SI Vault
Tex Maule
November 05, 1962
The IBM-machine mind of Tom Landry transforms the had-nothing Dallas Cowboys into an NFL contender; his revolutionary system alternates quarterbacks on every play—while he tells them exactly what to do
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
November 05, 1962

A Shuttle Shakes Up The Pros

The IBM-machine mind of Tom Landry transforms the had-nothing Dallas Cowboys into an NFL contender; his revolutionary system alternates quarterbacks on every play—while he tells them exactly what to do

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4

"When I came up to the Redskins, Sammy Baugh was the quarterback," LeBaron says. "He helped me. He taught me an important thing, too: every player is an individual, and what worked for Sammy wouldn't work for me. So I didn't learn technique from him, but he built my confidence whenever I got discouraged. Don doesn't need much help. He's going to be a fine quarterback."

It is not necessary for LeBaron to spend much time building Meredith's confidence, for Meredith is a self-confident man. As such, he is not wholly comfortable in the shuttle system.

"I recognize its value, and Eddie and I like it well enough," he says. "But a quarterback who is in all the way gets the feel of the game. It's something you can't explain, but it is a part of playing football. That's why I say I don't think we'll use this system all the time from now on."

LeBaron, who has seen his share of such innovations, has some doubts, too, but not many.

"I guess the guy on the field knows more about what is going on than anyone else," he says. "But this system does one thing for you—you never have a bad day with it. I don't believe in the theory that a quarterback is sharp one Sunday and unsharp the next. What happens is forced by the circumstances of the game. You may throw just as well this Sunday as you did last and still have a bad day because the defense is always outguessing you, they are always a play ahead of you. That does not happen now. You may go off the track for a play or two, but Landry will get you back on. I don't think either Don or myself has had a really bad day under this system. I don't think we ever will."

Part of the reason for this consistency is the fact that Landry, as a sideline quarterback, is not a pattern signal caller That is to-say, he does not call a series of plays, each of which is dependent upon the others.

"He can pick apart defenses better than anyone I have ever seen," LeBaron says. "But he doesn't build from play to play, because that establishes a pattern the defense can begin to count on. He calls each play as a separate thing. This destroys the other team's ability to count on frequencies."

"Frequencies" is one of those words that show how pro football has advanced into its own computer era. "Most teams in this league chart your games and discover your frequency pattern: how often, from a certain formation, you call a certain play," explains Landry. "For instance, with third down and short yardage, with a halfback flanked and an end spread, you may run off tackle eight out of 10 times. If you line up like that, the defensive players automatically think, "Off tackle," because that is what they have been taught to think. So we often shift into a different offensive formation just before the snap of the ball. There is a lag between the time the opposing players recognize the new formation and can recall what their frequency chart on you tells them is likely to happen. All of them can't react immediately. What I am trying to do is create that moment of hesitancy."

The smart bush-beaters

All of this would indicate that Landry has reduced football as near to an exact science as possible; when Meredith says that Tom has a mind like an IBM machine, he is almost right. Landry not only is a fine tactician, he is a good judge of football talent and a precise organizer. Unlike most teams in professional football, the Cowboys have depended for much of their talent on free agents and late draft choices. Gil Brandt, the Cowboy talent scout, spends some six months of the year touring the nation looking at college football players. In his small room in the Cowboy offices in Dallas he has three tall filing cases filled with 255 big loose-leaf notebooks detailing the strengths and weaknesses of more than 3,000 college football players. From this vast array of information come the clues that have allowed the Cowboys to pick up players like Amos Marsh, their fullback, as free agents. Marsh is ninth in the league in rushing and is getting better each Sunday.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4