Former Cowboys GM Schramm diesPosted: Tuesday July 15, 2003 10:29 AM
DALLAS (AP) -- Had Tex Schramm only built the Dallas Cowboys into "America's Team," his contribution to pro football would've been immense. Yet it was only part of his impact on the NFL.
From using professional dancers as cheerleaders to letting officials correct calls through instant replay, Schramm's bold innovations and keen eye for promotion made him one of the driving forces in turning the NFL into a billion-dollar industry.
Schramm, the first team executive elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, died Tuesday at his Dallas home. The former Cowboys president and general manager was 83.
As the man who gave Pete Rozelle his first job in the league and the chairman of the powerful competition committee for 25 years, Schramm's contributions to league history run deep. "You would run out of ink if you tried to write them all down," Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt said.
Yet Schramm always made it clear that the Cowboys were his top priority.
Hired before the team was officially given an NFL franchise, Schramm's first move was hiring Tom Landry as the head coach. Despite opposite personalities, their "business relationship" -- as Schramm called it -- produced 20 consecutive winning seasons, 18 playoff appearances, 13 division titles, five Super Bowl appearances and two championships.
"Tex was responsible for building the Dallas Cowboys and making them the team that they were," said Wellington Mara, owner of the rival New York Giants. "He built that franchise up and kept it running."
Schramm left the organization in 1989, two months after Jerry Jones bought the club and fired Landry. He went into the Hall of Fame two years later, but a strained relationship with Jones kept him out of the club's Ring of Honor.
For 12 years, Schramm was in the awkward position of being recognized among the game's greats in Canton, Ohio, but not among the team's greats in Irving, Texas. That changed in April when Jones decided the man who created the Ring should be in it.
Schramm will become the 12th honoree this fall, joining 11 people he brought to the Cowboys.
"I never gave up hope," he had said at a news conference announcing his selection, his eyes filling with tears. "Things that should happen to people that deserve them, usually do happen."
Gil Brandt, the baby photographer tapped by Schramm to become the team's top talent evaluator, said being given a spot in the ring meant so much to Schramm that "it was like having a new grandchild."
"This was every bit as important to him as being put in the Hall of Fame or winning the Super Bowl," Brandt said.
Jones said Tuesday that having Schramm's name on the facade of the upper deck at Texas Stadium ensures "his spirit will be honored for years to come."
In a way, Schramm's spirit lives on wherever NFL games are played.
It was his idea to put radios in quarterback helmets, to make the sideline borders real wide and for wind-direction strips to dangle atop the goalpost uprights. He also pushed the six-division, wild-card playoff concept.
While running the competition committee, he oversaw rules changes such as using overtime in the regular season, putting the official time on the scoreboard, moving goalposts from the front of the end zone to the back and protecting quarterbacks through the in-the-grasp rule.
"Tex will go down as one of the most influential figures in the history of the NFL," said Don Shula, the league's winningest coach. "I truly believe he had as much, or more, to do with the success of professional football as anyone who has ever been connected with the league."
Schramm's power base was aided by his close relationship with Rozelle.
In 1952, Schramm had gone from publicity director of the Los Angeles Rams to general manager. He hired Rozelle to take his old job, and when Rozelle became commissioner, others in the league jokingly called Schramm the "vice commissioner."
At Rozelle's urging, Schramm played a significant role in negotiating with Hunt the AFL-NFL merger in 1966. Soon after, Schramm headed off a problem with the players' union, then in 1987 he pushed the use of replacement players to break a strike. NFL players haven't gone on strike since.
"The NFL family has lost one of its giants," commissioner Paul Tagliabue said. "Tex Schramm was one of the visionary leaders in sports history -- a thinker, doer, innovator and winner with few equals."
Texas Earnest Schramm Jr. was born June 2, 1920 -- but not in Texas. He grew up in San Gabriel, Calif. Texas was his father's name, and where his parents met.
A 147-pound fullback in high school, Schramm earned a journalism degree from the University of Texas and became a sports writer after a stint in the Air Force.
He worked for the Rams from 1947-56, then went to CBS-TV Sports, where he learned the intricacies of wedding football and television. While there he orchestrated the first TV broadcast of the Winter Olympics and hired Pat Summerall to broadcast Giants football games.
Schramm was 39 when he was hired to start the NFL team in Dallas. He was 41 by the time they finally won a game.
The team's began rising in the mid-1960s, then hit a heartbreaking stretch in which they were mockingly known as "Next Year's Champions." That era was typified by their loss to the Green Bay Packers in the "Ice Bowl."
In the 1970s, the Cowboys' blue star became among the most recognizable images in pro sports. Schramm made it happen, mostly by daring to be different.
He let Brandt put together a scouting system that was ahead of its time. He also agreed to risky draft picks, usually in the late rounds, such as Olympic sprinter Bob Hayes, Naval officer Roger Staubach and basketball players Cornell Green and Pete Gent. He also took Herschel Walker while he was starring in the USFL.
In 1966, Schramm volunteered to host a second NFL game on Thanksgiving Day and drew the largest crowd in franchise history (80,259). The holiday afternoon game remains a team staple and a national tradition.
His most risque move was in 1972, when he replaced high school cheerleaders with professional dancers. The seven-member squad forever changed the sidelines.
A few years later, an NFL Films producer working on the team's annual highlight film noticed the Cowboys had throngs of fans wherever they played, so he dubbed them "America's Team."
Schramm loved the moniker and made it stick. It helped that he put together a radio network that broadcast games on 225 stations in 19 states, plus a Spanish-speaking network with 16 stations in seven states and Mexico.
"Tex was the ultimate football-minded man," said Hall of Famer Bob Lilly, the team's first draft pick. "He loved the game and he had a flair about him of show business."
Schramm's wife of 60 years, Marty, died in December. Their oldest daughter, Mardee Anne Smith, died before them.
He's survived by daughter Christi Wilkinson and son-in-law Bill Wilkinson of San Antonio, daughter Kandy Court, and son-in-law Greg, and six grandchildren.
A private funeral will be held Friday, followed by a public memorial service at 2 p.m. at Lovers Lane United Methodist Church.
"The world is not as lively a place without Tex," Baltimore Ravens owner Art Modell said. "Above everything else, Tex was a great guy, a person who could make you laugh and appreciate the moment."