One autographed photo hangs on the wall in Tom Landry's office. Seated at his desk on the 11th floor of a new glass and granite building the color of charcoal, the coach of the Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys can look north above an expressway that plunges across what was pastureland until structures began to grow on it faster than grass and sunflowers. Or Landry can glance in the direction of this single photo that hangs there as liniment for an aching soul in the event his critics get strident again or another running back is busted for carrying the wrong kind of weeds into a small town. When you think of all the autographed photos Landry could have placed on the wall if he were that kind of man—Nixon, L.B.J., Clint Murchison Jr., Vince Lombardi, even Don Meredith—this one color photograph becomes a window for glimpsing into a personality that is often described as inscrutable. It is a signed portrait of Billy Graham, the evangelist.
Meredith, who played quarterback for Landry in two NFL championship games and then quit after he felt he had been humiliated by his coach in an important game at Cleveland, has said Landry is regimented, unemotional and so well organized that he has no need to communicate. Before Running Back Duane Thomas stopped talking to the outside world last season, he told reporters Landry was a "plastic man." Landry has also been called Computer Face. It has been said that he has transistors in his heart, that he is unblinking to the cries of humanity around him. He has been seen to weep in front of his team in the locker room, break up with helpless laughter on a TV show and run 40 yards to yell at a football official, but these are rare moments in his public life. An old friend from college days, Rooster Andrews, says, "People want to know what makes Tom tick, and he's too smart to tell them. He was born polished. He's such a gentleman it's almost spooky."
What puzzles many people about Landry is that outwardly he is so coherent and stable that he seems like a freak in the midst of our madness.
"If he's got a human flaw, I don't know what it is," says Andrews.
"I've never seen Tommy get mad at the kids because something went wrong, and I've never seen him depressed around the house," says Alicia Landry, his wife.
"He's extremely consistent. Wherever he is, he's the same person, mature in his responses," says Rev. Tom Shipp, a Methodist minister in Dallas.
To a degree, Landry is who he is because he believes in Jesus and in rules. It is fitting then that he is preoccupied with a game where prayers are offered for success and protection against injury, achievement can be measured by records, rules are rigidly adhered to and transgressors are punished with Old Testament suddenness.
"I became a Christian in 1958," Landry said not long ago. This is a surprising statement because he has been a Methodist since he was a boy in the South Texas truck-garden town of Mission. "What I mean," added Landry, "is I was a churchgoer before then but not really a Christian. In 1958 I was invited to join a Bible-study breakfast group at the Melrose Hotel in Dallas, and I realized I had never really accepted Christ into my heart. Now I have turned my will over to Jesus Christ. Outside of football and my family, I spend most of my time speaking to various organizations about the joy and fulfillment of having Christ in your heart."
There would seem to be a contradiction here. Could Jesus have been a fan of a game that is so violent and mercenary? In Sunday morning pregame devotional meetings, some of the Cowboy players—teeth gritted and eyes rolling, still dressed in civvies and shot full, of hope, their shoes scraping anxiously on the carpet—have groaned as guest speakers invited by Land' urged them to be good Christian warriors.
"Gosh, there's no contraction," said Landry, who was a coordinator for Billy Graham appearances in 1971 and is in line to become the next president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. "Christianity and pro football are very compatible. It's a matter of intent. If you're vicious and want to hurt people, that's bad. But you don't often find that feeling among athletes. We're tough because we've got t£ be tough to play pro football. But if "L see a man hurt, you don't kick him. You pick him up. God gave us talent and expects us to use it. As long as Christ is the center of your life and you're doing things with your talent that are acceptable tin Him, it's fine. There are outstanding Christian people in pro football."