The Dallas Cowboys (see cover), in only the fourth year of their life as a professional football team, should win the Eastern Division championship of the National Football League—despite the fact that in 1962, with one of the league's best offensive teams, they finished fifth.
This seemingly meager accomplishment by the high-scoring Cowboys actually is proof that one of pro football's soundest and most intelligently operated franchises is on or ahead of schedule in its quest for a league championship. In the past the Dallas weakness has been defense. Now that weakness is being corrected, not so much by reinforcement as by a process of maturing power.
The club that represented Dallas in 1962 bore little resemblance to the hastily assembled group of rejects and cast-offs the Cowboys were forced to accept from the league in 1960. Only four of the original 11 on the 1960 offensive team remain, and only two of the 1960 defensive starters. Since the Cowboys were admitted to the league after the annual draft of college seniors, they began competition without the benefit of a rookie crop. The Minnesota Vikings, a team that began operation in 1961, had the same kind of player pool the Cowboys drew from, plus the draft. The Cowboys, in effect, started playing in the NFL with a 15-yard penalty on the kickoff.
It is remarkable that the club did as well as it did in 1962. If, as seems likely, the team wins the East this year, it will be the culmination of a remarkably rapid climb to competence. Most of the credit for the rise of the Cowboys is shared, equally, by three men: Texas oil multimillionaire Clint Murchison Jr., who owns the club; General Manager Texas E. Schramm ( Texas is his given name, not his nickname), who operates it; and Tom Landry, a Texas-born graduate of the University of Texas, who is the head coach. These three men make up the backbone of a smooth-running organization which rivals the New York Giants—operated by the Mara family—in closeness and efficiency.
Aside from providing the money to buy the franchise and a necessarily generous operating budget, Clint Murchison assisted in the development of the club primarily by leaving its operation in the hands of Schramm and Landry. When Cleveland Owner Art Modell fired Paul Brown, one wry guess at his motive came from another longtime owner: "Modell bought himself a $4 million toy and Paul wouldn't let him play with it." While Murchison's franchise will certainly cost him more than $4 million before it begins to earn a profit, he has shown no inclination to play with it. He makes a point of not intruding on either Schramm or Landry. He is very seldom seen in the comfortable, modern Cowboy offices, other than to sign checks. Murchison is a quiet, withdrawn man whose main hobbies are skin diving and underwater movies; he spends much more time under the sea with his camera than he does at Cowboy training camps. He is an appreciative, friendly owner, but not an obtrusive one. Murchison has in abundance the one other quality needed to fit him for pro football proprietorship: a bankroll and the ability to lose large sums of money with equanimity. Once last year, watching an exhibition game between two other pro football teams, he turned to his companion and grinned. "I'm really enjoying this game," he said. "It's the first pro game I've seen in two years where my seat didn't cost me $60,000."
When Murchison was certain that the NFL would grant him a franchise for the 1960 season, he hired Tex Schramm as general manager. At the time Schramm was working for CBS-TV on its sports television programs. He had been general manager of the Los Angeles Rams during the long-drawn-out Dan Reeves-Ed Pauley civil war. Schramm, no favorite of Pauley's, was a victim of the 1957 truce between the partners. Trained under Reeves, who is now the Ram owner, Schramm is a perspicacious, sharp pro football executive, as shrewd as Wellington Mara of the Giants in making trades and in judging coaches. During his apprenticeship with the Rams, Schramm learned to trade by making mistakes. An intense, methodical man, Schramm approaches a problem by listing the elements on a legal-size yellow scratch pad, then pondering them carefully before reaching a decision.
"We used to think if you had two players of about equal ability at a position, one a veteran and one a rookie coming up, you traded the veteran and kept the rookie," Schramm says. "I went over some of the trades the Rams made and I have decided that there is another factor, more important than youth. The longer a unit stays together, the better it gets. Especially on defense. The strength of the whole adds up to more than the sum of the parts. So if you trade away one of the veteran parts and replace it with a rookie—even a great rookie—you weaken the whole."
Schramm arrived at this conclusion at about the same time he arrived in Dallas to take over the Cowboys. During the three years he had been with CBS, he also had pondered other pro football operation problems. The comprehensive, meticulous Ram scouting system, with Schramm improvements, was installed for the Cowboys. Dallas draftees are the most carefully sifted and tested prospects in football. All of them, upon reporting to the team, must take not only physical but mental and psychological tests as well. Gil Brandt, the Cowboys' capable chief scout, never takes the word of a player or a coach on the player's size; if at all possible, he measures the candidate and weighs him personally. While this may seem like nit-picking, it has confirmed something Schramm suspected: whereas publicity men used to understate the size of their players, they are now more apt, possibly with an eye to pro offers for the players, to overstate.
"We found some 260-pound tackles who weighed 225," Brandt says. "One quarterback, listed as 6 feet 2, measured 5 feet 11�. That makes a difference against the big pro defensive lines of today."
But probably the shrewdest move Schramm made as general manager of the Cowboys was his employment of Tom Landry as head coach. Landry was an outstanding back at the University of Texas and spent one season with the New York Yankees of the All-America Conference before going to the New York Giants, where he was a key member of Steve Owens' nearly impenetrable umbrella pass defense. He was an assistant coach for the Giants, in charge of defense under Jim Lee Howell, when the Cowboys came into being. He was ripe for a head coaching job. Schramm had to compete with Bud Adams, owner of the Houston Oilers, to obtain the services of Landry. Although there was newspaper speculation on which club Landry would join, there was actually never any doubt in Tom's mind.