SPOILIN’ THE BROTH
My first look at Don Meredith was when he was a senior basketball star at Mount Vernon High School and played in a UIL regional tournament on the North Texas State College (now UNT) campus in 1956.
I was a sophomore journalism major and word spread through the men’s dorms, “The Quadrangle,” that Mount Vernon would be the team to watch in the tournament. At least, word spread to all us sports nuts.
It turned out to be quite a show. Not many articles last week on Dandy Don’s death noted that he turned down a basketball scholarship to the University of Texas to play football closer to home at SMU.
Meredith played the post at Mount Vernon. The pre-game warmup drills showcased his deft ball-handling skills. And during the game, he could post up with the best of them or come out to the high post and wear out the nets with a soft shooting touch.
Despite his lack of height, Lebaron was an NFL veteran and was spending the twilight of his career with the expansion Cowboys. He had to roll out a lot because he couldn’t see over the line.
Meredith didn’t have that problem and it was obvious he was the QB of the future for the new franchise. By training camp 1963, Meredith had the job.
The Cowboys had few great players to start with and Meredith took a beating. During his nine-year career, he played with a broken nose, which is not so surprising, but also with broken ribs and with a fractured collarbone.
Now if you’ve ever had broken ribs, you know it’s murder to cough or sneeze, much less get pounded by blitzing NFL linebackers. And you cannot brace or pad a broken collarbone enough to make it comfortable. Meredith played and endured.
From his rookie 1960 season through his last, the 1968 season, he passed for 17,199 yards and 135 touchdowns. He did very much of that hurting.
In 1966, he was NFL Player of the Year after throwing for 24 touchdowns and 2,805 yards. Bullet Bob Hayes, the former Olympic sprinter drafted by the Cowboys, was his go-to guy and 1966 was the Cowboys’ first winning season. Meredith made his first of two trips to the Pro Bowl that year.
Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers won the first two Super Bowls after the AFL and NFL merged. But the Packers had to beat Dallas in the NFC championship game to get to those Super Bowls. And both of those games were close. Who will ever forget the minus-13-degree “Ice Bowl?”
Meredith, who retired at age 31 in 1969, joined the “Monday Night Football” booth in 1970 where his quick, folksy wit captivated viewers. Everyone loved the times he cleverly deflated statistic-quoting, arrogant Howard Cosell, who didn’t know Xs and Os. “Howard, you never played this game,” Dandy would tell him.
Meredith’s renditions of Willie Nelson’s “Turn Out the Lights, the Party’s Over” was classic when games were out of reach. In my opinion, MNF has never had a booth crew with the great chemistry that Meredith, Cosell and Frank Gifford had.
I’ll never forget one Monday night when the Houston Oilers were getting pounded, the Astrodome crowd had thinned, and the camera zeroed in on an Oiler fan sitting alone, dejected. When the fan realized he was on camera, he slowly gave the middle-finger salute.
“Well,” said Don, “there’s one Houston fan who still thinks his team is number one.”