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THERE ARE NO HOLES AT THE TOP
William Oscar Johnson
September 01, 1982
The Dallas Cowboy Organization is the NFL's best because of the four men who have ruled over it since the team's inception in 1960: Coach Tom Landry, General Manager Tex Schramm, director of personnel Gil Brandt and owner Clint Murchison
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September 01, 1982

There Are No Holes At The Top

The Dallas Cowboy Organization is the NFL's best because of the four men who have ruled over it since the team's inception in 1960: Coach Tom Landry, General Manager Tex Schramm, director of personnel Gil Brandt and owner Clint Murchison

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It is 22 years since the Dallas Cowboys first appeared in the NFL—as sorry a bunch of football players as ever heard themselves booed in a half-empty home stadium. In that bright and innocent autumn of 1960, Y.A. Tittle was in his prime, Jack Kennedy had just beaten Richard Nixon for the presidency, the Beatles were still in their teens, and the Cowboys were 0-11-1.

However, that single tie, a 31-31 game with the Giants in New York on Dec. 4, offered some small reason for celebration, and Clint Murchison Jr., the wry, diminutive Texas Croesus whose fortune had bought, bred and fed those hapless Cowboys, recently spoke of it with fondness: "I remember well that day when we failed to lose our first game. I went out to brag about it. I went to a nightclub, El Morocco, I think, looking for someone who might be interested in talking about football. The only fellow I saw who showed the least bit of interest was an owner of the Detroit Lions. I said to him, 'Let me tell you what happened to my team today.' And I was left standing there with my finger in the air, because that very afternoon down in Baltimore, as he informed me in great detail, with 14 seconds left, Detroit was ahead of the Colts 13-8 when Johnny Unitas threw a touchdown pass to Lenny Moore. The crowd poured out onto the field, and it took 10 minutes to clear it. The next play after the kickoff, Detroit passed 65 yards for a touchdown as the clock ran out. He was understandably excited about this, and I never did get to tell my story about the first time the Dallas Cowboys failed to lose."

The Cowboys didn't fail to lose many more games in the next five years. By the end of the 1965 season their total record was 25-53-4. However, a 7-7 mark in 1965 was the turnaround. Not once in the last 16 seasons have they lost more than they have won. And, incredibly, today Dallas has the winningest regular-season record in the NFL for the '60s, '70s and '80s. The list of the Top 5 teams since 1960 reads: 1) Dallas (196-112-6), 2) Oakland (195-110-11), 3) Cleveland (180-127-7), 4) Los Angeles (178-125-11) and 5) Baltimore (174-135-5). And, whereas other winning clubs have experienced streaks and spurts of goodness or greatness, Dallas has been almost supernally consistent, missing the playoffs only once in those 16 years since '65 and playing in five Super Bowls—winning two of them, six years apart with two almost totally different teams.

So what does this mean? Well, for one thing, it means that an aura of myth—or miracle—has grown up around something called The Dallas Organization. People speak with awe of this thing—as if it were a cathedral or a shrine where one can go to be cured of everything from lumbago to losing poker hands. The Dallas Organization. It sounds monolithic, grandiose, like IBM, the Mafia, the Ewings or the Pentagon. Over the years, serious analysts of corporate structure have asked the Cowboys to share with them their managerial formula, the charts and diagrams that explain their administrative process. The Cowboys have had to say no.

For, in fact, The Dallas Organization is way too simple, way too small, for such an analysis. Like any other NFL organization, as a business the Cowboys are more akin to a mom-and-pop gas station than they are to General Motors. The Dallas Organization is nothing more than the tenuous chemistry that exists in the relationship of three men who share credit equally for making The Organization what it is, plus a fourth who operates at a slightly lower level of influence and responsibility.

The handful of men who occupy the minuscule peak of this tiny corporate pyramid do not operate as a palsy-walsy little committee either. Each has his own well-defined bailiwick, and there is a minimum of contact among them of any nature—particularly of a social nature. This is because they are totally improbable partners or colleagues in any kind of undertaking, be it business or pleasure. The following thumbnail sketches of The Dallas Organization principals will make it plain exactly how odd this odd-couple-times-two really is:

The owner and board chairman, Clint Williams Murchison Jr., 58, is very unlike the caricature of a Texas zillionaire. He's extremely articulate, humorous, curious, bright, with a masters from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—a theoretical mathematician, no less, and a damned good one. He has an almost elfin look, with horn-rimmed spectacles and a gray, clipped, flattop haircut. He's a multimillionaire and the son of one, an oil baron who was one of the highest of high-powered Texans in the 1920s and '30s. For most of his years, Clint Jr. walked on the flamboyant side, enjoying good companions, good times, good booze. In one of the few recorded incidents of nonbusiness fraternizing among the hierarchy of The Organization, Clint married Gil Brandt's ex-wife, Anne, in 1975. Since then she has undergone a born-again Christian experience. So has Clint, and the impact of this religious commitment has pretty much undercut his penchant for fun living.

The president and general manager, Texas Ernest Schramm, 62, has decidedly not undergone a religious conversion. He is a hail-fellow type, given to Scotch, laughter, tale spinning and terrible tirades—usually directed at the officials—mixed with unbuttoned hurrahs in the press box. Schramm grew up in Los Angeles but went to the University of Texas because his stockbroker father, who had named his only son after his native state, wanted some of the Lone Star magic to rub off on him. Schramm majored in journalism, went to work as sports editor of an Austin paper, then happily returned home in 1947, when the Los Angeles Rams hired him as a public relations man. He's a born impresario, someone who loves the flash and fun of the show-biz side of the game. He invented the strutting, swiveling chorus line of the Dallas cheerleaders, among other things. He's a man of great passion, restless innovation and powerful loyalties. He's certifiably the closest friend NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle has in the league. In 1952, while Schramm was working in the Rams' front office, he hired Rozelle as publicity director and the two have been like brothers ever since. During the recent Oakland Raider-NFL trial in L.A., Schramm remained at the commissioner's side almost constantly during the five weeks the proceedings dragged on.

The head coach, Thomas Wade Landry, 57, may look like a granite effigy on the sidelines, but that's misleading, for he's a gracious, pleasant fellow in conversation. Not humorous, however, and decidedly not a backslapper and not a cusser or a drinker. Indeed, in the same undramatic, casual tone that another man will use to tell you what he does for a living, Tom will say to you "The No. 1 factor in my life is my relationship to God." He wrote in a newspaper article that he talks to God regularly. Landry is concerned about the incipient immorality in the U.S. these days, as manifested on TV and in films. He has always believed that the Dallas cheerleaders are an indisputable—if minor—reflection of that problem. He doesn't approve of their presence on his sidelines. He also didn't like the Cowboys being labeled "America's Team"—a sobriquet that was one of two titles that NFL Films offered Schramm as the billboard for the Cowboys' 1978 highlights film. Landry says, "I think that title gave us a lot more trouble than it was worth. The other teams resented us for it."

The vice-president of personnel development, Gilbert Harvey Brandt, 49, was working as a baby photographer in Milwaukee when Schramm asked him to help out signing players for the still nonexistent Dallas team in the fall of 1959. Brandt's hobby as a University of Wisconsin physical education major was studying college game films to see why some players were better than others. Schramm had first heard of Brandt from one of his players in L.A., Elroy (Crazylegs) Hirsch, the Wisconsin halfback who starred as an end for the Rams, and Brandt had visited Schramm in L.A. from time to time. Brandt heads the Cowboys' nine-man scouting staff. He's an odd combination of computer memory bank and traveling salesman. He pores over the intricacies of readouts, evaluating potential Cowboy draftees like a medieval monk studying a Latin text, yet in his other life he's a born glad-hander. He sees to it that Cowboy birthday cards are sent to the sons and daughters of every significant coach in America. In coaching circles, he's known for his Cowboy-style high-on-the-hog hospitality. He's always on the sidelines for Cowboy games—as much for the public relations value of being seen on TV as anything else. He has remarried and is the father of a two-year-old boy.

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