COVERING THE DALLAS COWBOYS back in the sixties, I sensed that something special was evolving, but I never dreamed that I was witnessing the creation of modern pro football. Forty years later, things are clear. Conception occurred when Clint Murchison, Jr., hired a CBS television producer and former general manager of the Los Angeles Rams named Tex Schramm and gave him the job of organizing his new National Football League franchise in Dallas. While I was busy writing trivia about multiple offenses and flex defenses for the Dallas Times Herald and later the Dallas Morning News, Tex was merging pro football with television and recasting the image of the NFL to the point where pro football would shove aside baseball as the national pastime. What do they say about forests and trees?
When Tex died, in mid-July, just days before the forty-fourth edition of the Cowboys reported to training camp, it was the perfect juxtaposition of the classic and the retro-modern. Tex exits to heaven and Bill Parcells puts the Cowboys through hell. Tex would have appreciated the production, especially since he got top billing. Though Parcells was still earning his spurs as an assistant college coach when the Cowboys started winning Super Bowls, he represents a throwback to the kind of smash-mouth football that Tex loved. So let the games begin.
There was another side of Tex, however, one that was warm, generous, human, and even a little silly. I’ll tell you a story I’ve never told anyone, except a few dear friends. Back in the days when Tex was doing all those amazing things for the Cowboys and the NFL, a couple of Dallas sportswriters named Shrake and Cartwright dropped uninvited by his North Dallas home late one night. Shrake was dressed as Batman, Cartwright as Robin. Why we chose that particular wardrobe is lost in the fog of history. The point is, instead of calling the cops, as almost any other major sports figure would surely have done, Tex and his wife, Marty, seemed delighted by the intrusion. They invited us in, broke out a bottle of J&B, and we chatted until nearly midnight. Over the years, I’d nearly forgotten that evening, but Tex hadn’t. Last December, a day or two after Marty died, Bud Shrake called Tex to express condolences, and in the course of their conversation, Tex recalled that long-ago visit by the Dynamic Duo. “It was an unforgettable sight,” he chuckled.
Tex’s zest for life vanished after Marty died. He did rally for a few public appearances, once when his biography, written by former Morning News columnist Bob St. John, was published, and a second time, in April, when he visited Texas Stadium for the first time since submitting his resignation to Jerry Jones fourteen years ago. The occasion was Jones’s belated announcement that sometime during the 2003 season Tex Schramm’s name would be added to the Cowboys Ring of Honor, the twelfth in a list of legends that includes Tom Landry, Bob Lilly, and Don Meredith. Considering that Tex created the Ring of Honor in 1976 and that he has been a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame for twelve years, the gesture could be viewed as too little, too late. In Tex’s eyes, however, nothing associated with the history of the Cowboys was inconsequential. Sports columnist Frank Luksa reported that the 82-year-old Tex discarded his walking stick and “literally rose to the occasion … in stubborn rebellion against infirmity. [He] straightened his bent body as best he could and made his way to the stage to bask in forthcoming attention.”
The honor will have to be bestowed posthumously. That wouldn’t have bothered Tex. One season concludes, another begins; one generation dies, another is born. He knew that this year’s results are more important than past glory.
THE COWBOYS HAVE HAD ONLY two legitimate NFL head coaches, Tom Landry and Jimmy Johnson, and Jones fired them both. If metallic blue and silver runs through your veins, you can hope with me that this time Jones has gotten it right. I have no doubt that Parcells is the real thing. The man is an old-fashioned ass-kicker—tough, demanding, bullying, manipulative, abrasive, intimidating, and stubborn. Whatever else, this will be an interesting season.
Hearing tales of Parcells on the practice field, this enormous, pear-shaped ball of napalm, racing fifty yards to grab a 350-pound lineman by the pads and shake the lad until he rattles, you realize that he is a heart attack waiting to happen. A bad heart was the primary reason Parcells retired in 1991, after the Giants’ second Super Bowl victory. Only 49, he faced bypass surgery and a future unknown. He returned to pro football two years later, this time with the challenge of rescuing the lowly New England Patriots. In 1996 he took them to the Super Bowl, then jumped to the New York Jets with a year left on his contract. In 1999 he expected to take the Jets to the Super Bowl, which would have made history: No coach has taken three different teams to the Super Bowl. Parcells was a bundle of raw nerves that final season, so pumped up that he had to take medication before each opening kickoff to control his arrhythmia. Unfortunately, injuries wrecked the Jets, and Parcells retired a second time, so close and yet so far away from football immortality.
When Cowboys fans heard in January 2003 that Parcells was coming to the rescue, many assumed their worries were over. I wasn’t so sure. Having watched the Cowboys stumble through three coaching changes after Landry and Johnson and three consecutive 5-11 seasons, I was surprised that Parcells had agreed to coach for a control freak like Jerry Jones. After all, he had spent a good part of his career complaining about front-office types who can’t resist meddling in football affairs. “If they’re going to ask you to cook the meal,” he has said, “they ought to let you buy the groceries.” Sure, Parcells was the ideal