Monday, December 6, 2010
My favourite Cowboy....
Legendary Cowboys, SMU quarterback Don Meredith dies
09:36 AM CST on Monday, December 6, 2010
Meredith died at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, a hospital spokesman confirmed this morning. The Meredith family's attorney, Lisa Fine Moses, said his wife, Susan, and daughter Mary were at his side.
Meredith had battled emphysema in recent years and suffered a minor stroke in 2004.
He was the only living Cowboys Ring of Honor member unable to attend the franchise's September 2009 inaugural game at Cowboys Stadium.
Meredith was the original Dallas Cowboy, signing a personal services contract on Nov. 28, 1959, two months before the franchise officially gained admittance into the NFL.
Hailing from Mount Vernon in East Texas, the quarterback nicknamed "Dandy Don" had the unique distinction of playing all of his home high school, college and professional football games within 100 miles of Dallas.
"I'm very thankful," said Meredith, when a reporter from The News visited him in Santa Fe last October for a profile commemorating the 50th anniversary of his signing with the Cowboys. "I'm very thankful about where I'm from and who I am."
He had given few interviews since leaving the Monday Night Football booth in 1984, preferring to remain largely out of the public eye while residing in Santa Fe with Susan, to whom he was married for 38 years.
Meredith was a two-time All-American at SMU and played for the Cowboys from 1960 to 1968. He led the Cowboys to the 1966 and 1967 NFL title games, both defeats to the Green Bay Packers, but he abruptly retired from pro football at age 31.
Already famous in his native Texas, he quickly became a national celebrity through his work on Monday Night Football, starting in 1970. Millions tuned in each week to hear Meredith's quick wit, homespun stories and needling of intellectual booth-mate Howard Cosell.
And, famously, Meredith would croon "The Party's Over" to viewers when he determined that the game was out of reach.
Of his Cowboys career, Meredith once mused, "I don't know how badly I'd feel if I wasn't remembered at all."
Despite being the first quarterback to lead the Cowboys to a winning season, then the two NFL title game appearances, Meredith was often booed by fans who blamed him for not taking the franchise to the top.
"He took too much of the blame, and I think the press blamed him way too much," teammate Lee Roy Jordan said. "I'm disappointed that we – the coaching staff and all of us other players – didn't take a more responsible role in taking on some of that negative press."
Longtime Cowboys president and general manager Tex Schramm once said of Meredith: "He had a wonderful sense of humor and a very laid-back personality. But he was an absolutely intense competitor who could rally a team. He was very charismatic, maybe the most charismatic player we had."
Despite the championship losses to the Green Bay Packers of Vince Lombardi and the awful performance against the New York Giants that deprived him of the passing championship, Meredith is the football player turned folk hero. He was the country kid who left tiny Mount Vernon in East Texas for college stardom at SMU and a celebrated NFL career with the Cowboys, one commemorated with his induction into the team's Ring of Honor in 1976.
He was born and raised in Mount Vernon but moved to a spacious adobe house in Santa Fe in 1982.
"My home is in Santa Fe, but I'm gonna always be from Mount Vernon," he said. "I like that a lot."
Meredith played impressively in his important role in Cowboys history while setting records for a team and a town that much preferred championship rings. While Meredith never delivered the Cowboys to the Super Bowl, he performed for them at an incredibly high level as they inched their way from wretched ineptitude toward the championships of the future, enduring immense pressure and incredible punishment in the process. He probably suffered more cruelty and injuries than any other Cowboys player because of a lack of support.
But Meredith was also maybe the most charismatic quarterback the franchise has known, a man who occasionally broke into song while huddling on the field with his teammates.
His profile increased after he threw his last pass. Meredith teamed with timid Frank Gifford and acerbic Cosell as announcers for ABC's Monday Night Football and later was featured in television commercials for Lipton Tea.
Meredith was acclaimed as a broadcaster less for his insight than for his homespun sense of humor and penchant for country music, which prompted his immensely popular rendition of, "Turn out the lights, the party's over ..." whenever the outcome had been determined. He once headlined a country music show with Roger Miller and Willie Nelson.
But Meredith was the first legitimate quarterback the Cowboys had, a player of such importance that owner Clint Murchison signed him and halfback Don Perkins to personal services contracts before being awarded the NFL expansion team.
The situation was almost perfect for Meredith, who once stood with his father outside the Cotton Bowl as they visited the State Fair of Texas. Meredith remembered that as a prophetic occasion.
"I looked up at that big old thing," he said, "and just knew I was gonna play ball there someday."
That, in fact, happened many times. Meredith probably made more appearances there as a player through his 12 seasons than any other athlete. The Cowboys played their home games at the facility throughout Meredith's nine seasons. The team announced plans to relocate to the Texas Stadium site Meredith found so contemptible a few months before his abrupt and shocking retirement from professional football in 1968.
He was 31, in the prime of his career. His decision was announced during a news conference in which Meredith, who had finished second in passing in the NFL, simply explained he had lost the desire to compete.
Roger Staubach was released from the Navy the same day.
"He never reached his full potential because he was only 31 when he quit and that's when the team was becoming the great power," Schramm said. "It would have been very interesting competition between him and Roger Staubach."
While Meredith performed the difficult task of providing the Cowboys credibility, he never delivered the championships like Staubach. Meredith holds the record for the longest touchdown pass in Cowboys history, a 95-yarder to Bob Hayes against the Washington Redskins.
However, Meredith was also reknowned for his misdirected passes as well as two losses in NFL Championship Games to the Green Bay Packers. Meredith threw a key interception that prevented the Cowboys from tying the Packers and perhaps forcing overtime as they suffered a 34-27 loss in the 1966 NFL Championship Game that kept the team from Super Bowl I. Their opponents there would have been the Kansas City Chiefs , the former Dallas Texans of Lamar Hunt, who drafted Meredith but never offered a contract.
The Packers similarly prevailed over the Cowboys the next year, winning their Ice Bowl matchup, 21-17, as Bart Starr scored on a quarterback sneak in 13-below-zero temperatures at the 1967 NFL Championship Game.
If not for those defeats, Meredith possibly could have been the premier quarterback of his time, a reputation Starr, Johnny Unitas , Sonny Jurgenson and Joe Namath commanded. As it was, Meredith's inability to win a championship prompted vocal criticism of him sometimes during home games.
"Don brought a lot of that on himself," Landry once said.
The relationship between Meredith and Landry was odd. Landry found Meredith's glib attitude the source of annoyance. Meredith could never understand his coach's stoicism and serious nature. Meredith stubbornly resisted Landry's attempts to control and influence him. But Landry maintained a devout respect for Meredith and desperately wanted him to succeed.
"Don and I were never real close," Landry said. "Not that I (didn't) like Don; I liked him fine. But you'd have to say we were really on different wave lengths. In defense of Don, he came up with some very poor teams. Gosh, they were awful. He took some tremendous punishment. I never had a player take more punishment or show more courage than Don.
"But Don just didn't have the dedication to be the best quarterback in the business. He was very, very talented, maybe the most talented quarterback I've ever coached. Therefore, he could get by ... without tremendous dedication. He didn't have to do what he had to do to become great. And he could have been great."
Said Schramm: "He could be a practical joker. He could do just about anything in that huddle or on the practice field, and that drove the head coach crazy. But put him in a uniform, and he played like hell."
Once, Meredith threw a fourth-down touchdown pass to Dan Reeves against the Redskins, the score occuring one play after Washington linebacker Chris Hanburger delivered a thunderous direct shot that rendered Meredith semi-conscious.
When that was mentioned to Landry in the locker room afterward, the coach pretended to be unaware Meredith was unsteady.
"He kind of acts like that all the time," Landry said.
Meredith found the standards of acceptable performance set so impossibly high he sometimes misinterpreted the tenor of an interview with a reporter who approached after he had completed 12 of 14 passes.
Asked if he realized he had done so, Meredith shrugged almost apologetically. "Well," he said, "No one is perfect."
Meredith led the Cowboys past the Minnesota Vikings , 17-13, in the 1968 Playoff Bowl and won the most valuable player award without receiving a single vote from members of the Dallas-Fort Worth media in attendance.
Meredith once theorized he had simply played too long in Dallas to be appreciated. As a high school junior, Meredith, 16, scored a record 50 points in the Dr Pepper high school basketball tournament in Dallas.
His career with the Cowboys came after Meredith had been a two-time All-America quarterback at SMU. He chose the Mustangs after narrowly opting to turn down Bear Bryant's scholarship offer to attend Texas A&M.
"I told him I wanted to throw the ball, and he said, 'Son, if you can throw well enough to win games for us, we'll throw the ball all you please.' If he had been coaching anywhere but Texas A&M, I'd have gone with him."
Meredith chose SMU, where he began his career as an outside linebacker because the school had seven quarterbacks on its roster. But Meredith became the starter his sophomore season against Texas, threw two touchdown passes and ran for another score as the Mustangs prevailed. Meredith led the nation in passing that season as the key component in a rather undisciplined offensive system reliant on his abilities as a playmaker.
This is/was/and always will be my collecting white whale. I've wanted this card so bad for so long.... now even a little more so than before...