat the leather at night. The ladies’ restroom doubled as the training room.
In June, the team name changed from the Rangers to the Cowboys. Sports fans had been confused over which Rangers were being talked about, the minor-league baseball club or the NFL expansion franchise. Bedford Wynne lobbied for the Steers in honor of his favorite college football team, the University of Texas Longhorns, but Clint Murchison settled on Cowboys, which projected a western flavor similar to Rangers. Dallas Cowboys had a ring to it, he thought.
The new name did not go down well among the relatives of owners. “We didn’t like that, none of my friends,” complained David Wynne, Bedford Wynne’s nephew. “Even though I was on a ranch every weekend riding my horse, we weren’t cowboys. We didn’t think of ourselves like that. That was totally Fort Worth. It didn’t have anything to do with Dallas.”
FOOTBALL, THOUGH, was about to have everything to do with Dallas. In July, the first Dallas Cowboys training camp was organized in Forest Grove, Oregon, on the campus of Pacific University, a site that had been recommended to Gil Brandt. Landry was partial to Oregon because the New York Giants had trained at Willamette, about forty miles from Forest Grove. But the dorms at Pacific University were mold-ridden and overrun with rats, and the weather damp and drizzly, hardly ideal training conditions.
And it wasn’t just the weather. Don Perkins, one of the first two players signed to Dallas, could not finish the Landry Mile, a mile-long endurance run up and down a hillside that the coach wanted all his players to finish. But rather than booting him off the squad, Landry made an exception for Perkins. “It was not because he wasn’t in shape,” Gil Brandt said. “He just couldn’t run a mile.”
With frustration settling in, training camp was moved to St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy in Delafield, Wisconsin, for the last two weeks of preparations, but that proved even worse—a leaky, dank castle with bats flying in the dorms and mosquitoes everywhere. The motley crew of has-beens, castoffs, and never-weres rebelled, hanging Brandt in effigy in the form of two stuffed burlap bags in front of the academy’s entrance.
While the Cowboys battled the elements, the American Football League was battling the Cowboys and the NFL. Seeking to stop the inevitable, the AFL filed a $10 million antitrust lawsuit against the National Football League and requested the Dallas Cowboys facilities be padlocked in the name of unfair competition and violation of antitrust laws. Tex Schramm belittled the suit. “In the final analysis this decision as to what Dallas wants in the way of professional football will rest solely in the hands of the people,” he said. “Apparently, Lamar Hunt and his league are unwilling to risk a decision on this basis. We don’t think they will find sympathy either in the court or with the people of Dallas.”
New NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle chimed in. “They moved into our territory in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Why shouldn’t we be allowed to move into Dallas?”
Behind the scenes, Clint Murchison reached out to Hunt and proposed sharing the Dallas NFL franchise. Hunt declined, telling Murchison, “I feel obligated to remain with the league I helped form.”
Some people, including those in charge of the Cotton Bowl, the only stadium suitable for both teams, sympathized with Hunt and the Texans, mainly because Hunt approached them first. The Dallas Texans got first pick of open dates from the landlord, the State Fair of Texas. Hunt dibbed most Sundays in September and October, reasoning fan interest would be highest at the start of the season regardless of how either home team played. But the Cowboys got a leg up by scoring the Salesmanship Club game in mid-August. The popular annual exhibition had always featured two NFL teams. For 1960, the Dallas NFL franchise would play the 1959 NFL champion Baltimore Colts—the former original Dallas Texans.
The Salesmanship Club game always drew a good crowd, no matter who was playing, a testament to civic leaders in the business community who belonged to the club and to the general respect sales and salesmen were accorded in Dallas. The August 19 exhibition, advertised in newspapers as the one “with the real pros,” drew almost 40,000 fans to watch Johnny Unitas pass the Colts to a 14–10 win over the Dallas Cowboys.
A couple weeks later, the Dallas Texans concluded a perfect 6-0 exhibition season by trouncing instant intrastate rivals the Houston Oilers 24–3 in front of an estimated 55,000 fans at the Cotton Bowl, the largest crowd to watch either Dallas pro team.
The Cowboys were going full speed ahead, and Bedford Wynne, the team’s secretary-treasurer, showed the team’s appreciation for getting admitted to the senior league by hosting a party for Pete Rozelle at the Four Wynnes Ranch near Kaufman. The dapper Rozelle, wearing a stylish plaid suit and alligator shoes, was happy to hear accolades after all the time he’d been spending hurling accusations at the upstart league.
Most of the ownership group turned up at the party: Toddie Lee Wynne Jr., the executive vice president of American Liberty Oil; W. R. “Fritz” Hawn, another running buddy of Clint Jr.; Fort Worth publisher and oilman Amon G. Carter Jr.; New Mexico senator Clinton P. Anderson; Leo F. Corrigan of Texas Bank and Trust; J. Howard Edmonson; defense contractor James L. Ling; Paul Middleton; football insider Field Scovell; oilman Max Thomas; and Robert F. Thompson, Clint Murchison’s occasional business partner.
Bedford Wynne was happy to be the front man. “Bedford wanted to do the talking,” Gil Brandt said. “He never met somebody that he didn’t like. He and Clint were very good friends. The difference was that Bedford’s pockets were a lot shorter than Clint’s. He had that champagne attitude. He just didn’t have the money. Clint liked him because Clint lived in a shell.
“When we brought a player to town and wanted to show off, we brought ’em up to the Wynne and Wynne law firm on the twenty-eighth floor of the Southland Life building. They had the whole floor with a big lobby, a battery of lawyers, and an impressive view of the city.”
Bedford’s office served to woo players, but Bedford’s days as spokesman for the team had pretty much ended when Tex Schramm signed on. Tex made clear he was in charge. His charitable way of elbowing Wynne aside came in the form of a dismissive remark Tex made about Bedford now and then, good-naturedly referring to him as “that cocksucker” and smiling when he said it. “You know I love Bedford, but I’d walk into my office after lunch and he’d be sitting in my chair,” he privately bitched to a confidant.
AS SEPTEMBER NEARED, the Cowboys and the Texans launched advertising campaigns, taking advantage of the emerging advertising and marketing community’s abundant talent pool. To rising radio and television broadcasters, Dallas was comparable to playing in AAA minor-league baseball: the last stop before arriving in the big-market cities of New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
But Gordon McLendon, one of the greatest programming talents in the history of radio and a master showman himself, made Dallas more than just another AAA media market. After his dramatic re-creations of baseball and football as well as his live play-by-play talents went national on the Liberty network, McLendon became one of the founding fathers of Top 40 radio via his Dallas station, KLIF, attracting the largest radio audience in the area with a format that featured the most popular music of the week along with exciting presentations of the news and constant promotions. One giveaway involved throwing dollar bills off the top of a downtown skyscraper, which created a riot and generated reams of free publicity.
In the McLendon tradition, Lamar Hunt hired thirty pretty Dallas women to drive around the city in bright red sports cars to work prospective ticket buyers. The Texans were promoted as the Zing Team of Pro Football, which sounded as if they were a soft drink rather than a group of grown men paid to play a very physical game. The Cowboys countermarketed by inviting fans to “Follow the GO team of the Senior Pros… the only NFL team boasting two unanimous All-Americans at quarterback,” and they one-upped the Texans with a catchy theme song, a marching tune with clarion trumpets and stirring, strident lyrics: “Go! Dallas! Cowboys! Stand up! Stampede!”
Hunt wasn’t impressed. “I thought they took a very blasé approach. They almost told the public, ‘Well, we’re the NFL. Our ticket offices are open. Come see us.’ In contrast, we took the hard-sell approach.” Hard sell indeed. One of the women in the red sports cars promoting the Texans, Norma Knobel, was so persuasive in her sales skills she ended up marrying Hunt.
“Lamar believed in spending the money for advertising,” Gil Brandt said. “We spent our money on player development.”
Cowboys reserved tickets were priced at $4.60. The Texans charged $4 flat. And the competition didn’t stop there.
The Texans led the way in freely discounting and giving away tickets. Members of the Spur Club who sold one hundred season tickets to Texans games were given a red blazer. Tickets attached to balloons were released by the Texans, and two hundred thousand Texans tickets were inserted into packages of Fritos, though few were used.
Both teams reached out to younger fans. For a dollar, a kid could join the Texans Huddle Club and gain free end-zone admission all season and attend football clinics. High-schoolers were admitted to games for ninety cents. The Cowboys countered with Knothole Gang tickets, priced at a dollar or less for end-zone seats, and with their five-for-one deal, where five kids could get in free to Cowboys games if they were accompanied by an adult buying a $2.75 general-admission ticket.
A LOT OF MONEY was at stake. Economists guessed the two pro teams would bring four million dollars into the community. The more interesting inside play was guessing which owner was most able to afford to lose money. “The key financial battle is shaping up here in Dallas,” the Wall Street Journal reported. AFL franchises, including the Dallas Texans, were projected to lose between two and four million dollars the first year. Tex Schramm insisted money was not an issue for his club, saying, “We’re financed for the long pull.”
The battle for fans heated up. By September, the Texans claimed they’d sold more than 5,000 season tickets and the Cowboys had sold 3,000, less than the 1952 NFL Texans, who sold almost 5,000 season tickets, according to owner Giles Miller. By contrast, the new Los Angeles Chargers of the AFL had sold 10,000 season tickets, half what their crosstown rivals, the NFL Rams, had. St. Louis, the new home of the Chicago Cardinals of the NFL, counted 10,000 season-ticket holders.
Both Dallas teams’ games were carried on radio and television. KBOX, the Top 40 competitor of KLIF, carried the Cowboys games on the radio, sports broadcaster Frank Glieber doing the play-by-play alongside Bud Sherman, the sports director at WBAP TV Channel 5.
Texans games were broadcast on city-owned WRR radio with Charlie Jones doing play-by-play and assisted by Bill Mercer, a KRLD news and sports reporter. “Charlie and I worked by ourselves,” Mercer said. “There was no money for spotters or an engineer. I did stats and did color.”
KRLD TV Channel 4 televised the Texans and Cowboys both. A rotating cast of play-by-play announcers called the Cowboys’ TV games, including national broadcasters Gil Stratton and Tom Harmon, and, ultimately, Wes Wise, the sports director at WFAA Channel 8.
The Cowboys announcer gig complicated Wise’s sports-director job because Channel 8 and Channel 4 were rivals. “I bent over backwards to be fair to both the Texans and the Cowboys,” Wise said. “I’d go to the practices of both, the ones that they’d allow you to go to. I was with the Cowboys at training camp at Forest Grove, Oregon. It was tough to do double duty but you felt like you had to do it.”
Providing color for Wise was Davey O’Brien, the Heisman Trophy–winning quarterback from TCU whose drawl was so distinctive, his line “Yes, Wes,” would be repeated by the few fans tuning in.
THE DALLAS COWBOYS made their official debut at home on Saturday night, September 24, 1960, in front of a crowd of 30,000 who watched them lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers and local hero Bobby Layne, 35–28. The Blond Bomber, a notorious party boy fond of drink and dames, was one of the few players on the field to forgo a face mask, which Layne considered an obstruction.
Featured special guest entertainers were Roy Rogers, King of the Movie and Television Cowboys, and his wife, Dale Evans, who rode around the stadium in a convertible waving to the crowd. But not all in the crowd waved back. Roy and Dale found themselves being pelted by paper cups, programs, and ice before they were hustled out of the stadium while police hauled sixty-five rowdy troublemakers off to the pokey.
The crowd count appeared to be inflated. Steelers owner Art Rooney later reported he was paid for 13,000 tickets sold, not 30,000.
The next day, the Dallas Texans attracted a crowd of around 42,000 who watched the other home team beat the Los Angeles Chargers, 17–0. That crowd was smaller than the one that had turned out on September 2 to watch the Texans play the Houston Oilers in an exhibition match, but it was still impressive enough to answer the question of whether God-fearing fans would turn out to watch football on the Lord’s Day.
The Texans’ second home game, against the New York Titans on October 2, was billed as Texans Teen Salute. Students with ticket stubs from high school football games the previous Friday night were admitted free. That was the same night the Cowboys played their second home game, drawing an estimated crowd of 18,500. The second Texans game was also Barbers Appreciation Day. All barbers wearing their white jackets were admitted free. By game time, so were any and all fans wearing white.
Tex Schramm was not amused. The crosstown rivals were papering the house with freebies, and those fans who did show up to watch his team’s debut were not the kind of crowd he had anticipated. “I’m surprised Lamar Hunt didn’t have a day where ice throwers at our games got in free to see the Texans,” he complained. “About the only thing left for them to do is open the gates and forget about tickets.”
The Cowboys were taking the high road. “We think that when the product is worth having, it should be paid for.”
While the Cowboys could have learned a few promotional tricks from the Texans, there were some things the Cowboys did better, Schramm liked to point out, such as playing pro teams fans had actually heard of
But when it came to football and sports in general, Lamar out-innovated Clint. He had started not only a team from scratch but an entire league. Backing up his motivation was the five-year agreement the new league had with the ABC television network. Unlike the NFL, which allowed teams to cut their own broadcasting deals, the ABC arrangement was for the whole league, guaranteeing each franchise $200,000 and helping the bottom line.
On the field, the AFL brought color to a black-and-white game, introducing the two-point conversion after touchdown and free substitution; “the most exciting rules in the game—pro, college, or high school,” according to the Dallas Morning News’s Charles Burton.
Player name identification on uniforms, shared gate receipts and television rights, and ABC’s utilization of moving cameras on the field for televised games, as well as fixed cameras positioned at midfield, like the NFL, gave the AFL a whole other look. Team rosters featuring far more African Americans, who played in many different positions, achieved the same effect internally.
But no matter what Lamar Hunt and his new league did, it was never enough, not with two teams competing for fans in a one-team market. After Hunt wooed sportswriters assigned to cover the Texans with a trip to Las Vegas, Clint Jr. responded by flying all the scribes covering the Cowboys to Spanish Cay, his private island in the Bahamas, where he plied them with Coca-Congas, a concoction of coconut milk, rum, and lime juice.
Despite his competitive nature, Hunt wasn’t entirely comfortable about the split in Dallas that the two teams had created. The Lions Club backed the Texans. The more powerful Salesmanship Club was behind the Cowboys. When Hunt threw a party for his first wife’s dentist at Lamar’s brick, middle-class home, one of the invited guests was Don McIlhenny, who had played with Lamar at SMU and then with the Green Bay Packers before being added to the Cowboys roster. Lamar cornered McIlhenny as he was leaving the party.
“Don, I hope you’re not mad at me,” he said.
“For what?” McIlhenny inquired.
“For starting this new league,” Hunt replied.
“I’m not mad at you. I think it’s great,” McIlhenny told him.
“Swell!” Lamar said, brightening visibly. “Then come over again sometime and we’ll shoot some baskets.”
DURING THE OCTOBER 9 game against the Redskins at Griffith Stadium in Washington, Eddie LeBaron, the Cowboys’ diminutive quarterback, who was known to his teammates as the Squirrel, threw the shortest touchdown pass ever, a two-inch pass to Dick Bielski to cut the ’Skins lead to 19–14 before Washington went on to a 26–14 win, their first of the season. Two weeks later, after passing his bar exam, LeBaron was admitted to the bar in the state of Texas and proceeded to join the prestigious Wynne, McKenzie, Jaffe, and Tinsley law firm.
LeBaron was clearly a leader, no matter his physical stature. A Marine and a Korean War hero, as well as a Pro Bowl quarterback, he was just small, that’s all. “The team had a play called the Poor Little Bastard play, when all the team would dog pile on him,” marveled the sportswriter Gary Cartwright. But from a receiver’s or a defender’s perspective, he was the one who accurately tossed the ball above and beyond the mash-up of big men pushing and shoving, more often than not hitting his target.
Despite the talents of the Little General and veterans such as Jerry Tubbs and Frank Clarke, the team had little to sell. The Cowboys lost every game at home. They looked horrible and played worse. The only good news was that precious few witnessed the debacles. Twelve thousand tickets had been sold for the San Francisco 49ers game at the Cotton Bowl, but a cold November rain kept most of the crowd away. Those who did show completely disappeared from the view of the press box when they took shelter under the upper deck during a downpour.
The season’s one highlight came on a cold December day at New York’s Yankee Stadium in the next to the last game. L. G. (Long Gone) Dupre caught two LeBaron touchdown passes and ran for another, leading the Cowboys to a 31–31 tie with Tom Landry’s old team. University of Texas Coach Darrell Royal compared tie games to “kissing your sister,” but this one felt like a victory to the Cowboys and to New York fans, who responded by showering the field with whiskey and beer bottles.
When the Cowboys arrived back in Dallas, two fans were waiting at Love Field holding a sign that read NICE GOING, COWBOYS.
The coach was perhaps the most valuable player of that first season, simply for organizing the team and recruiting three assistants—Babe Dimancheff, Brad Ecklund, and Tom Dahms—to oversee the backfield, offensive line, and defensive line, respectively. At the very least, Landry cut a dashing figure on the sidelines, dressed impeccably in coat, tie, and a snazzy fedora that his wife had picked out for him. His sartorial splendor, in marked contrast to most coaches’ outfits, was a tip of the hat to Landry’s college coach Blair Cherry, who believed coaches should appear businesslike and professional in public.
THE PRO FOOTBALL PLAYERS themselves weren’t celebrities around Dallas. Singer Trini Lopez was a star, not players with stars on their helmets. TV kiddie-show hosts Mr. Peppermint, Officer Friendly, and Icky Twerp, and disc jockeys Jimmy Rabbit and the Weird Beard, were better known. But the quarterbacks carried just enough name recognition to get involved in the presidential campaign of Republican Richard M. Nixon, who was running against John F. Kennedy. Don Meredith, the more familiar face owing to his career at SMU, chaired the Dallas County Athletes for Nixon. Eddie LeBaron, a well-connected former resident of DC, was part of Nixon’s national committee.
Dallas fans took sides, save for a few who were so smitten with football of any sort that they attended home games of both teams. Affluent North Dallas tended to go with Clint’s team because of his family connections. South Dallas tilted toward the Texans, who featured Lincoln High running back Abner Haynes.
Mike Rhyner’s father chose the Texans for his family in blue-collar Oak Cliff. “The first thing I remember really being grabbed by [on television] was the ’58 [National Football League] championship game between the Colts and the Giants,” Mike said.
“[My father’s] explanation why we were going to be Texans fans and not Cowboys fans had more to do with the entrepreneurial spirit of Lamar Hunt: ‘Look, this guy has been trying to get into the NFL for years and years and they never would let him and so finally he had enough and went out and started his own league. When he did that the NFL said no, no, no, wait, wait, wait and tried to talk him into coming on board with them. But by then he had his thing up and running so they said okay you’re going to do that, we’re going to put a team there of our own.’ All that kind of went over the head of a ten-year-old kid. I didn’t care. All I knew is that we had two football teams and that if my dad said we were going to support the Dallas Texans, that was fine with me.”
The teams had fans—the Texans estimated average attendance of 24,500 led the AFL—but they lost about what the Cowboys did that first year: $700,000. H. L. Hunt was asked about his son Lamar dropping a million dollars a year on his football team. He replied, “At that rate, the boy only has 123 years to go.”
Blackie Sherrod, the most prosaic of Dallas’s sportswriters, wishfully envisioned a silver lining in the two Dallas teams if they’d only quit feuding. “Should the Doves of Peace suddenly descend upon us and olive branches flutter all around and Peace and Goodwill might become the uniform of the day, then us tenderfeet might have a right dandy pro football team in the city limits,” he wrote after that first season. “That is, if you could lump the Cowboys and the Texans in the same pot and pick out the choicest chunks.”
Curtis Sanford, the Dallas sports promoter who founded the Cotton Bowl Classic, proposed something equally tasty: a showdown between the two local pro teams with Texas-death-match wrestling rules—$100,000 to the winner; the loser leaves town. Lamar Hunt was all for it. “It doesn’t sound like a bad idea at all. It would solve a lot of problems,” he said. “Utterly preposterous, it’s simply impossible,” Bedford Wynne protested. Clint Murchison wisecracked that the winner should be able to leave town and the loser had to stay.
Tex Schramm preferred looking at the bigger competition. “The real problem is to put on an attraction of sufficient interest to cause people to go to the inconvenience of attending in person,” he wisely observed. “Our competition comes from air-conditioning, swimming pools, television, barbecue pits, and other attractions that might keep fans at home.”
Reality Bites, the Greek Chorus Wails, and a Star Is Born
WHEN THE SEASON ENDED, most of the players returned to the cities they’d come from and to their main jobs. Playing pro football for a living was a marginal proposition for all but a handful of players: salaries averaged well under ten thousand dollars.
Tom Landry went back to the drawing board: watching film, studying playbooks, developing more schematics with his assistants. Tex Schramm gave the sportswriters at the newspapers plenty to write about and kept the radio and television broadcasters talking about the Cowboys. Gil Brandt worked his network of scouts across the nation to figure out whom to draft.
Meanwhile, Clint Murchison Jr., along with his older sibling, John Dabney, was making deals and redefining the Texas millionaire as “more Brooks Brothers than illiterate millionaires in ten gallon hats,” according to Time magazine. The brothers were featured on the cover of the June 16, 1961, issue for a story headlined “Making Money Work: A Texas Technique.” The coverage focused on their hostile takeover of the Allegheny Corporation, a prominent New York holding company whose businesses included New York Central, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and Investors Diversified Services, one of the world’s largest mutual funds. The Murchisons had been kicked off the board of IDS the previous year, and, offended, they took on noted Wall Street financier Allan Kirby in a proxy fight over the acquisition, ultimately ousting Kirby.
The Murchison brothers were portrayed as wheeler-dealers who flew their own planes, used telephones with scrambling devices to prevent their conversations from being wiretapped, and borrowed money to grow their enterprises, which consisted of more than a hundred companies.
They had taken to heart Clint Sr.’s advice: “Money is like manure. If you spread it around, it does a lot of good. But if you pile it up in one place, it stinks like hell.”
After Clint purchased Spanish Cay, an island in the Bahamas (emulating his father, who had once owned Matagorda Island, off the Texas coast), sidekick Bob Thompson mentioned Junior’s island purchase to Senior, who groused, “Next thing the sumbitch will want is a string of racehorses and mistresses.” When Thompson related the old man’s reaction to Clint Jr., the son called the father on the telephone and asked, “Do you know where I can get a string of racehorses?”
It was not a wholly facetious question. The Murchison brothers counted a Vail Mountain ski lodge, the Palm Springs Racquet Club, and the Daytona Speedway among their numerous holdings.
John Dabney was the more conservative and cautious of the two and tended to investigate potential deals with a thoroughness that bordered on nitpicking. Clint worked more impulsively and enjoyed taking on projects that would be fun as well as profitable. One of C.W. Jr.’s more storied enterprises was an experimental methane-gas processing plant in Oklahoma, which was lovingly hyped as the Caloric Reclamation Anaerobic Process, or CRAP.
Clint even invested in a venture with Dallas broadcasting entrepreneur Gordon McLendon. McLendon consistently exceeded his own exploits, hatching outrageous promotions that included arranging treasure hunts, having a girl in a bikini perch on a billboard along Central Expressway, and putting a man atop a flagpole to draw attention to his station. Now McLendon created a floating commercial radio station off the coast of Sweden called Radio Nord to thwart the restrictive broadcast laws of Sweden and bring to Europe the popular Top 40 sound that McLendon had developed in Dallas.
Radio Nord’s studios were on board the Bon Jour, a trawler anchored in the Stockholm archipelago, which was beyond the jurisdiction of Swedish broadcasting regulators. Clint’s associate Bob Thompson fronted the venture, and Jack S. Kotschack, a Finnish-Swedish entrepreneur, managed the station. Murchison and McLendon remained silent partners.
Radio Nord went on the air on March 8, 1961, broadcasting in Swedish and presenting a McLendon-inspired mix of music, news, contests, and disc jockey banter with commercials peppered in between. McLendon’s formula proved so appealing, several nations, including Sweden, passed laws to ban it. The new laws cramped the station’s broadcasts effectively enough that Radio Nord had to go off the air sixteen months later.
The Bon Jour was later renamed Mi Amigo and was anchored off the coast of southern England, where the onboard radio station became Radio Atlanta, named for McLendon’s home town of Atlanta, Texas. The offshore station eventually became the southern station of Radio Caroline, the most popular pirate radio station ever.
In 1964 McLendon shared his offshore broadcasting experience with Eastland, Texas, oilman Don Pierce, who created a mirror of McLendon’s radio station on a pirate ship off the coast of England that was going to be called Radio KLIF London but that went on the air instead as Radio London.
Murk (as C.W. Jr. was known) didn’t make much on the Radio Nord deal, and profit was always his first priority, but he did help give birth to pirate radio. Tweaking the noses of the powerful was almost as much fun as making money. Besides, his friendship with McLendon earned invitations to wild parties at McLendon’s Cielo Ranch, near Lake Dallas, where guests included movie star and Western icon John Wayne and a bevy of pretty women.
Like McLendon, Clint was an outsider in Dallas, although not as much as the Hunts were. All three families had accumulated immense wealth, moved in similar circles, and attended the same debutante balls and society fund-raisers as the rest of the Dallas elite, but neither the Murchisons nor the Hunts nor the McLendons were regarded as civic-minded enough to be invited to join the powerful Dallas Citizens Council.
For all his wheeling and dealing, C.W. Jr. had most of his fun being around the football team and running with his Rover Boys, as sportswriter Blackie Sherrod called Clint’s associates Bedford Wynne, Bob Thompson, Fritz Hawn, George Owen, Mitch Lewis, Steve Schneider, and other assorted friends. Sherrod would have known. One night, he came home to find a goat tied to the stair railing of his apartment with an attached note from Clint: You got my goat with what you wrote, so am delivering the same.
Sherrod was hardly the only one surprised by an animal. When J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, came to Dallas for a quiet stay at Bob Thompson’s, he was greeted by a jackass tied to the stairwell inside Thompson’s front door.
Thompson, who referred to Clint as Little Murchison, and Mitch Lewis loved to barhop with Clint in New York, jumping from Toots Shor’s to the 21 Club and back over the course of a well-spent evening. In Dallas, the whole city was fair game.
“The Rover Boys would all show up at Bud [Shrake]’s apartment whenever he threw a party,” Gary Cartwright said. More often than not, Clint arrived with a woman who was not his wife. The press guys did not report his indiscretions. They knew Clint liked Bud and his girlfriend at the time, a stripper named Jada who worked for Jack Ruby.
Bob Thompson was Clint’s pranking target as well as his collaborator. After Bob sent Clint numerous postcards from Hawaii, where he was relaxing on a friend’s yacht during one particularly torrid Texas summer, Clint hired workers to tear down the wall in Thompson’s garden, bring in a twenty-four-foot cabin cruiser, and place it in Thompson’s swimming pool; Clint attached a sign that read JUST SO YOU WON’T MISS YOUR BOAT.
Clint sent the bills for the workers and the wall’s teardown and restoration to Thompson.
Turnabout was fair play; Clint’s friends hatched a plan. A few days before Christmas, while the Murchisons were entertaining at home, the friends had a large gift-wrapped box delivered. The box was so big it took two people to carry it in. When it was plopped down in front of Clint, a small voice inside the box pleaded, “Just don’t give him a knife.” Clint pulled the ribbon and out popped Lamar Hunt. Hunt may have been a pain in the ass as well as the pocketbook, as far as Clint Murchison was concerned, but theirs was a friendly sparring.
Murk was not quite so magnanimous toward George Preston Marshall. Clint and his Washington buddies set their sights on the Redskins owner, coming up with the Chicken Club, a conspiracy hatched among Murchison, Thompson, Tom Webb, and Dr. Joe Bailey, who was Clint Murchison Sr.’s heart surgeon and the Cowboys’ cardiologist. They all took pleasure in one-upping one another, doing whatever they could to get laughs.
The night before the Redskins’ December 1961 home game against Dallas, the Chicken Clubbers snuck into the stadium and spread ten pounds of chicken feed on the field. The plan was to disrupt George Preston Marshall’s annual halftime Christmas extravaganza featuring Santa Claus in a wheeled sled towed by Alaskan huskies. When Santa arrived, seventy-six crated chickens that Murchison’s Chicken Clubbers had smuggled into the bowels of the stadium would be released onto the field. As “Jingle Bells” played, the chickens would eat the feed and hopefully attract the attention of the huskies, who would go after them. All the chickens were white save for one black one, a subtle dig at Marshall, whose team was the only one in the league without black players.
The scheme was foiled when Redskins general manager Dick McCann discovered the chickens in the dugout before they could be released and refused the hundred-dollar bribe offered him by the two young men with Dallas field passes who were guarding the chickens.
Marshall complained to the commissioner’s office about the “childish and immature” stunt, telling Rozelle, “I don’t know anyone that can stop it but you.” The tomfoolery ceased, except for anonymous calls to Marshall at all hours for the next several months. Whenever Marshall answered, the only sound he heard on the other end of the line was a clucking chicken.
Chastened but defiant, the Chicken Club returned for another appearance in DC the following season: while “Hail to the Redskins” played, four banners that each read CHICKENS were simultaneously unfurled from the upper decks, and two men dressed in chicken suits ran onto the field, released a live chicken, and threw plastic eggs until they were apprehended by security.
Murk’s horsing around didn’t stop at the stadium. Tom Webb and company arranged for Bob Thompson’s prize Tennessee walker to be led through Duke Zeibert’s restaurant to win a bet with Murchison.
Murchison enjoyed pranking other teams too. For the Cowboys’ first game in Chicago, Murchison staged a photo shoot with a live bear being “shot” by a cowboy. Afterward, Clint’s crew took the bear to his penthouse suite and fed the animal alcohol. At an official function in New York, Clint placed a Cowboys sticker on Mayor Wagner’s portrait, right on the mayor’s lapel. New York restaurateur Toots Shor managed to score Murchison a few extra tickets to a Giants-Cowboys game at Yankee Stadium, and Murchison returned the favor when Shor asked for box seats to a Giants-Cowboys game in Dallas: he mailed him two entire sections’ worth of tickets for the game at the Cotton Bowl, where there was always plenty of room, since the team was averaging 21,000 spectators per game at home in 1961.
Murchison wasn’t the only one in on the joke. “A guy come in one day at the dealership and asked if I’d seen the car parked downtown with two Cowboys tickets laying on top of the dash,” said Eddie Stone, who worked for auto dealer W. O. Bankston. “He said somebody broke the windshield and left two more Cowboys tickets on the dash.”
OF COURSE, the real game was on the field, and the highlights of an otherwise expectedly miserable 4-9-1 season in 1961 were the play of Don Perkins, the other original Cowboy besides Don Meredith, and first-round draft pick Bob Lilly from TCU, who had been installed at defensive end for his pass-rushing skills and his speed, despite his six-foot-five, 260-pound interior-lineman size. Lilly had been wooed by both leagues but was swayed by the Cowboys’ Gil Brandt. On one of his first meetings with the draft pick, Brandt pulled out a hundred-dollar bill and stuck it in Lilly’s pocket, telling him, “Go have some fun.” After Lilly signed with Dallas, Brandt sidled up to Lilly. He wanted his hundred dollars back. Lilly told him to go to hell.
Don Perkins, an African American, had grown up in Waterloo, Iowa, where he was student-body president and where he led his high school football team to an undefeated season and the state’s eleven-man championship his final year. He excelled at the University of New Mexico, where he set several rushing records over the course of the 1957, 1958, and 1959 seasons and led the nation in kickoff returns his senior year.
Perkins had signed a personal-services contract with Clint Murchison in 1959 for $10,000 a year with a $1,500 signing bonus. But he broke his fifth metatarsal during training camp and sat out the 1960 season. Once he finally did take the field for the Cowboys, he recorded the first 100-yard rushing game for the team, averaged 4.1 yards per carry, and earned NFL Rookie of the Year honors.
Don Perkins received less than a hero’s welcome when he first arrived in Dallas. He landed at Love Field and hailed a cab to take him to his temporary residence. The cabdriver informed him he’d flagged down the wrong cab. It was against the law for a white cabdriver to drive a black fare from the airport. So Perkins waited for a colored cab, which took him to his new home in South Dallas—Oak Cliff, to be exact, one part of Dallas where African Americans could live, according to the segregation laws.
After the 1960 college all-star game, which Perkins had been planning to play in until he broke his foot, Gil Brandt took Meredith and Perkins back to Dallas and offered to treat them to dinner at the Highland Park Cafeteria. But while standing in line, Perkins was informed by management that he couldn’t eat at the cafeteria. It was for white people only.
Perkins was no stranger to the segregated South. His father had eventually settled in Waterloo, Iowa, after leaving his hometown of Sterrett, twenty-five miles south of Dallas. He’d gotten into a fight with a white boy, and, fearing jail or even lynching, the elder Perkins had escaped to Canada; he drifted down to Iowa in search of work once he felt it was safe to return to the United States.
COMING TO DALLAS WAS like going home in many ways. Perkins had fond memories of summer trips to Texas to see kinfolk when he was growing up. But despite the familiarity, he was entering a place like none he’d known before. Dallas itself was the most racially divided city he’d ever lived in, with laws to back that up.
It was not easy that first season, the second season, or in subsequent years. At the end of every season, Perkins inevitably hightailed it back to Albuquerque, where his football stardom at UNM guaranteed him a job better than driving trucks, which was the best offer he could get in Dallas.
When Perkins joined the Cowboys, the league’s unspoken policy of stacking limited the number of blacks on a team’s roster, and certain positions, such as middle linebacker and quarterback, were considered off-limits for black players. The Cowboys would be different. When Tex Schramm was GM of the LA Rams, the football club had more players of color than any NFL franchise, and he prided himself on remaining color-blind with the Cowboys.
The Cowboys were one of the first nongovernment organizations in Dallas in which blacks and whites worked alongside each other, in concert with each other, toward a common goal. Blacks roomed with blacks, and whites roomed with whites, but when it came to the game, race vanished. They were all Cowboys.
Schramm quietly arranged for the Ramada Inn by Love Field to drop its all-white policy for visiting NFL teams, which had been bussing their black players to a run-down colored hotel in Fort Worth.
SINCE THE TWO DALLAS teams refused to play each other, one of the few competitions beyond ticket sales was in the broadcast booth. Charles Boland, who had called the NFL Dallas Texans games in 1952, did the play-by-play for the Cowboys on their new flagship radio station, KLIF, assisted by former SMU coach Bill Meek.
Frank Glieber became the voice of the Cowboys on television, replacing Lindsey Nelson, on CBS, which for the first time secured a contract with the entire NFL rather than individual teams. Glieber also hosted four different Cowboys shows on radio and television for KRLD.
In an interview with the Dallas Times Herald, Murchison was asked how long two pro teams could survive in Dallas. “As long as the Texans are here, there will be two teams,” he replied. He wisecracked through the Q and A, and in response to a question about whether he would retain ownership of the team if the team moved, he answered, “Have you stopped beating your wife?”
Lamar Strikes Back
ONE WAY TO ATTRACT fans and beat the competition was to put a better product on the field. The Cowboys continued trying to improve their roster by drafting Guy “Sonny” Gibbs, the six-foot-seven quarterback from the TCU Horned Frogs in Fort Worth, in the first round and defensive end George Andrie in the sixth round, although Andrie’s school, Marquette University, had dropped football in his senior year.
Excerpted from The Dallas Cowboys by Joe Nick Patoski Copyright © 2012 by Joe Nick Patoski. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents
Introduction: Everything's Bigger in Texas 3
The Boy Who Loved Football 13
The Other Son of an Oil Baron Who Loved Football 26
The Great Dallas Football Pissing Match 31
Two Teams, One Town 49
Reality Bites, the Greek Chorus Wails, and a Star Is Born 81
Lamar Strikes Back 90
Loser Leaves Town 94
From the Darkness, Light 109
New Look, New Reasons to Hope 123
Peace and War 138
Cowboys Matter 155
Dandy Flambé, or Next Year's Champions Again 181
Disappointment, Heartache, and Another Roll of the Dice 200
Two Super Bowls, Two Quarterbacks, and Millions of True Believers 221
This Year's Champions in the Finest Football Facility in the World 248
Stars for Sale 282
The Organization Man 305
How Do You Spell Cowboys? M-O-N-E-Y 316
Faith in Another Super Bowl 329
Born Again on America's Two Hundredth Birthday with the Most Beautiful Girls in Texas 355
Doubt and Deliverance 370
D Is for Dynasty 391
America's Most Loved, Most Hated, Most Watched 408
Where Do We Go from Here? 430
The Decline of the First Regime 439
Climbing Back to the Mountaintop 443
Club for Sale 453
The Fall 470
No Light at the End of the Tunnel 483
Regime Change 489
Righting the Ship 525
A Turnaround for the Ages 536
Why Not Another? 558
Breaking Up Is Hard to Do 567
The Smell of Success 588
Inhaling While High 604
The Decline of the Second Regime 616
Darkness Falls 620
Aught for the Aughties 625
Trolling for Tuna 634
Troubled Men 651
Restoration in a New House 664
D and Mr. Jones 679
The Way We Were 688
The Way We Are 706
The Cowboys and Dallas 712