Gent, the novelist, did not get along well with Landry during his five years on the Cowboys. "I used to be able to tell when I made him mad messing around on the field or in meetings," Gent says. "The muscles beneath his ears would pop out and his eyes would sort of glaze over. His normal method of disciplining was to treat you like a number, and he seemed to be concentrating on talking to you mainly to keep you from vanishing. I agree with Thomas that Landry is plastic, and I think he's dishonest. This Christianity kick is a method to defend himself against the incredibly unchristian things he does to the people who work for him, so he can play with their minds and then forgive himself. His system of football is directed in the hope of finally ending up with 11 complete strangers making up the team, each person knowing his job and the system completely and interacting with his teammates only as specified in the playbook."
Last September, when Landry had not decided whether to go with Craig Morton or Roger Staubach at quarterback, Meredith was interviewed by Sam Blair of The Dallas Morning News and spoke very harshly of what he said was a Landry tendency to set up alibis for himself. "Landry's responsibility is to pick a quarterback and go with him," Meredith said. "After all this time if he doesn't know which is best, Dallas ought to get another coach."
A few days after Blair's column appeared, Meredith was in the Cowboy office. "I ran into several people who were very cool to me," he says. "Then I ran into Tom. He greeted me warmly and we sat down and talked and it was like he had never seen the column, though I'm sure he must have."
Meredith figured in many of Landry's decisions and pronouncements over the years. Once in a scrimmage in training camp, Meredith threw a pass that was intercepted by Cornell Green. Meredith yanked off his helmet and chased Green down the field as if he intended to bash him with it. Everybody laughed except Landry. At the team meeting that night Landry said, "Gentlemen, nothing funny ever happens on the football field."
There was no humor, as far as the Cowboys were concerned, in their 1968 playoff loss to Cleveland. Dallas, which had been runner-up to Green Bay for the NFL title the two previous years, went into the Cleveland game with a 12-2 record and seemed headed for a championship at last. But the Browns won 31-20. Meredith was yanked from the game in the third quarter after throwing his third interception and was replaced by Morton. One of the interceptions had bounced off a Cowboy receiver's hands. Another, Meredith felt, was at least partly the fault of Landry's disciplined system of play, which has rules that determine where defensive players will go when offensive players do certain things. Meredith threw the ball where Landry's rule said there would be no defensive player, but one of the Cleveland backs was in the wrong place and the ball went straight to him. Meredith played one more game for Dallas, a 17-13 Runner-Up Bowl win over Minnesota in Miami, before retiring the following summer. "I went into Tom's office with tears in my eyes, halfway hoping he would talk me out of quitting," said Meredith. "Instead, he spoke to me quietly and accepted my decision."
"There's no doubt in my mind that what happened in Cleveland had an effect on Meredith's quitting," said Landry, "but I have no regrets about taking him out of that game. For years Meredith got a bad rap playing with a bad team. There was nothing wrong with him. We had been very confident before the Cleveland game, but we started going downhill fast. The whole team was playing poorly. If a quarterback is ineffective early in the game but the rest of the team is playing well, the quarterback can often bring himself around. But when everybody's going bad and he's part of it, there's nothing you can do but hope a new quarterback will get hot and pull you out.
"Anyhow, that game and the one we lost to the Browns in the same playoffs the next year brought us a great deal of criticism. It may sound funny, but those games also helped us develop character as a team. When you lose the way we did, you can either become disorganized, or you can come back and win again. No team could have come back as we did after our 1970 shutout loss to St. Louis if we hadn't had the experience we had against Cleveland those two years and the great disappointment of the ice game against Green Bay in 1967. You can't turn yourself around if you don't have a backlog of adversity. The Apostle Paul says suffering brings on endurance, endurance brings character and character brings hope. Once you develop character you tend to always hope things will work out. The guy with character continues to do the best he can, even against the odds, and keeps a bright outlook."
Meredith took part last winter in a University of the Pacific seminar called "Sport: An Existential Inquiry into the Phenomenon of Competition." Among other things, Meredith said, "One Dallas victory only creates an insatiable need for another. Coach Landry believes winning is the only thing. I once told him he should get out of the rotten business because he wasn't giving himself a chance to live."
"I don't believe in winning at all cost, if that means cheating or doing things that are bad," Landry said in rebuttal. "But if you think winning is not too important, then you are not willing to pay the price to win. Take away winning and you take away everything that is strong about America. If you don't believe in winning, you don't believe in free enterprise, capitalism, our way of life. Our way of life means succeeding, and you must win to do that. Today in America everything is let's be free, let's be ourselves. But that eliminates responsibility. If you have freedom, you must have responsibility. Everybody knows that. If you're going to have free enterprise, have a country like ours, man, you've got to win, got to pay the price, got to do the things that make our country progressive. Once you start moving away from that—and that's what we're doing in America today—sooner or later you're going to fail, you won't remain strong.
"This country is organized no different from a football team," Landry continued. "It's built on discipline, competition, paying the price. Take away those things and you have chaos, weakness, immorality, all the things that are taking place in America right now. So winning is important to America. It's got to be."