Pete played five years in the NFL, from 1964 to '68, and gained some fame after that by writing North Dallas Forty, the best-seller that critics described as a "thinly veiled autobiography." The book was later made into a movie starring Nick Nolte as Phil Elliott, a thinly veiled Pete Gent.
I saw Pete in action only once, in the fall of 1966, when Dallas played the Redskins in Washington. I had just been named head basketball coach at the University of Delaware, and it was just a 90-minute drive down I-95 from Newark, Del., to Washington.
Brandt had left a good seat for me. As I was making my way to it, I wondered if Pete might actually get in for a down or two. He had improved quickly over the two preceding years, but Cowboy coach Tom Landry had told him he still had to "go up a level." He had to "become a gainer," Landry said.
This was to be the day it would all come together for Pete. Not only did he play, but he was also the go-to guy for quarterback Don Meredith. Pete had six catches, and, as I recall, every one of them was worthy of a highlight film: Each seemed to come on third-and-long, each seemed to be good for a first down, and each seemed to lead to a score. (I admit my memory may be clouded on these details.)
Pete's last reception set up a 20-yard field goal by Danny Villanueva, which gave Dallas a 31-30 win. As that kick sailed through the uprights, no Cowboy fan could have been happier than I was. I had hoped to see Pete get in for a down or two, and now here he was, the star.
Brandt had invited me to the locker room after the game. I had never been in an NFL locker room, much less after an emotional victory. Meredith was a leader, all right. His charisma filled the room. He told his teammates that it had been a great win, that they had bounced back from a tough loss the week before, that they had beaten a good team and that they had done so on the road. He said he was proud of them.
All the while Meredith was talking, he was shuffling the game ball from one hand to the other. Seeing that, I understood that he would soon be awarding that ball to some deserving Cowboy. Dare I think it? Why not Pete? Just then, Meredith interrupted my hopeful daydream. "And, Villanueva, this game ball is yours!" Meredith shouted. Villanueva, who had missed a crucial field goal the previous week, was mobbed by his teammates, and it looked to me as if he was crying. I looked over at Pete, thinking he might be disappointed that he didn't get the ball, but he wasn't. He was pounding Villanueva on the back, and his smile looked as if it would crack his face.
After I left the locker room, I waited for Pete near the lot where my car—and the Cowboys' team bus—was parked. He was one of the first players out of the locker room. As each of his teammates walked by, Pete would introduce me to him as "my coach." I had never been his coach, of course, but he was so happy after the game that he was giving everyone credit for his success.
One of the last people out of the stadium that day was Gil Brandt. As Pete and I were saying goodbye to each other, Brandt walked by and asked me, "Hey, you don't have any more like this, do you?"
"No, Gil," I said. "No, I sure don't."