REMEMBERING THE COWBOYS

in Commentary

Often forgotten in the shadow of the Dallas Cowboy franchise known as “America’s Team,” Dallas also fielded two other professionals teams in the NFL & AFL

Growing up in Dallas in the 1940s and 1950s was a memorable time for me. My dad took me to several Dallas Eagles baseball games in the Texas League at the old Burnett Field, and from time to time we’d go to major league exhibition games there. I remember when the Cleveland Indians and the New York Giants came to Burnett Field, and I watched a pitching duel between Bob Feller of the Cleveland Indians and Larry Jenson of the New York Giants.

But there was NO professional football in Texas. Doak Walker and Kyle Rote at SMU excited Dallas fans in the late 1940s, but there was still no professional football. Professional football didn’t arrive in Dallas until Giles and Connell Miller bought and delivered a National Football League (NFL) franchise to Dallas in 1952. Dallas finally had a football team…the Dallas Texans.

The team congealed around head coach Jimmy Phelan, who had a difficult task ahead of him. Money was scarce, facilities were not there, and he desperately needed players. They held their first football camp at Schreiner Institute in Kerrville. At that time, there were only 10 professional teams in the NFL, and the Dallas Texans became the 11th NFL team.

The organization enlisted and signed players where they could and they took advantage of the NFL expansion draft. As it turned out, they had a 1-11 season, and it did not improve much after that. They played their games at the Cotton Bowl and practiced at the Dal-High stadium. Things didn’t go well for the Dallas Texans.

The Dallas franchise was soon moved by the NFL when the players and assets were purchased by Carroll Rosenbloom in 1953, and he transferred the team to Baltimore, Maryland where they were renamed the Baltimore Colts. Gino Marchetti and Art Donovan of the old Dallas Texans would become NFL Hall of Fame players after their playing careers ended.

Enter Clint Murchison, Jr., the man who brought a full-fledged NFL football team to Dallas in 1960. Murchison’s team struggled from the beginning, but survived and later became the most valuable sports franchise in the history of sports. Murchison, a successful businessman and oilman with a vision, hired sports executive Tex Schramm as the President and General Manager of the Cowboys. He then hired the man who made the Cowboys “click.”

Tom Landry was a successful college and professional football player, coach and student of the game. Landry was the personification of discipline and perfection. He was a winner. The Cowboy organization soon “sprouted wings” and grew as Landry filled his first coaching staff.

Tex Schramm and Landry brought Gil Brandt on board as Director of Player Personnel. Harry Buffington, former OSU Coach and Cowboy scout, told me that Gil Brandt was the first one in the NFL to fully computerize the scouting system for the Dallas Cowboys. Other teams soon followed. Gil Brandt was an innovator, as was Schramm.

Tex Schramm is credited with bringing instant replay into the game. He, along with Brandt, was also instrumental in developing the scouting combine used to observe and rate potential football players before the NFL draft. It was also his idea to have cheerleaders at the games.

The Cowboys’ first practice facility was on North Central Expresswaym, and their games were played at the Cotton Bowl. Murchison’s Cowboys arrived in Dallas with a little more “pomp and circumstance” than the Dallas Texan team in 1952. Dallas was hungry for an NFL football team, and they were ready, willing and able to support a Dallas NFL team.

But there was a problem. Lamar Hunt was building an American Football League (AFL) team in Dallas at the same time. The new Dallas Texans and the Houston Oilers were two of the orignal AFL teams in Texas. Dallas had been without a football team for many years, and now they had two professional teams vying to survive. We know and are aware of Lamar Hunt and Hank Stram’s success, and that they won the first AFL playoff game in Houston in 1962. And then Lamar Hunt moved his franchise to Kansas City. The Kansas City Chiefs is also another interesting history.

Landry struggled through the first few years, as most new teams do. The first Cowboy quarterback was Eddie LeBaron of College of the Pacific and the Washington Redskins. LeBaron was backed up by rookie draftee Don Meredith of SMU. Dallas drafted and signed Bob Lilly of TCU along with a few other promising young players. Their first season was a long and painful 0-11-1 ordeal, but things would soon rebound and move forward. And move forward they did.

On the sidelines, Landry looked more like a businessman rather than a football coach. But every Sunday, fans looked forward to Landry’s hat, business suit and stern face. Things never stay the same, and time doesn’t stand still. Clint Murchison sold the franchise to Bum Bright in 1984, and Landry survived that change for five years until Bright sold the team to Jerry Jones in 1989.

Of course, that last change of ownership disappointed and angered many Cowboy fans. But as I said earlier, time doesn’t stand still…things move ahead. Even after the change, we have seen several divisional championships, three Super Bowl appearances and wins over the years.

I first questioned myself as to why I write this piece, but I hope it will serve its purpose by telling the early history of professional football in Dallas. I’m sure there are many Dallas Cowboy fans that probably bleed blue, and would rather have a colonoscopy than miss a Cowboy football game, and I hope they enjoy this short early history.

By the way, I still miss Tom Landry — the man in the hat.

Photos courtesy of DALLAS COWBOYS FOOTBALL CLUB & NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE ARCHIVES

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