I thought it worth writing about the Legends of Dallas..or more accurately described as people who Dallasites looked up to as being proud they were living in Dallas. With this being the 50th Super Bowl Sunday I look back to when football was a true form of entertainment for the masses and not so messed up as it is today with more pomp than circumstances. This is not to say football was without its personalities. Dallas was not left out of that department.
To take things back to the beginning of the National Football League, I thought I would offer up one of Dallas’ pride, Dandy Don Meredith who passed away in January 2011. Follow is the complete article written by Brad Townsend for the Dallas Morning News.
Don Meredith, the original and perhaps most famous Dallas Cowboy, died Sunday evening in Santa Fe, N.M. He was 72.
News of Meredith’s death, following a brain hemorrhage, produced an outpouring of remembrance Monday from teammates, coaches and a generation of fans who saw him play, then later star as a Monday Night Football color analyst.
Though Meredith and his wife, Susan, lived in New Mexico and Palm Springs, Calif., the last four decades, “Dandy Don” Meredith was a Texas institution whose life was a veritable folk tale.
Hailing from Mount Vernon in East Texas, Meredith was a two-time All-American at SMU and literally the first Dallas Cowboy, signing a personal services contract on Nov. 28, 1959, before the franchise had a coach, other players or even a nickname.
“The contract read, ‘If we get a National Football League franchise, we’d like for you to play quarterback,’ ” Meredith chuckled in October 2009, when a News reporter visited Santa Fe for a profile commemorating the 50th anniversary of Meredith’s signing.
It was a rare interview. Once he left the Monday Night Football booth after the 1984 season, Meredith and his wife of 38 years retreated to Santa Fe’s tranquil solitude, a needed respite after his very public playing, broadcasting and acting careers.
Though media accounts during the past quarter-century portrayed him as reclusive, fans never forgot Meredith’s engaging wit and larger-than-life persona.
The Cowboys have had more acclaimed players, but none who transcended football and permeated popular culture to the degree Meredith did in the 1970s and ’80s. Between TV series, movie roles and Lipton Tea commercials, he guest-hosted The Tonight Show on July 30, 1975.
“God, he was such an outgoing person,” Cowboys teammate and fellow Ring of Honor member Lee Roy Jordan said Monday. “He just loved people and loved to entertain – whether he was playing football and in the huddle or on an airplane. He was the center of attention.”
Millions knew him as “Dandy Don,” or “the Irrepressible One,” as Monday Night Football boothmate and co-protagonist Howard Cosell introduced him to viewers.
But Meredith always reminded everyone that he was “Jeff and Hazel’s baby boy and Billy Jack’s little brother” from Mount Vernon, which had a population of 1,300 when Meredith was born there on April 10, 1938.
True to his school
During his 2009 sitdown with The News, Meredith wore his Mount Vernon class ring while occasionally belting country tunes, including “The Party’s Over,” the Willie Nelson song Meredith made famous by crooning it to Monday Night viewers when he deemed the game to be over.
“I’m very thankful,” he said in a reflective moment that day, retrieving a photo of his parents from a bookcase. “I’m very thankful about where I’m from and who I am.”
When word of Meredith’s death was posted on dallasnews.com Monday morning, readers posted condolences and memories. Fans from his generation all seem to have a favorite, vivid Meredith story.
Part of that can be attributed to the fact that Meredith grew up before area fans’ eyes. Mount Vernon is just 100 miles away, and Meredith played all of his home SMU and Cowboys games at the Cotton Bowl.
“Don Meredith was a Dallas Cowboys original,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said in a statement Monday. “His wit, charm and personality were matched only by his wonderful leadership, toughness and athletic skill.
“His persona defined the Cowboys of the 1960s and set the course for what the franchise became. Throughout 50 years of history, the Cowboys legacy has been built by dynamic and colorful personalities who could also compete at the highest level.
“No one fit that description better than Don Meredith.”
Since the franchise wasn’t allowed any draft picks before its inaugural season in 1960, defensive tackle Bob Lilly the following year became the first draft choice in team history. He was the first player inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor and is known as “Mr. Cowboy.”
Meredith was inducted into the Ring of Honor the year after Lilly, in 1976. Unlike Lilly, he had retired too soon – at age 31 in 1968 to be part of the franchise’s first Super Bowl title in 1971.
No, Meredith wasn’t Mr. Cowboy, but to legions of fans he’ll always personify the ’60s Cowboys – the painfully bad early years, the rise to prominence and the heartbreak of narrow NFL title-game losses to Green Bay in 1966 and 1967.
“I know I wasn’t ready for it,” Lilly said of Meredith’s death. “I knew he had [physical ailments], but I thought he’d be around a few more years. He was a wonderful, wonderful guy. We loved him and we’ll miss him.”
To this day, Cowboys teammates say they regret not accepting more of the fan and media blame that was mostly directed at Meredith when the ’60s Cowboys fell short.
Longtime local broadcaster and CBS commentator Verne Lundquist on Monday recalled interviewing Meredith for the Cowboys’ postgame radio show after a particularly unmerciful shower of boos on the quarterback, who earned 1966 NFL Player of the Year honors.
“I don’t get these people,” Lundquist recalled Meredith blurting. “Do they really think I’m not trying?”
Life in the spotlight
Eddie LeBaron had been the Cowboys’ first starting quarterback, in 1960. But once the Cowboys rose in prominence and expectation level, Meredith became the first in a five-decade line of Cowboys quarterbacks to learn how harsh the spotlight can be.
Tony Romo knows. At 30, he’s nearly the same age Meredith was when he retired. His ability to improvise has often been compared to Meredith’s.
“I was lucky enough in the small time I got to know him to see his personality and get some of his wisdom,” Romo said Monday. “He started with the Cowboys, the franchise guy. He’s going to be missed.”
Many of today’s fans aren’t old enough to remember Meredith’s playing days, or even his 12-year run on Monday Night Football. Far fewer recall when he made his first big splash in Dallas, at the 1954 Dr Pepper high school basketball tournament.
Meredith, a 16-year-old junior, scored a tournament-record 52 points against Adamson and totaled 164 points in five games as Mount Vernon toppled big-city Crozier Tech and Woodrow Wilson en route to the title.
“They called us ‘a little country team from Mount Vernon,’ ” Meredith’s coach, 84-year-old Wayne Pierce, recalled Monday. When Meredith graduated, Mount Vernon native Pierce came to Dallas to coach at Hillcrest and later served as Woodrow Wilson’s principal for 18 years.
“People used to come from all over the area to see him play. They’d pack the gym in time to see him warm up,” Pierce said. “He was something else. A great guy, great competitor. I was the luckiest guy in the world to get to coach someone like him.”
‘It’s been a good ‘un’
Jordan, Meredith’s road roommate for five seasons, said he and wife Biddie learned of Meredith’s death around midnight Monday, when Susan Meredith sent them an e-mail.
She had told them that day of Don’s brain hemorrhage, after which he went into a coma. Meredith family attorney Lisa Fine Moses said Susan and Meredith’s daughter, Mary, were at his side when he died at 7:14 p.m. Central time at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center.
Susan Meredith told The Associated Press there will be a private graveside ceremony, which had not been finalized, adding of her husband, “He was the best there was. … We lost a good one.”
In his rare interviews, Meredith usually mused, “I don’t know how badly I’d feel if I wasn’t remembered at all.”
At least he, along with his Cowboys teammates, lived to experience a rich life after a harrowing late ’60s road trip to New York.
Bob St. John, then The News’ Cowboys beat writer, recalled Monday that the ice-covered plane dipped so badly a stewardess ran screaming down the aisle.
“This is it, this is it!” Lilly shouted.
Linebacker D.D. Lewis, sitting next to a calm Meredith, said, “Damn it, Don, aren’t you scared?”
Meredith took another sip of his scotch.
“No, D.D,” he said. “It’s been a good ‘un.”
Staff writers Mark Norris, Matt Peterson, Kevin Sherrington, Barry Horn and Mark Dent contributed to this report.
They don’t make football players like Mr Meredith anymore. Dallas makes a lot of gentleman like Mr Meredith, fortunately they chose to loose their mines from playing Golf instead of getting it based out playing today’s professional football.