- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 15, 2000

The story you never hear about Tom Landry is about the time, in 1965, he almost quit coaching. This was before the Dallas Cowboys became the Dallas Cowboys before they had even posted a winning record, in fact. Landry was in his sixth year in Dallas, and things weren't going well. After starting the season 2-0, the Cowboys had dropped five in a row, and the coach was beginning to wonder if the team was ever going to turn the corner.
After loss No. 5, Landry kicked everybody out of the locker room except the players and coaches and announced he wasn't going to coach anymore, that he was going to turn the job over to someone else. He still believed the Flex defense and the multiple offense were the way to go, he said, but for whatever reason they weren't working.
"He really started crying, got all choked up," Bob Lilly later recalled. "It was the turning point of the Dallas Cowboys."
Imagine how different history would be if Landry hadn't changed his mind. There might have been no "America's Team," no 20 straight winning seasons, no Ice Bowl and I certainly wouldn't be sitting here paying my last respects to one of the greatest coaches of all time. There also might have been no and this one should hit closer to home Redskins-Cowboys rivalry. Granted, it was George Allen, not the understated Landry, who fed the feud, but every Athens needs its Sparta.
We tend to forget, though, all the tough times Landry went through early in his head-coaching career. Fortunately for him, the Cowboys were owned by a man, Clint Murchison, gifted with both patience and a sense of humor. When the team, after losing the first 10 games of its existence in 1960, finally managed a tie against the New York Giants, Murchison quipped, "Well, you can't win 'em all." Four years later, with Landry under siege for failing to produce a winner, Murchison signed him to a 10-year contract extension. It was during those 10 years that Landry turned Dallas into a dynasty, the envy of the NFL and every other league.
What I appreciated about him was that he tried things. He didn't actually invent the 4-3 defense that was the brainchild of Giants coach Steve Owen but he did much to develop it as an assistant in New York. He didn't actually invent the shotgun formation, either it's a remnant of the single wing but he put it to good use in Dallas. He also rotated quarterbacks (first Eddie LeBaron and Don Meredith, later Craig Morton and Roger Staubach), ran more than his share of gadget plays (at least, it seemed like it) and, of course, came up with the Flex, a variation of the 4-3 and his answer to Vince Lombardi's "Run to Daylight" philosophy. It didn't work that well against the Packers (he was 0-6 against them in the '60s), but it gave the rest of the league migraines.
Landry always wanted to be a quarterback, did you know that? When he went to the University of Texas, though, he ran into a fellow named Bobby Layne, and pretty soon he was putting his energies into playing defensive back. But he never quite gave up on the idea of being a QB. He even got to play the position a little in emergency situations when he was with the Giants in the '50s. One of his relief efforts was particularly memorable: Pittsburgh 63, New York 7. That was the day Owen said, "If I wasn't such a defensive genius, we would have given up 100 points."
Landry's playbook in Dallas was legendarily elaborate page after page of strategems. (It's a pretty good book," Meredith once said as a joke, "but everybody gets killed in the end.") But then, the Cowboys' offense was so varied; they did a little bit of everything. Naturally, the coach, the frustrated quarterback, called all the plays. This didn't always set well with Dandy Don, Staubach and the rest, but the way Roger figures it, "I put up with his playcalling, and he put up with my scrambling."
The end of Landry's coaching career was almost surreal. First there was the death threat against him during a game in Los Angeles in '86, then there was the loss to the Redskins' strike team in '87 (his regulars vs. Joe Gibbs' replacement players) and finally there was Jerry Jones' clumsy firing of him in '89. (Somewhere in there, I think Buddy Ryan ran the score up on him, too.) But Landry handled it all with his usual dignity and grace. He even let down his guard a bit near the end and did that American Express commercial, the one in which he says he always carries the card with him "because you never know when you're going to be surrounded by . . . Redskins." A true classic.
Is it just me, or did people of Landry's generation live more interesting lives? Why, in 1950 and again in '51 his Giants team journeyed to Ottawa to play a preseason game against the Rough Riders of the CFL. Half of each game was played under U.S. rules, the other half under Canadian rules (e.g. 12 men, 110-yard field). In the second game, just for laughs, the Giants let backfield coach Allie Sherman play quarterback for a spell. He guided the offense to a score.
"I've got to compliment you," Owen told him later. "You not only played a great game, but you're the first Giant quarterback that ever [drove] the team 108 yards to a touchdown."
Something else happened in that game. In the first half, Tom Landry booted a punt through the end zone and scored a "rouge" one point for New York. So while Landry indeed died too soon last weekend at 75, there wasn't a whole lot he missed out on in life. He won two Super Bowl rings, made the Hall of Fame, turned the Cowboys into a national entity and even scored a rouge.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide