The Ultimate Game
All bicentennial celebrations should be called off; Super Bowl X said it all.
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My first image of Super Bowl X was a traffic jam around an airplane painted by either Captain America or the fourth-grade class at Eanes School. Someone told me to sit back with the niggers—two hundred years into the great experiment, nigger is a euphemism for player.
My second image was an overfed man with a television camera backing down the aisle of the Cowboys’ inbound flight taking film of Too Tall Jones. It was a tight fit for both men. Too Tall wore a maroon leather suit patched with yellows and browns, and a black cowboy hat. He was compelled to stoop as he moved from cabin to cabin. If this airship were full of Too Tall Joneses, as it will be someday, it would not fly.
The airplane that flew the Cowboys to Miami turned out to be one of two Braniff Bicentennial ships painted by Alexander Calder, “the father of kinetic art”: the other Calder plane would return the team to Dallas a week later richer and wiser. The name Braniff does not appear on the ship—only the giant signature CALDER. Streaks of red and blue on white suggested that we were ascending to the galaxy of Super Week aboard God’s own Comet.
At the Fort Lauderdale airport were more TV cameras, a band, fans cheering and waving banners, and a police motorcycle escort waiting to convoy the Cowboys to the Galt Ocean Mile Hotel where they would camp during the final week of preparation for Super Bowl X. Champagne, steak, and lobster salad had been served in flight, and now more champagne was waiting as the team fought its way into the lobby, paling in the glare of lights. The owner of the hotel welcomed the Cowboys and invited them for a cruise aboard his 96-foot yacht. He wore a blue cowboy hat with the white block letter D, as did room clerks, bellhops, waitresses, lifeguards, chambermaids, and everyone else. A woman seated at a table sold copies of Roger Staubach’s life story.
Staubach himself maneuvered among the hand-held microphones and poised note pads, saying yes he was glad to be here, and no he didn’t think his Pittsburgh counterpart, Terry Bradshaw, was all that dumb. In this most overcovered of all sporting events, Staubach would be the most overcovered Dallas Cowboy, a task he accepted with grace and skill.
Lugging a computer printout thick as the Pittsburgh telephone book, Tom Landry signed two autographs for every one yard of lobby captured. Alicia Landry, his wife for 26 years, clung fearfully to a backgammon set. “I brought it along so that Tom can get his mind off the game for a few minutes,” Alicia told a woman gossip columnist in a mink-trimmed cowboy hat. “He always beats me.” This was Alicia’s birthday—she didn’t know it yet, but her husband had wired ahead and ordered a dozen long-stem roses for their $95-a-day suite at the Galt.
Texas E. Schramm, the Cowboys’ president and the man who put together much of what was to happen this week, shook hands with a couple from New Jersey who told him they had been faithful Dallas Cowboys followers since 1966. Schramm was pleased but not surprised. Even before they became the Cinderella team of Super Bowl X, the Cowboys were probably the most popular team in the NFL—at least among the masses, those who believe that a football field is 24 inches across and sells cars. A onetime Los Angeles Times copy boy and Austin American-Statesman sportswriter, Schramm still oversees the Cowboys’ weekly newspaper—circulation 20,000, including 15,000 from outside the Metroplex, of whom 5000 are from out of state.
The Cowboy chairman, Clint Murchison, Jr., hadn’t arrived from Spanish Cay, his private island in the Bahamas, but he was represented by Bedford Wynne, one of the club’s original board members. Bedford stalked into the lobby in his new blue cowboy boots, waved to the crowd, and shattered a full quart of J&B on the floor. “The only full one you’ve ever seen me drop,” he reminded me. Bedford might be thought of as the Bicentennial Man—affluent, undeterred, a pioneer who knows his time will come. Over the years Bedford has invested in such enterprises as microwave ovens, a water-distilling plant, and a record album, commemorating Freddy Steinmark, the UT football player killed by cancer. They say he lost a bundle in an enterprise that sold non-nicotine cigarettes. Bravos they were called. Bravos smelled and tasted like burning lettuce leaves, which in fact they were. Toots Shor once threw two sportsmen out of his trips to Egypt, and frequently drops names like Sadat and Hussein. Egypt, so I read, is preparing to market lettuce cigarettes, though this could be a coincidence.
With the precision of a well-drilled two-minute offense, the Cowboys staff had set up headquarters and opened the hospitality room, which would remain open around the clock and serve as a watering station and hangout place for coaches, media, family, and friends. Before the week ended, Dallas’ entire 44-member administrative staff would be on the scene, everyone from Kay Lang, the former Ice Follies chorus girl who started out with Tex Schramm and the Rams and has been the Cowboy ticket manager since the club was organized, on down to Radar, an impish black man with a goatee who is Dallas’ “electronics coach”:—a euphemism for he who keeps the movie projectors working. The hospitality room would also become a collecting place for the usual number of walk-ons—Boots Garland, onetime Cowboy “speed coach,” a freelance adventurer who teaches athletes how to run and who once won $4000 hanging for two hours off a bridge in Mississippi; Jungle Jamey, pro football’s best-known gate crasher, who once showed up at the Cowboy camp carrying a white rabbit and a ten-pound smoked buffalo shank; and finally, Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, and assorted Austin musicians and crazies.
“Don’t you think Super Bowl X is the quintessence of the Bicentennial celebration?” the woman gossip columnist with the mink-trimmed cowboy hat asked me. “I haven’t met you. I’m Pat Byrd. . . B-Y-R-D. . . as in Senator Byrd, my ex-husband. Yes, he just threw his hat into the ring. That same Senator Byrd.”
I told Pat Byrd that I wouldn’t be surprised, then slipped out the back door of the hospitality room and walked down to the ocean. It had been seven years since I had traveled with the Cowboys, and I was trying to sort out my feelings. I remembered the first time the Cowboys had come to Miami, the 1965 Runner-up Bowl. There had been a lot of bellyaching about curfews and the players’ wives not being allowed to fly with the team. Except for the night before Super X, there would be no curfew this week for the Cowboys. Wives came and went as they pleased.
The Cowboys were young then, in ’65. The Runner-up Bowl was the team’s first taste of anything resembling success, and though the opposing Baltimore Colts cursed their fate and referred to the event acidly as the “Leftover Bowl,” it was that once-in-a-lifetime for Dallas, the coming of age. The Colts did most of their hard work in the nightspots of the Gold Coast, but Landry whipped his team every step. Predictably, the Colts humiliated the Cowboys. Ah, ’65—Perkins, Meredith, Clarke, Lilly, Andrie, Jordan, Edwards, Neely, Pugh, Green, Renfro. And the first really class crop of rookies, players like Craig Morton, Bob Hayes, Danny Reeves, Pete Gent. I’d never seen a rookie get beat around worse than Gent, or hang in tougher. Hayes got tough when Red Hickey threatened to send him home to momma. On the team plane flying back from New York—the game in which Dallas staked its claim to the much-despised Runner-up Bowl—Hayes had his first glass of champagne. Also his second, and his fifth and sixth. No one in the organization—certainly not Landry—had ever heard a player break into “Darktown Strutters Ball” over the intercom of a team charter.
The heroes of ’65 are mostly gone now, gone to other teams, gone to TV, gone to literature, gone to fat business arrangements with concerns owned by Murchison or men of his class, gone into that peaceful oblivion of small-town America where every kid knows that the tall guy with the big shoulders once played for the Dallas Cowboys. There are still a few who carry on—Jordan, Edwards, Neely, Pugh, Renfro. Reeves and Cornell Green now work in the organization. That is what remains constant—the organization: Murchison, Schramm, Landry, Gil Brandt, Kay Lang. They are the Dallas Cowboys. The rest of it came from Rent-a-Jock. It hadn’t changed. Spread your seeds thick, lads, the harvest is short. Nothing had changed at all.
From the niggers’ wing of the Galt came the sounds of laughter and the smell of funny cigarettes. Definitely not lettuce.
Quintessence or not, nobody ever said Super Bowl X was egalitarian. “The sports spectacular of the century,” as Tex Schramm liked to call it, was a great gathering of the elite—bankers, brokers, publishers, corporate executives, politicians, network moguls, celebrities, something like 2000 media people, and your accidental gadfly, like the New York cab driver who had been saving ten years for this trip and would blow it all by Sunday without ever seeing the game.
One evening in the Cowboys hospitality room—as we were listening to Clint Murchison, Jr., and Senator John Tower harmonizing on “Beautiful, Beautiful Texas”—Tex Schramm remarked: “This is the prestige event, the place to be if you’re anybody.” Raquel Welch might as not pop up at the NFL press room. Juice and Broadway Joe and Hornung, Phyllis and Irv and Brent, Jurgy and Jenke, Jimmy the Greek, Smashie, all the Main Men were there.
The face value of a ticket was $20, but one didn’t just walk off the street and purchase a ticket. What it came down to was who you knew: this was it, the payoff. In Dallas and Pittsburgh, where the largest allocations of tickets went (13,000 each), you had to be a season ticket holder even to be considered for admission to Super Bowl X. More than a thousand Dallas season ticket holders camped all night in SMU’s Moody Coliseum, hoping to be among the elite. The Cowboys could have sold out two or maybe three times their allotted tickets. One Dallas corporate executive advertised that he would fly any four people to Miami in exchange for four tickets. Hundreds and maybe thousands of counterfeit tickets were sold. Jimmy the Greek complained that he could secure only 89 tickets, and CBS executive Bill Brendle, a specialist in these matters, was forced to trade eight on the 50 yard line for 24 in the end zone—otherwise CBS would have been entertaining sixteen most unhappy guests. Something like 5000 innocents signed on for a travel agency package deal, complete with airfare and hotel but without, they discovered too late, tickets to the game.
On the other hand Willie Nelson and his band arrived unannounced six hours before the game and were able to secure eleven seats, through the good offices of Bedford Wynne. Willie sat on the 50, a few seats down from Clint.
Ten years ago when the “First AFL-NFL World Championship Game” (the name Super Bowl was coined later) was played in the Los Angeles Coliseum, more than 20,000 tickets went begging. The value of Super Bowl I was incalculable to pro football, however: it signaled the end of a costly eight-year war between the NFL and the upstart American Football League, sealed the terms of the two leagues’ merger, pried open the purses of the sports-hungry TV networks, and, if you will, put the niggers in their place. No longer could they use one league to bid for their service against the other. Inevitably this led to the labor movement. According to Schramm, player salaries have about quadrupled, while ticket prices, TV contracts, and other sources of revenue funneled through an ingenious arm called NFL Properties has merely tripled. All in all, niggering ain’t a bad life. Figure that O. J. Simpson makes $350,000—the O. J. Simpson of 30 years ago, Steve Van Buren, made $15,000, or $1000 less than the playoffs’ bonus paid to every member of the losing team of Super Bowl X.
It’s staggering to realize that 75 million Americans, and another 55 million in foreign countries, watched live TV coverage of this Super Bowl. Who would have believed it? Pete Rozelle and Tex Schramm, that’s who. When the NFL defied tradition and moved west with the first major league franchises in 1946, Schramm was a pioneer of the new wave. As general manager of the Los Angeles Rams, Schramm was the papa-dad of the modern scouting system. Schramm gave Pete Rozelle his first job in pro football, and when Schramm moved on to CBS and then to the newly formed Dallas Cowboys, he was influential in persuading some of the NFL mossbacks to accept Fast Pete, as a compromise commissioner.
“For years,” Schramm reminded me, “the league had been controlled by Bert Bell and his friends. It was basically a struggle between the haves [i.e., New York, Chicago, Baltimore, Philadelphia] and the have-nots [Los Angeles and San Francisco]. TV revenue was very small and very selective in those days, but you didn’t have to be a genius to see that the boom was coming. Pete was young, energetic, he understood merchandising, he understood TV, he stayed on top of things. Most important, he wasn’t a threat to either side.”
Having harnessed the monster tube, the task now is to control it. It is the nature of TV to want more. Like some faded flower trying on her old wedding dress, Super Bowl X bulged at every seam, leaving the observer to wonder what they would do next—shoot the players out of cannons? The oracle of television has completely taken over. The Landrys and Don Shulas still draw the x’s and o’s but TV calls the timeouts, changes the rules, educates the public to what it needs and what it needs to understand, blueprints the season, primes the pump, and brings the Too Tall Joneses out of ancestral swamps. If the Players Association ever decides to boycott the Super Bowl, television would show it anyway, starring Tony Orlando and Joe Garagiola.
After a week of debauchery, watching the Super Bowl is almost as tough as playing it. Anybody with any sense wanted to be home with the old TV. It was uncomfortably cold in Miami, and watching Super Bowl X from an upper deck in the Orange Bowl was like curling up with a good postage stamp. There were a lot of things going on, but without the end zone camera, stop action, and instant replay, no one could say just what they were. We didn’t see the fashion show. Or watch Phyllis, Irv, and Brent, the stars of the game, chitchat at the Palm Bay Club with Namath, Hornung, and Hugh O’Brian, or watch them board their yacht for the trip down Biscayne Bay to the stadium, or see how they conquered the last ten blocks by helicopter. As Phyllis, Irv, and Brent were escorted from their landing spot on the 50-yard line, the best of us were caught in a traffic jam on IH 95. A friend watched as dozens of vehicles were abandoned on the shoulder of IH 95. Liberated occupants tumbled down the grassy slope toward the stadium, binoculars beating wildly and thermos jugs sloshing. Only it was the wrong stadium: the Orange Bowl was still three miles down the pike. After many hours of suffering and deprivation, a privileged few retreated to the CBS hospitality room in Miami Beach, where they sipped medicinal remedies and watched a videotape of the day on a seven-foot TV screen.
“That’s when I felt like I’d seen the Super Bowl,” my friend told me.
In his curious, perceptive way, Duane Thomas said it best. When they asked him back at Super Bowl V how it felt to play in the ultimate game, Thomas posed his own question: “If it’s the ultimate game, why are they playing it again next year?”
’Cause CBS says so.
I knew it was Press Day at the Galt when I stepped out on my balcony to sniff some sea breeze and a woman two balconies down took my picture. A day before, when the media had inundated the Pittsburgh headquarters, defensive tackle Ernie Holmes had finally complained to Dallas sports editor Blackie Sherrod, “You guys in the press make us sound like them iguala bears always up in the top of trees eating juicy leaves.” As defending champions, the Steelers and their followers had been through it and were understandably blasé. Neither Holmes nor defensive end Dwight White blinked an eye when a midget in a yellow Pittsburgh hard hat with a blinking black light asked for a favor: would Holmes and White each kindly lift him by a leg and shake him in the air. They did.
By some unexplained, arbitrary choice made at NFL headquarters, the Steelers were quartered much nearer the Everglades than the ocean and Gold Coast—in a landlocked resort called Miami Lakes Inn, where the only bar in the hotel was off limits and there was a curfew every night. Linebacker Jack Lambert expressed the sentiments of the team when he said they all prayed that a shark would take off both of Roger Staubach’s legs.
But now it was the Cowboys’ turn, and the Galt swarmed with writers and TV and radio men eager to hear firsthand about the shotgun offense or the flex defense or how Dallas liked to banjo the ends and loop the gaps and frigate the quibits, and why Cliff Harris wore a fireman’s helmet with a flashing red light, and how Randy White ate the heads off toads, and how a team with twelve rookies could make it to the Super Bowl, and how was the pressure?
Fine, thank you. The pressure was just fine. While a crew from Channel 8 in Dallas set up equipment on the beach, Harvey (Too Mean) Martin lolled under an umbrella with his arms around two Oriental nifties in bikinis. Too Mean wore a golf cap, aviator shades, and a T-shirt with the message good & plenty across the chest. Bob Lilly was gone, but the Doomsday Defense flourished, in excellent hands. Too Tall and Too Mean were the perfect pair of ends.
When the camera was ready, Channel 8 sports director Verne Lundquist called Too Mean away from his idling. Too Tall was already in position with a hand mike. All year Too Tall had played the straight-man, but today the roles reversed. While Lundquist stood back, Too Tall interviewed Too Mean on the application of the flex defense, then he socked him with the big one.
“I came up a year behind you and watched you grow into your position of defensive right end,” Too Tall said eloquently. “Tell our audience, how does it feel playing defensive right end knowing there’s a legend at defensive left end?”
Stretched out on a sunchair, rookie linebacker Thomas Henderson was finding it difficult to stay awake and answer questions at the same time. Henderson, less than a year out of tiny Langston College, had been out most of the night with one of the Pointer Sisters and therefore slept through Landry’s morning meeting. Henderson, one gathers, will eventually join the 45 or 50 other ex-Cowboys who populate more tolerant rosters around the league.
A reporter asked Clint Longley, Dallas’ young backup quarterback, if he was one of the three NFL quarterbacks rumored to be homosexual. “No,” Clint said with a twinkle, “but I’m sure Roger is.”
Landry shaded his eyes from the poolside reflection and spoke into a battery of microphones, explaining just one more time why, if Staubach is so smart, Landry calls all the plays. “If Roger calls the plays, he can do it about as well as I can,” Landry says in his flat Sunday school manner. “He obviously knows what we’re going to do. But the coaches don’t. When we call the plays from the sidelines, we know exactly what is going to be run and we can look at the point of attack against the kind of defense that is being used and know exactly whether this play is a good one and whether we should continue using it. A quarterback can waste three or four calls that way.” The interviewers tossed knowing glances at their soundmen, pleased and begging for Landry’s approval. Even after sixteen years and three Super Bowls, the misconception of Landry as a stoic who lives in a white box and pulls the wings off pretty insects persists. You wouldn’t want to engage Tom in a long cocktail conversation, but as Dan Jenkins pointed out, Steeler coach Chuck Noll makes Landry sound like Don Rickies. Landry’s impenetrable Gandhi image—like Lombardi’s volatile impersonations of Hitler—has certain voodooistic advantages that the Cowboy staff makes no attempt to dispel. On the contrary, their inside joke is that the Tom Landry you see agonizing on the sidelines is, in fact, a professional actor named Rocky Romance. The real Tom Landry lurks under a hood, scribbling messages in Sanskrit.
A New York-based writer wants to know if Landry enjoyed Pete Gent’s 1973 best-selling novel, North Dallas 40, portraying the Cowboys as a seething mutation of dope fiends, paranoiacs, fruits, cretins, and homicidal maniacs—managed by direct descendants of Daddy Warbucks and Genghis C. Khan. Landry replies mildly that he doesn’t read that sort of book, but is halfway through The Rise and Fall of Richard Nixon.
“Jee-sus,” wails a voice behind a palm tree. It is Peter Gent, alive and well and covering it for Sport magazine. Gent made a half-million dollars and a lasting place in the mythology of football with his novel, but he didn’t always handle fame and fortune as well as friends wished. Last time I saw Gent, about one year ago, he carried several loaded guns and believed that the CIA and the Mafia were neck and neck in the race to bring about his end. Today, Peter looks trim, confident, and as comfortable as could be expected under the circumstances.
Gent has driven 35 miles from Miami to interview his ex-teammates, but now he can’t think of a single question worth asking. I tell him I feel the same way. “The next time someone comes up to me and says: ‘Well, whataya think?’ I’m moving to Canada,” I tell Peter.
“Both quarterbacks [Staubach and Bradshaw] claim to be in solid with the Almighty,” Gent says. “I’m not sure how that works in the rule book. Maybe God changes sides at halftime.” Press Day is getting out of hand. In their panic to determine just what’s going on here, the ladies and gentlemen of the media are stepping over each other. In the lobby, several dozen drunk fans are staging an impromptu pep rally.
“Just how dumb is Bradshaw?”
“What did he say?”
“Watch out. You’re stepping over my cable.”
“…against your basic odd defense…”
“Up yours, turkey.”
“What did he say? He looks older than his picture.”
After a while veteran linebackers Dave Edwards and D. D. Lewis slip discreetly through the kitchen door and out a side entrance of the hotel. They’ve had it. The ears can’t take anymore, and the tongue is going fast. Fuzzy Edwards’ hair is a lot longer than I remembered, and he’s losing it in front. Fuzzy has been a fixture at strongside linebacker since 1965, Dallas’ first winning season. He is the silent, lethal type, seldom spectacular, but absolutely professional. He has slowed a half-step, but so what. For something more than 200 consecutive games Fuzzy has stomped and been stomped on, and he still enjoys football. Cowboy followers are certain that the club is phasing him out—this may be his last game—but they were saying the same thing last year when the Cowboys didn’t even make it to the playoffs. In camp last summer, Landry acknowledged that this was the best group of rookie linebackers he’d coached, then he said, “It’s going to take a pretty good effort by someone to beat Dave out. The challengers come and go, and when the dust clears, there’s Edwards doing his job.’’
A biplane towing a streamer advertising jock-itch powder circles low over the Atlantic and I think of a question.
“Are you surprised to be at the Super Bowl?” I ask.
“Naw,” Fuzzy laughed. “Not any more than I’m surprised to be anywhere. When I first came here in 1962 [as a free agent] I wasn’t suppose to make the team.”
“How can they keep writing that we didn’t expect to he here?” D.D. Lewis asked. “There are 25 teams who didn’t expect to be here. Pittsburgh is the only team that really thought they’d he here.”
Both Lewis and Edwards thought this was the most enjoyable year they’d spent with the Cowboys. The energizing influence of twelve rookies had a lot to do with it. Landry had always bent, however slowly, with the times—it was the secret of his success—but this year he was bending faster, and good, strange things were happening,
“But don’t believe that bull about Landry being relaxed at the Super Bowl,” D.D. warned. “He wasn’t very relaxed chewing ass this morning, and he ran us nearly to death yesterday afternoon and will probably do it again today.”
“It’s like Renfro said this morning,” Fuzzy added. “We didn’t come down here to throw in our jocks.”
How else can you say it. The National Football League’s Tenth Annual Gala was obscene. Roman Number X. Obscene. Not vulgar, understand, not wicked, and especially not offensive to the spirit of the Bicentennial which it may in fact have been; it was obscene in the sense of self-glorification.
More than half of the invited guests to the Friday night party were media people, some top echelon. Three thousand invitations were issued, and nobody knows how many got in with counterfeit tickets. They picked the perfect spot—Hialeah, the spot Gatsby would have picked. Old-time elegance. Well-guarded gates and long driveways through towering palms, uniformly spaced and all precisely the same height and girth. Gaily striped tents that dispensed an astonishing variety of beverages and roving waiters with silver trays of pretty things on toast. A clubhouse buffet featuring several tons of sand crab and wide columns of prime tenderloin. A choice of domestic wines. A swinging Forties band inside, and outside rising like an apparition in front of the storied Hialeah clubhouse, the 300- member ensemble of Up with People (you’ll recall them from the Coke commercial) singing about how we are “Two Hundred Years and Just a Baby.”
And, yes, a full moon hung over Miami. God how the heart ached to see Red Grange’s mud-splattered ghost plowing through the flamingos. Just once.
Landry blushed and posed with his arm almost around Phyllis George. Alicia gabbed with old friends, including Father Dudley, the priest who has been sitting on the Giants’ bench praying for the lads since back when they still folded helmets in their hip pockets. Rozelle talked to Lamar Hunt, whom he once considered a fly-by-night multimillionaire, and to Paul Hornung, whom he once suspended for gambling on his own team, and to politicians who expressed continuing self-interest in the NFL. Dick Fincher, who owns one of the biggest Olds agencies in Miami or anywhere else and was once married to Gloria DeHaven was there, and George Owen, who was once married to Mo Dean. Gil Brandt, the Dallas superscout (his ex-wife is now Mrs. Clint Murchison, Jr.), gave me a fountain pen with a retractable window pumping the virtues of being a Cowboy.
I asked Gil a tough question. I asked him to think back over all the players he had scouted and signed for the Cowboys—what was his most satisfying accomplishment? Gil thought for a long time, then gave me one-two: (1) turning up the fact that Staubach had attended New Mexico Military Institute and was therefore eligible for the draft a year sooner than anyone else realized; (2) maintaining relationships with an assistant basketball coach at Michigan State who put him on to Pete Gent.
Phyllis George was telling the Jenkinses how her daddy used to try on her Miss America crown, and how when they’d go to a restaurant in Denton he’d run in first and shout, “Here she comes.” Dan and June Jenkins were joining Phyllis and her parents later at the Raquel Welch show. The guy in the dark glasses who looked like a witless A1 Pacino, the one who had been around all week, was chatting with a couple of high rollers from Dallas who should have recognized that he was what they call a “ten percenter”—a bounty hunter for the IRS. Irene, the first known sportswriter’s groupie, was there, drinking strawberry daiquiris. An Atlanta sportswriter I hadn’t seen in years reminded me of the time I got into a so-called fight with Norm Van Brocklin in Birmingham. I reminded Lamar Hunt of the time his older brother tried to bribe me to write nice things about Lamar’s first football team, and Lamar recalled one of Jenkins’ great lines: “The man of a thousand tackles—E. J. Holub—Dallas Times Herald—December 11, 1962.” Cornell Green, the ex-Cowboy headhunter who now scouts for the team and is therefore privy to these functions of the flesh, spotted Gent and swung him around like a broom; and though it was a gesture of goodwill, the flash of cold terror in Peter’s eyes told me he wasn’t altogether comfortable in his new profession.
And there was old Doc Bailey, bless his heart. He remembered the time we caught salmon off the coast of Astoria, and I remembered the time he got me a Dexedrine prescription in Portland. Joe Bailey was one of Washington, D.C.’s best-known heart specialists and a longtime running mate of Clint Murchison, Jr.—Doc’s son Jody is now business manager of the Cowboys. Doc Bailey, Bob Thompson, and Irv Davidson, the lobbyist who worked for Caribbean dictators, were the backbone of the Chicken Club: a loose collection of ne’er-do-wells that is mostly dormant now, having experienced the ravages of age and too many slugs of Scotch down the old pipe, but back in the early Sixties they were the nemeses of the Rozelles and Schramms. Their most infamous stunt was helping former Redskin owner George Preston Marshall celebrate High School Band Day at D.C. Stadium. They helped by seeding the field with chicken feed and providing 5000 live and hungry chickens who would be set free just as the assembled bands were forming welcome. The plot was foiled by a guard someone forgot to bribe. George Preston Marshall is long gone—but so is the Chicken Club. The Rozelles and Schramms have football now, and it’s so sanitary you can eat off it.
“God, we used to give Pete Rozelle fits,” Doc Bailey chuckled.
“I think I’ll go ask Pete whatever happened to our application for a franchise in Sante Fe,” I said. “Remember? Bob Thompson had a government contract to build an underground nuclear stadium if he could land an NFL franchise. We were going to call ourselves the Sante Fe Nuclear Holocausts.”
“That’s right. Our colors were ash and yellow. Whatever happened to that application?”
Fast Pete. He stood there like a ramrod in a Ken Doll suit, smiling through ice, saying the right thing and moving on, doing his job. Pete was a salesman who believed in his product: Pete would have sold tickets to the French Revolution—but only if he believed in it.
Sure his parties were obscene. So are mine. I love obscene parties.
I don’t know if they showed it on TV, but the Coral Gables High School band did a fine pregame enactment of Kent State. Berserk gunmen wasted fat tuba players and drummers who toppled and lay like wooden soldiers as the gunmen continued to rampage. Splendid theater.
My other indelible recollection of Super Bowl X happened during the actual playing of the football game. It was that split second before Bradshaw released the bomb that blew the Cinderella team back to the pumpkin patch: D.D. Lewis, blitzing from Bradshaw’s blind side, got one hand on the Pittsburgh quarterback, and a split second after that, when it no longer mattered, Cliff Harris made Bradshaw disappear for good. Game of inches, right?
Afterwards, I dropped by the Dallas dressing room. I wanted to get D.D. Lewis’ game jersey to take home as a souvenir, but he had already given it to Willie Nelson’s sister. I read the next morning there was a lot of weeping and tearing of hair in the Dallas dressing room, but I saw none. The Cowboys accepted their defeat as one of those twin possibilities when two good teams play.
“I don’t know what happened on the blitz,” D.D. Lewis was telling reporters.
I got my left hand on him [Bradshaw] but he didn’t budge. Cliff got tripped or he would have been there sooner. I was sure we would force a fumble. Instead, it was a touchdown.”
A Pittsburgh reporter in search of praise asked D.D. what he thought of the Steelers, and D.D. said they were a pack of hot dogs. “Especially Lambert,” D.D. said. “All that Mickey Mouse shit . . . intimidating. If he’s all-pro, Lee Roy Jordan is all-world. But don’t make me sound bitter. As the black knight said, my business is my pleasure.”
“And what is your pleasure?” the reporter asked.
“None of your business,” D.D. smiled.
In the training room Golden Richards was being treated for several broken ribs. Richards is a frail, gentle, soft-spoken Mormon kid from Salt Lake City, and also the fastest man on the team. The Steelers elected to defend him by punching him in the ribs every time he came across the line of scrimmage. Golden pointed this out to the officials, but they never called a penalty. Golden said he had no complaints. Neither did Tom Landry. “What they were doing to Richards was a judgment call,” Landry said. “They just elected not to call it.”
A long season had ended; in maybe a few cases, long careers had ended. Cliff Harris still had the Pro Bowl to endure, but the main thing on his mind just then was the team’s postgame party that night at the Galt. He asked if it was true that Willie and Jerry Jeff and those guys would be there. I said I didn’t know. Jerry Jeff Walker had stayed up all night, picking and singing in the NFL hospitality room; his wife Susan observed the occasion by giving Jerry Jeff’s Super Bowl ticket to a bus driver. Willie Nelson and his troop arrived after an all-night flight from Jerkwater, Tennessee, looking like they’d crawled out of a Goodwill box.
Outside the dressing room door, Willie leaned up against a steel girder, his Dallas Cowboy stocking cap pulled down over his ears and his eyes painted by Alexander Calder. Willie was a longtime Cowboy fan: he went back to Don Meredith, who was a longtime Willie Nelson fan and used to mystify even the best of them by trotting into the huddle and singing, “Hello, Walls.”
Willie, Jerry Jeff, Jimmy Buffet, Billy C., and some other excellent musicians arrived as the party was starting to run down. To the great delight of the players and the bewilderment of the Cowboy establishment—who must have thought the Bolsheviks had landed in Fort Lauderdale—this group of gypsy outlaws replaced the standard hotel band. “The day is saved,” publicity man Doug Todd grinned. Not to mention the night. Even some of the assistant coaches were on the dance floors. It was the first time I’d seen a losing team at a victory party. Tom Landry, Jr., a young Dallas attorney, told Willie Nelson how much he admired his work.
Willie thanked young Tom and inquired about his father.
“He’s gone up to his room,” Tommy said. “He’s looking at the game film.”
Slumping into his seat on the team bus headed back for the airport, Ralph Neely couldn’t stop thinking about inflation. The six-foot-six Cowboy tackle had closed out his eleventh season with a $16,000 bonus check, but now it didn’t seem like so much money, not when you considered that his chassis had all that mileage and no warranty.
“I’ll tell you what causes inflation,” he told Dr. Marvin Knight, who sat with his wife in the seat just in front. “Credit cards. Get rid of credit cards, inflation goes with it.”
“That’s probably the fact of it,” Doc Knight agreed. Doc Knight, who had plastered and patched and wired together the Cowboys for sixteen years, recalled that when he interned at Walter Reed those many years ago, he established his credit by (1) borrowing money; (2) paying it back with interest. “That’s the way it works in this country,” Mrs. Knight said. “The only way to establish credit is borrow money.” “Another thing that keeps prices up,” Dr. Knight told Neely, “pilfering . . . shoplifting. Ten per cent of the stock on the shelves is pilfered. The cost is passed on to you know who.”
Neely was silent for a time, watching the winter erosion of the beaches and yachts frozen by foreclosures, condominiums that went unrented at the height of the tourist season, and old ladies in torn stockings waiting on concrete benches. Neely had thought about taking a short vacation, but changed his mind. Tomorrow or the next day he’d be back at his winter job, selling computer service for one of Clint Murchison’s companies. Amazing the amount of data you could put on a little piece of tape. All of a sudden it made him feel small. And old. And expendable. He tapped Doc Knight’s shoulder: “In a couple of weeks I think I’ll come in for a complete checkup. Just to see how the old body’s holding up.”
I looked at my official Super Bowl X watch, opened my Super Bowl briefcase, and took out my Super Bowl program. I wanted to read the winning essay in the NFL Charities’ $25,000 scholarship contest. The subject was the NFL’s role in American history, and though it had been argued by good authority that the league had no role in American history, Anna Leider, the contest winner, thought otherwise. “Football,” she wrote, “is a mirror of America.”
Anna pointed out that the people of this nation (like the NFL) overcame enormous odds in their expansion west, forming an orderly, law-abiding society, freeing themselves of prejudice, and representing many distant regions. She did not mention drugs, labor disputes, rampant commercialism, or media hype. She did not mention that it took the NFL a quarter of a century (from 1921 to 1946) to move west of Chicago, or that even then, it went kicking and screaming; or that as recently as ten years ago black players were subject to quotas, and in some cities (Dallas, for example) found it almost impossible to locate good housing near their place of business; or how the cardinal rule is still don’t get caught. But Anna’s main point seemed well taken: whatever Super Bowl X was, it was us. There was no pretense, no attempt to gloss it over. What other league in what other nation would open itself to such scrutiny, and say—proudly, no less—this is how we are. This is America, 200 years down the road.