Y’all, I am not a fan of the Dallas Cowboys.
I don’t follow football, but once upon a time, I was at least proud of the Cowboys being a Texas team.
I was until February 25, 1989, one of the darkest days in Texas history.
That was the day the new owner of the team, Jerry Jones, fired Tom Landry as coach of the Dallas Cowboys.
Now I know that, at the time, Landry was not up to his usual par with regard to the team’s record. There was a real down-turn there for a while. And it is possible that it was time for him to retire.
But, folks, he didn’t deserve the undignified way Jones tossed him out of the organization.
Tom Landry was the third winningest coach in the National Football League. He was one of the last of the professional football “gentleman” coaches.
Jerry Jones, though a Southerner, is no gentleman. And he should turn in his Southerner card for the tacky way he treats people.
Jones is no leader, either. He cannot stand back and let his coaches do their jobs. No. He has to get all bug nuts crazy and come down to the sidelines to stand there like the vestigial thing that he is and glower, as if to tell his employees that they are about to be fired if they don’t turn it all around right danged now. If he really feels that way about things then he needs to don a whistle and some tacky polyester pants, and go do the coaching himself.
True Texans still revere Tom Landry. He was one of us, born and raised in Mission. He exemplified the intrinsic nature of Texans.
Jones, in the way he fired Landry, insulted us and our values. We have never forgiven him. We never will.
I was in church not long ago when one of my fellow congregants was spewing about the Cowboys and Jones. She was sitting in the pew behind me, lettin’ it all fly about that new stadium Jones demanded built and how everything is too expensive for the average family to attend Cowboys games.
“Not that it matters now,” she said. “I don’t want my children even watching Cowboys games for the way the players act.”
Under Landry, the players might not have been saints, but at least they were held accountable for their public behavior by their coach. And Clint Murchison stayed out of Landry’s way, which, by the way, probably contributed to Landry’s 270-178-6 record with the team.
Tony Dorsett once failed to call Landry to tell him he would not be able to attend a light practice before a game. He showed up to the Cowboy’s locker room for the game and explained himself. Landry listened. Then he said, “Tony, you’re not going to start today, and you may not even play.”
Dorsett’s family members were in the stands that day. They had come all the way from Pennsylvania to see him. But the player had screwed up by not showing up and not informing his coach as to why.
Eventually, Landry put Dorsett in, but the lesson to Dorsett was clear: honor your commitment to the team.
Dorsett said players might not have liked Landry’s decisions, but they knew he was always fair. Landry listened to both sides and did what he thought was right.
Almost every former Cowboys player, from Bob Lilly to Roger Staubach, remembered Landry as being patient, fair, disciplined and understanding.
The coach took a lot of teasing about that hat. Landry’s hat was his signature. He always wore a suit and that hat to every game. It was what a gentleman did. And Landry was one of those coaches who made football a respectable profession.
Landry committed to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in 1962. His example was an inspiration to other coaches. He was described as a strong and decent man by Dallas Morning News sportswriter, Blackie Sherrod.
Landry was not perfect. He was not above telling a bit of a fib to protect a player’s privacy. He pulled Bob Hayes from a starting lineup once, saying it was due to an injury. The media checked with the NFL office to see if there was an injury report; there was none. And Hayes had played on some kicking teams. Pulling Hayes was a disciplinary action, for sure. But Landry wasn’t sharing the whys and the wherefores with the media.
Sometimes it’s just best that we don’t know every little detail.
Jeff Pearlman, an ESPN blogger, wrote a tell-all book about the Cowboys entitled “Boys Will Be Boys: The Glory Days and Party Nights of the Dallas Cowboys.” I interviewed him via telephone for a newspaper story.
Pearlman had the gall to say that Jones’ firing of Landry wasn’t that big of a deal and that it was the right thing to do. I disagreed. I said Texans were embarrassed at the way the coach was treated and that the players’ behavior was terrible since he left.
“Well, Texans don’t care what the Cowboys players do as long as they are winning games,” Pearlman chuckled.
“I lived in Dallas during the 1990s, Jeff. I remember the bad behavior of which you wrote. I remember what Dallas thought and what Texans thought,” I replied. “There was a bumper sticker seen all over town showing handcuffs with a caption that said, ‘Cowboys Super Bowl Rings.’ If that doesn’t show disgust, I don’t know what does.”
“Well, I disagree,” Pearlman said, smugly.
“You, sir, do not know Texans,” I said. “And you, like that awful Jerry Jones, don’t understand class.”
I hung up on him.
The thing is this, and Tom Landry understood it: honor matters. Good behavior counts. Fairness is important. And chivalry should never, ever die.
Texans—true Texans, that is—expect decency out of everyone, including their professional sports teams. It’s not the winning that matters; it’s how the game is played.
It’s also about how a life is lived.