Story of the Week
Tom Landry, the Dallas Cowboys coach who led America’s Team to five Super Bowls and was famous for pacing the sidelines for three decades wearing a stone face, business suit and felt hat, died on February 12, 2000. He was 75.
Landry, who coached the Cowboys for their first 29 years, won two Super Bowls with star quarterback, Roger Staubach. His 270 victories are more than any NFL coach except George Halas and Don Shula. He will be remembered for many reasons, including his record, the innovations he brought to the NFL, and his personal integrity.
In Landry’s first head-coaching season, 1960, the expansion Cowboys went 0-11-1. He didn’t have a winning season until his seventh. But that began a streak of 20 consecutive winning seasons, 13 division titles, and five Super Bowl appearances.
After three straight losing seasons, Landry was fired by Jerry Jones the very day Jones bought the team in February, 1989. And when he left, Landry was as much a symbol of the Cowboys as the star on their helmets.
Landry was a college star at the University of Texas, then an All-Pro defensive back for the New York Giants. At 29, he became player-coach in charge of the Giants defense; a guy named Vince Lombardi was the Giants’ offensive assistant coach. Landry changed the front seven from a 5-2 to a 4-3 defense, essentially creating the position of middle linebacker for Sam Huff. The system became such a success in the league that Landry himself devised the multiple offense to counter it. Both alignments remain standards at all levels of football today.
General Manager Tex Schramm introduced Tom Landry as the team’s first head coach. Their agreement was that Schramm would run the business side of the Cowboys, and Landry would be in charge of football. A great success story was formed through the unlikely pairing of the straight-laced, religious Landry and Schramm, the flashy showman whose promotional flair included bringing scantily-clad cheerleaders to the team and the NFL. And owner Clint Murchison knew his place; he stayed away from both of them.
Landry thrived on his unorthodox innovations. He created the "Flex" defense that placed one tackle a half-yard behind the other, and his offensive gadgetry included the quarterback "shotgun" and the option pass by a running back.
He was positively emotionless on the sidelines, the possible singular exception being Jackie Smith’s dropped touchdown pass in Super Bowl XIII. He avoided becoming close with his players for fear that friendship would interfere with his personnel decisions. Former running back, Walt Garrison, summed it up best when asked if he ever saw Landry smile. "No," Garrison replied, "but I was only there nine years."
Tom Landry stayed away from Texas Stadium after being rudely and unceremoniously canned by Jerry Jones. He gladly accepted his 1990 NFL Hall of Fame induction. He reluctantly accepted Jones’ invitation in 1993 to be inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor at Texas Stadium.
The city of Dallas held a "Hats Off to Tom Landry Day," which included a parade that drew 100,000 people. The guest of honor cried, and called it the most exciting and meaningful day in his life.
My personal hat is off to the brilliance and genius of the football mind of the legendary Tom Landry.
Last Week’s Trivia
The phrase "Hail Mary" was born when Roger Staubach threw the winning pass to Drew Pearson in the 1975 NFC playoffs for Dallas against Minnesota.
Trivia Question of the Week
What NHL team has made it to 25 straight post-seasons without winning the Stanley Cup? See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.