Monday, April 22, 2024 Apr 22, 2024
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In their skintight designer blues, the Dallas Cowboys lived the myth of "America’s Team." Cheered on by blondes in hot pants, they were haughty and naughty-and damn good. But then Danny White couldn’t quite master the clutch play. And St. Landry couldn’t quite figure out why.

THE SPRING SUN WAS DISAPPEARING IN A YELLOW-ORANGE blaze. The evening breeze was gentle and peaceful. The flowers and crickets had come back to life outside Danny White’s two-story home, which was far removed from anything “Dallas.” White lived almost out in the country, in Wylie, near a fishing pond, a thirty- or forty-minute drive north of the Cowboys’ practice field in North Dallas, There were a few other nice homes near White’s, but they were up the road a piece. White wanted to give his wife Jo Lynn and their three children a life away from Dallas Cowboy football. After practices and games, White took flight.

It was May 1980. A new decade had brought a new quarterback. Roger Staubach had retired, saying, “The Cowboys won’t miss a beat without me. Danny White is a great quarterback.”

Ironically, Staubach’s humility and blessing only increased White’s plight. Perhaps no player in sports was more scrutinized and criticized than the Cowboy quarterback was in Dallas through the Eighties. Dallas was about to have White for breakfast, lunch, and Sunday dinner.

It’s doubtful even Staubach could have followed Staubach. Staubach didn’t have to take over the NFL’s most loved/haled team performing before the world’s most spoiled fans; White did.

That perfect spring evening I had driven out to Wylie to interview White about how his life had already changed. As he walked me back out to my car, he paused near a small vegetable garden. “That’s my garden,” he said. “You never know when you might need it. There could be a war, a famine. ..”

White would need his garden many times through the next eight seasons. His coach would need emergency rations, too. If ever Tom Landry had a soft spot for a player, it was Danny White. Landry sometimes referred to Danny as Dan. That was Landry: formalizing a nickname into a pet name. Dan White was Landry’s kind of quarterback. He had a coach’s mind-the perfect extension of Lan-dry’s. He had a much deeper grasp of the offense than Meredith or Staubach ever did. White hadn’t made a single wave as a four-year backup, and he didn’t rock Landry’s boat as the starter. He didn’t question game plans to the media or privately to Landry. He all but left polished apples on Landry’s lectern, and Landry rewarded that loyalty with stubborn loyalty. He would stick with White through thin and thinner.

But while Staubach could unite and ignite teammates-especially blacks-White could turn them off and against him. The team had trusted Staubach as a leader and performer. Staubach didn’t just say he was faithful to his wife or that he did unto others; he was and did. He didn’t just tell the media that winning was more important to him than personal glory or financial gain; he proved it.

White, on the other hand, never won his team’s trust. No matter how many great “reads” and accurate throws he made, too many teammates feared his worst-case interceptions or fumbles. For White, throwing a pass through the eye of a needle would have been easier than getting to Cowboy heaven. Oh. he didn’t make fatal mistakes every week or even every playoff game. But by Roger Staubach standards, it seemed that way. White had good games lost in tragic endings. Staubach’s poor games were remembered only as miraculous comebacks. Following Staubach, White could manage only a locker-room reputation as a coach’s and general man-ager’s pet. He was known as Tom Jr. or Tex Jr. In fact, Landry helped split the team racially by testifying for his quarterback when White wound up in court after striking a 205-pound high school football player. The seventeen-year-old said White had punched him in the nose. White said he used the back of his hand “to enforce my comments” after the kid, according to White, had driven recklessly, endangering the lives of White and his three children, who were riding in White’s van. At a stoplight White got out and, after an angry exchange, struck the kid through the window of his car.

“Under the same type of stress situation that Danny was under, I might do the same thing,” Landry testified. He would? Instead of turning the other Christian cheek. Coach Landry would smack a seventeen-year-old’s? Landry’s words alone probably would have cleared White. The jury ruled in White’s favor.

Yet Landry and General Manager Tex Schramm reprimanded a contingent of black (and a few white) players for missing part of a work day to testify as character witnesses for Ron Springs, a black tailback respected as a “gamer” who made clutch plays. Springs was considered a malcontent by management because he was an outspoken resident of “the ghetto,” an area of lockers populated mostly by blacks. Springs could do hilarious dramatizations of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “1 have a dream” speech, and perhaps management feared just how far he would lead a Tony Dorsett or Everson Walls, who looked up to him. Springs, nicknamed “Idi” because he looked something like Idi Amin, had football wisdom. He knew how to win. But he could act foolishly away from football.

He was charged with assaulting a female police officer during an altercation at the Million Dollar Saloon, where many Dallas jocks went to see and be seen. Several witnesses testified that Springs hit the officer “by accident.” He was found guilty of resisting arrest and given a probated sentence and fine.

Danny White’s credibility may have been ruined for good during the 1982 players’ strike. First, he blasted the owners, saying, “They can’t be trusted ” Then, as the strike wore on, White met with Tex Schramm, a leader of the owners, and told reporters he thought he and Schramm had come up with a strike-breaking compromise. Ed Garvey, negotiating for the Players’ Association, openly scoffed at White, saying. “’I understand Schramm is negotiating with Danny White. If they resolve all the issues, is that binding?”

White made matters worse when Robert Newhouse, the team’s player representative, flew to Washington for a Players’ Association strategy session. White was allowed to sit in, and was later accused by teammates of walking straight out of that meeting, calling Schramm, and divulging inside information in the name of settling the strike. Many Cowboys were furious with White for allegedly jeopardizing a cause for which they had sacrificed nearly eight weeks of salary. But black Cowboys were especially resentful. To them it appeared Danny “Too” White had stepped in because he thought Newhouse, who is black, couldn’t handle the job. New-house had been “shown up.”

Given all this, maybe White didn’t have a prayer, Says former wide receiver Butch Johnson, “We became a team of stars. Everybody went on his own image campaign.”

But oh, what stars the 1980 team had. While was surrounded by an embarrassment of prime-timers in their prime. By veterans who had learned and made peace with Lan-dry’s systems. By receivers Butch Johnson, Drew Pearson, Tony Hill, Billy Joe DuPree, Doug Cosbie, Preston Pearson, and Ron Springs. By tailback Dorsett and fullback Newhouse. By Pro Bowlers Pat Donovan and Herb Scott in the offensive line.

The defensive line-a Doomsday II of Ed Jones. Randy White, John Dutton. and Harvey Martin-remained one of football’s most feared. Cowboy Mystique was at its Transylvanian peak. “Sometimes,” Charlie Waters said, “it does seem like we could just throw our starred helmets out there and the other team would fold up.”

So, even without Staubach, it was no upset when the Cowboys blew out the Rams 34-13 in a wild-card playoff game at Texas Stadium. But a week later the Falcons were well on their way to upsetting the Cowboys in Atlanta. The Falcons led 24-10 after three quarters, and 27-17 with less than four minutes left. Twice White plugged into the Hail Mary connection, finding Drew Pearson for touchdowns from twenty-three and fourteen yards, the latter with forty-two seconds left. Cowboys 30-27. Roger who?

My editor called the press box in Atlanta and said, “I hope you’re going to write that Danny White has proven he’s better than Staubach.”

Gosh, I said, maybe we should wait a week or two.

Unfortunately for White, that minor miracle was his first and last. The following Sunday in Philadelphia, in thirty-below windchill, the small-handed White couldn’t seem to get a grip on the ball or the Eagles. White went twelve of thirty-one for 127 yards. He was intercepted once and fumbled once, at the Cowboy eleven yard line. The Eagles were Super Bowl-bound, 20-7. As Eagles coach Dick Vermeil said, “Everything 1 do all year is geared to beating Dallas.” Yes. Vermeil would “burn out” prematurely, but that year Vermeil and his staff outworked and outmotivated Landry and his. That blue-collar Philly team simply out-emotioned the Metallic Blue. Said Eagles kicker Tony Franklin, a native of Fort Worth. “You cannot believe how much this team and this city hate the Dallas Cowboys. There was simply no way we were going to lose this game.”

You wonder if even Staubach, following himself, could have found a way that day. Curious, wasn’t it. that Tom Landry, one of America’s most beloved figures, coached its most resented team.

BY THE EARLY EIGHTIES THE “AMERICAS Team” distinction had sonic-boomeranged. The mirror had cracked. White captured the crumbling essence: “We all benefit from being America’s Team and Dallas Cowboys [in marketability], but we pay for it on Sundays.” Charlie Waters said the Cowboys were loathed “. . . because we always win.” But the Cowboys didn’t always win. The Steelers had won four Super Bowls in the Seventies, including two against the Cowboys. With help from Landry, Schramm, and vice-president Gil Brandt, the Cowboys had brainwashed themselves into believing they won every game. The rets could steal victory from them or it could be too cold to play high-tech football or a star or two could be hurt, but the Cowboys always won. The Bible tells us so.

That arrogance inspired another Cowboy first: The Semi-Official Dallas Cowboys Haters’ Handbook, which sold as briskly as head-bobbing Cowboy dolls. Imagine: an entire book for people who didn’t like the Cowboys.

Imagine the near-riots Schramm caused in rival cities with these Texisms: “We lead, and others seem to follow.” And: “I like the attitude of Babe Ruth, pointing to the stands, then doing it.” And: “It’s one thing to win a lot of football games. It’s another to win them in an aura that reeks of class.”

Would you believe Super-Showman Schramm redesigned the Cowboy uniforms after videotaping a male model at Texas Stadium to see exactly how they’d look on TV”? Yes. you would. Schramm rejected forty different shades before selecting his fantasy blue. Schramm put numbers on the hips of the new pants because “if Calvin can put his name on the pockets, we can put our numbers on the hip.” The pants were fashioned of a material that “has greater light reflectivity, which gives it that true silver glow.” Tony Dorsett’s initial response? “They kinda look like ladies* satin pants.”

The Hate-Dallas crusade may have crested in 1982. when a story ran in Sports Illustrated with this headline: “Dallas Can Have “Em.” Subtitle: ’”The Cowboys may be hot stuff in Big D, but in the rest of the country America’s Team seems to have attracted a multitude of haters turned off by its attitude, image, and success.” Writer Paul Zimmerman opened with this exchange: “’Who’s the most hated team in the NFL?’ Raider owner Al Davis asks. ’The Raiders,’ you answer. ’Wrong,’ says Davis. ’We’re the second-most. We’ll never catch the Cowboys.’”

Selected passages: former San Francisco 49ers quarterback John Brodie said, “The Cowboys invalidate the thing they promote the most and the thing they have the least of, and that’s class.”

Mike Manuche, New York restaurateur: “In the old days they had stand-up guys, Lilly, Renfro. Garrison. Now it seems like they’re all a bunch of moaners.”

CBS announcer Tom Brookshier: “Dallas fans never feel the Cowboys have lost a game. It’s always that the referees screwed ’em or the Good Lord looked the other way or something. It’s the toughest place to broadcast a game. Sagebrush. U.S.A. Their fans don’t know football; they just know something’s wrong if the Cowboys aren’t winning by two TDs. . You do a game in Detroit, say, the people there have seen a little football. You can’t BS ’em. But try to tell the truth in Dallas, and you’ll find some frozen hemlock in your nachos.”

Beano Cook, then with CBS, to Schramm: “You’re one of the two most efficient organizations in the Twentieth Century.” The other? “The Third Reich.”

Finally, more from Al Davis: ’The Cowboys are wired to the league office. And you can bet every game official knows that, too. If there’s one team that’s going to get a break, it’s Dallas-on the calls, on the scheduling, on the Competition Committee.”

Lord, even Al Davis,

the NFL’s Darth Raider, was painting (he Cowboys black. Sometimes I was. too, while picking the hemlock from my nachos.

IN 1981 I WROTE A COLUMN IN WHICH I didn’t exactly treat the Cowboy Cheerleaders as Dallas debutantes. I hinted these girls were being taken for a ride by a well-known stranger, Tex Schramm.

The column was inspired by a tip and by a flip comment from Charlie Waters, the team’s sex symbol.

First, I received an anonymous phone tip from a guy who said he worked at Texas Stadium. He claimed some sort of peephole had been built into the cheerleaders’ dressing room at Texas Stadium. I asked around but couldn’t find a stadium official that did anything but laugh at the notion. Only recently, reading Jane Wolfe’s book. The Mur-chisons, did I run across a little revelation that made me wonder if I should have pursued more doggedly the 1981 tip. Wolfe writes: “After leasing space to a health club, Clint [Murchison] built a one-way mirror into the women’s dressing room and invited his buddies to come by and watch the women undress.”


But it was Waters’s comment that definitely opened my eyes. He said, “Most football teams have cheerleaders. Our cheerleaders just happen to have a football team.”

The cheerleaders were that big internationally. They made TV movies and “Love Boat” appearances and performed all over the world. This had to be P.T. Schramm’s greatest achievement. He was selling the world on “wholesome” sleaze. Innocent Texas beauties who thought they had won a Miss America’s Team contest were all but dancing in Schramm’s Million Dollar Saloon. These All-American girls were actually all-binocular. Adjusting his field glasses, the husband could say to his wife, “”Don’t bother me now, honey, I’m focusing on the tight end.”

Right. Even in the Eighties the cheerleaders wore seriously Seventies halter tops of silvery blue that covered just barely enough but left the midriff bare all the way down to white hot pants. The white go-go boots gave the costume that Vegas showgirl touch. “A touch of class,” Schramm called the cheerleaders. Some of his red-blooded male fans dropped the “c” and the “I.”

The Leerleaders, 1 called them. And they were as important as Tom Landry and Roger Staubach to the national impact of America’s Team. The cheerleaders sent a subliminal message to pro football lovers: you can have your cheesecake and drink beer. too. Schramm’s scam: wrap showgirls around helmeted gladiators and watch the TV ratings rise.

But it wasn’t enough for Schramm to simply hire girls who looked vaguely “nasty.” as the Raiders and Eagles did. Those squads lead the league in cleavage and mascara. Those women seemed to ac-cept that their role was simply to shimmy and lean toward the crowd. But Schramm sold Texas girls on what an honor it was to represent their team, state, and country. After a while you would have believed Florence Nightingale and Madame Curie had been cheerleaders.

After I wrote my column I received an impassioned letter from one of Schramm’s maidens of honor. I withhold this cheerleader’s name as a public service to her. In part, it said. “The proudest day of my life was when I made the squad. If you could feel what it feels like to be performing on the field at Texas Stadium, you would be ashamed of the trash you have written. The cheerleaders are tasteful and wholesome and we work many, many hours. People love us wherever we go. We have become an American institution just like Coach Landry and the Cowboys. We spread ’cheer.’ We visit hospitals and our troops overseas. I am living every girl’s dream. Mr. Bayless. and failures like you are just jealous.”

I wish this upstanding, intelligent woman could have sat in on the meetings as Schramm began fantasizing about his cheerleaders concept. A source says, “Tex knew some people would be adamantly opposed. Tom was never consulted. But Tex talked about how, when a network telecast went to commercial, the camera usually looked for a quick shot of a ’honey’ in the stands. So Tex said, ’Instead, the camera will spend five seconds on one of our girls on the sideline,’ which is exactly what started happening. Tex said, ’That’s how we’ll build our image.’”

“So there were a whole lot of ways to like the Dallas Cowboys,” says former Cowboys P.R. director Greg Aiello. “If you were religious, you could like Tom and tune out Tex and the Hollywood stuff. If you liked cheerleaders and flashy uniforms, you could tune out Tom.”

For years I heard stories from Cowboy staffers and media followers about Tex Schramm and Suzanne Mitchell, a secretary of Schramm’s who became director of the cheerleaders. Over twelve years, I heard three of Schramm’s P.R. men mention his relationship with Mitchell several times, as did three front-office secretaries, a scout, numerous players, and many of the newspaper, TV, and radio guys close to Schramm. I also heard for years at training camp about a California woman Schramm knew. Numerous times on the sidelines at morning practice, I heard morning-after stories from media people who had been out with Schramm’s party the night before. The stories about Suzanne Mitchell and about the woman at camp became part of Cowboy lore, so I was never quite sure where the facts stopped and the fiction began. With Tex Schramm, you never knew. Perhaps it was no more than winking locker room talk, exaggerated boasts. For sure, the stories deepened the respect for Schramm among some of my colleagues who considered Texas E. a real man’s man.

In the early Eighties, Suzanne Mitchell had longish, straight, bleached hair, wore sultry makeup, and had the body of a cheerleader. Schramm, perhaps, had made her dream come true when he made her director of the cheerleaders. For sure, she became famous from the many newspaper, magazine, and TV stories done about her and her girls. She must have felt like the most powerful woman in Texas. Suzanne told Sports Illustrated, “I run it as a little football club. We have our training camp, our tryout, our cuts. We study films, and we have three or four hours of training-rehearsals-every night. I understand that where little girls used to dream of being Miss America, now they dream of becoming a cheerleader for the Cowboys instead.”

SHE WAS A NEON VISION OF GREEN-ville Avenue, the top-heavy embodiment of Cafe Dallas, a backgammon disco known for its reverberating hormones. She was a member of the Cowboy “family.” While having a high-voltage, on-off affair with a prominent married assistant coach, mostly in road hotels, she was seeing a rookie wide receiver and a TV sportscaster who traveled with the team. One pre-game night in San Francisco, she felt understandably abused and confused and tried to drown herself in hospitality suite booze. I ran into her around midnight in the lobby of the team hotel, the St. Francis, and we stood by the elevators and talked for a few minutes. I asked why she put herself through all this.

I was so amazed by her answer that I soon returned to my room and jotted it down for future reference. She said, “There’s just something about this team that makes a woman lose her head. It seems like they only draft beautiful guys. They wear the sexiest uniforms. It’s like this incredible power f—.

“And it’s weird, but you don’t feel so guilty about it because of Tom,” she said. “Tom makes it okay-you know, being such a Christian and all.”

What a concept: God looked the other way for God’s Team. Under Landry, all sins were waived? This was an offshoot of the attitude on team flights. Often I heard, “We don’t have to worry about this plane going down. Not with Landry on it.”

I wondered if Don Smerek, a backup defensive end, felt bulletproof outside Cafe Dallas one night in 1981. About 2 a.m., Smerek’s adrenaline got the best of him as he grew impatient with another driver in a parking lot jam. Smerek got out of the car he was riding in and, according to witnesses, started kicking the door of the other car.

The driver shot Smerek in the chest with a .32-caliber revolver, seriously wounding him. The bullet passed through Smerek’s back.

A small vial of white powder was found in Smerek’s shirt, but police said no charges would be filed, even if it was cocaine, because the shirt had been removed from Smerek and could have been tampered with. A grand jury decided not to indict the man who shot Smerek, on the grounds of self-defense. Schramm soon defended Smerek, saying tests hadn’t proven the substance to be cocaine. “Hell, he might like sugar,” Schramm said. “He might be a diabetic.. . It’s unfair to come out and say ’drugs in sports.’ When you say Cowboys, they’re some of the finest young men in our community.”

Yet it seemed that every other day another Cowboy was arrested for alleged DWI, rape, assault, bankruptcy. Mike Hegman, a Greenville Avenue regular, was charged with forging twenty-seven checks worth $10,534 from his roommate’s bank account. After Staubach and other teammates helped Hegman repay the money, Hegman got off with unsupervised probation. But popular Pro Bowl place-kicker Rafael Septien, a professed Christian married to a woman who occasionally sang “God Bless America” before Maverick games, wasn’t so fortunate. He pleaded guilty to indecency with a child (age ten) and was placed on probation for ten years and ordered to undergo psychiatric treatment-a stunningly sad fall.

Was Landry’s team as wild after hours as the Raiders were reputed to be, or did it just seem that way?

I wouldn’t have thought twice about Ed “Too Tall” Jones’s behavior if I hadn’t heard CBS announcers consistently refer to him as “one of the finest men in the game.1’ For sure, he often appeared on the Dallas charity circuit-to the hoots of teammates, who figured he was trying to meet some “new white p-.” Teammates respectfully referred to Too Tall Jones as “the world’s greatest lover.” Yes. the most towering symbol of Cowboy Mystique, the six-foot-nine giant with the most fitting nickname in sports, was called Big Ed in the locker room.

Dextor Clinkscale, who played on the strong side of the Flex defense with Jones, says, “He was never a great worker, but man, was he a great womanizer. Even at six-nine, he thought he had the dexterity of a Spud Webb. He wasn’t ashamed of his size; he was proud of it. He wasn’t at all a drug offender, but he had the all-time libido that just kept him out there. He was always sitting at the bar, trying to persuade some young lady to go back to his place with him [Jones has always been a bachelor]. His home was very neat. I never heard a girl say he was anything but a nice guy. It’s just that he loves sex, and the girls in Dallas do, too.”

Thomas Henderson, who wrote of orgies he shared with Jones, says, “He was a prime example of a man who would do exactly what Tom said and never make any waves. He had it too good in Dallas. That’s why he’s lasted all these years. Every year a new crop [of girls] becomes legal.”

That, at least, may have been part of Jones’s motivation. A man so feared on the field always seemed so fearful when questioned by reporters about anything beyond the weather. It was as if he just wanted to do his job as well as he could, preserve his status and image, and slip into the night. Jones never seemed to get too caught up in winning or losing.

I always was amazed to hear that a man so tight-lipped and straight-faced around the media annually hosted the “party of the century”-Ed Jones’s Memorial Day Party. It began with softball. a live band, and catered food in Jones’s giant back yard off Marsh Lane in North Dallas. It escalated into musical beds. Women who were “available” were given gray Cowboy shorts and half T-shirts. The Grays, they were called. Grays didn’t require much wooing. Clinkscale says, “The party was mostly black players and a whole host of unattended girls, more of them white. A white girl could overcome race with status. After a while, every room in the house was in use.”

Big Ed managed to confine his headlines to the sports pages on all but a few occasions. There was a DWI in which the arresting officer said he had to chase Jones’s Mercedes through “four near-accidents.” There was a nurse who accused Jones of mounting her after she had fallen asleep-imagine waking to that-but she decided not to prosecute. And Jones and a female companion were arrested in a nightclub parking lot when police officers investigated “public lewdness” and the woman became abusive. Was she upset by the interruption? No charges were filed.

Cowboys will be Cowboys.

SUNDAY MORNING, JANUARY 10, 1982. St. Francis Hotel, San Francisco. From about the fortieth floor 1 stepped onto one of those glass High Anxiety elevators. Already aboard was defensive tackle Larry Bethea.

“Well,” I said, trying to sound cheerful, “this is it.”

“This is it,” Bethea said. “If I don’t do it today, I may never do it.”

We were about four hours away from the NFC Championship game at Candlestick Park. Cowboys versus 49ers. Starter John Dutton was hurt, so Bethea would get another shot, perhaps his last. After four seasons the Cowboys were still waiting for Bethea to live up to his reputation.

He had been Gil Brandt’s top recommendation in 1978, the final player picked in the first round. By the time Bethea landed in Dallas that Draft Day afternoon, reporters and photographers would have believed he flew in without a plane. The Cowboys were one of the first NFL teams to fly in their first-round choice on Draft Day to maximize his media exposure. Behold: more “Doomsday.”

Four years later Bethea still was trying to live up. He hadn’t picked himself too high; Brandt had.

Since Brandt had become the draftmaster, Bethea was his first major miss. The Flex hexed Bethea, who couldn’t seem to bury his ball-chasing instincts. The computer failed to probe his heart, which was big but soft. “A 255-pound sack of sugar,” I called Bethea in a column. Nice athlete. No football player.

Bethea left Dallas after the ’83 season amid rumors he was a cocaine abuser. He bounced around the United States Football League. Then in 1985 he pleaded guilty and paid a $1,000 fine for setting three fires in Rainier National Park, in the state of Washington. In 1986 his wife (and high school sweetheart) divorced him, citing his drug problems. Former defensive back Dennis Thurman says, “They’d had problems before because they couldn’t have children. It was really sad.” Bethea soon was arrested for assaulting his wife. Police found $61,375 in his pockets, which he had stolen from a safe in his mother’s attic in Newport News, Virginia. He received a suspended four-year sentence.

In early 1987 Bethea moved back into his old neighborhood, He applied for a job at a 7- Eleven where he was a regular customer. Either he was rejected or no job was open. Three weeks passed. On the night of April 22, 1987, Bethea cashed a $166 unemployment check and bought cheap beer and a pack of cigarettes. Then, allegedly, he robbed the 7-Eleven and another convenience store with a stolen .38 automatic pistol.

Some time after midnight Larry Bethea walked into the back yard of a boarding house where a childhood friend was staying. He put the stolen gun to his temple and pulled the trigger.

LARRY BETHEA. DON SMEREK. RAFAEL Septien. Thomas Henderson. D.D. Lewis. Duane Thomas. John Niland. Bob Hayes. Lance Rentzel. Ed Jones. So many lost souls. So many chances for a father figure to guide, to touch, to save. Yes, many people who heard Landry give his Christian testimony wrote to tell him what impact he had on their lives. But what of the people who heard him speak nearly every day for six months a year? What of his players? Why did the most important man in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes have so little positive impact on his own players? On those in his front office? If God were in Landry’s heart, wouldn’t it be impossible to keep from mixing bi’ness with God’s love? With charity? With what Staubach calls good works?

No, Landry couldn’t be held responsible for the behavior of all 434 who played for him over twenty-nine years. He was coaching pro football, not teaching Sunday school. The game’s object is to knock people down. How can an NFL coach be held accountable for the after-hours hellraising of his gladiators?

But this NFL coach was Billy Graham’s John the Baptist.

I always admired Landry for not forcing his religion on his teams or organization. He didn’t preach or make Bible studies or chapel services mandatory. Yet even if a Christian never said a word, wouldn’t his actions alone inspire or influence those under and around him? I can’t remember many players voicing “love” for Landry. They lived in awe or fear of him. But I sensed no love between players and coach.

Was it unfair, by 1982, for me to start wondering how Landry the evangelist could challenge FCA audiences to carry God’s banner against alcohol, drugs, and sexual permissiveness when so many who played for and worked with him were contributing mightily to what he called “this devastating problem?”

So many wins. So many lost souls, so near to and far from God’s coach.

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