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Texas Gentleman
Edwin Shrake
August 05, 2008
Believe it or not, Tom Landry teemed with emotion. He just preferred to be the picture of poise
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August 05, 2008

Texas Gentleman

Believe it or not, Tom Landry teemed with emotion. He just preferred to be the picture of poise

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Another reason frequently mentioned was Landry's supposed lack of emotion. In contrast to Lombardi, on the sideline Landry looked as if he were watching a game of dominoes. "Tom hides his emotions," says Murchison, the owner of the Cowboys. "Just because he doesn't rant and scream and shout doesn't mean he's unemotional. This is a business, and he's concentrating like a golfer on the next shot."

"I have strong emotional feelings," Landry said with a bit of an edge. "The reason I take on the appearance of being unemotional is I don't believe you can be emotional and concentrate the way you must to be effective. When I see a great play from the sidelines, I can't cheer it. I'm a couple of plays ahead, thinking. But look at me in the highlights film of 1970, at the end of our playoff game with Detroit, and you'll see emotion. Week in and week out, I stay engrossed in the game. I have to."

This opinion is endorsed by Lee Roy Jordan, the Dallas middle linebacker. "Tom gets excited like all of us," Jordan says, "but it's not verbal. You can look at him and see agony and joy in his face, if you know how to read him. If we thought he was throwing tantrums and screaming, we might lose control."

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."

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, he 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."

LANDRY, WHO IS 48, GOT AN EARLY INTRODUCTION to winning as a high school fullback in Mission, the Rio Grande Valley city where his father worked as a mechanic in his own garage and is still the fire chief. In Landry's senior year his team outscored opponents by more than 300 points. "I helped to recruit Tom for the University of Texas," says former Texas coach Dana X. Bible. "He was a fine player, a leader, modest and quiet. He had a lot of influence without being loud or blustery. I used to tell the boys that if they would pay the premiums, they would get the dividends. Tom paid and still is."

During World War II, in the spring of his freshman year at Texas, Landry joined the Air Corps. At 19 he got his wings and became the copilot of a B-17. Stationed in England, Landry flew 30 missions for the Eighth Air Force. He crashed once, in Belgium, after running out of gas on a long flight back from a bombing run over Czechoslovakia. "We came down between two trees that sheared our wings off," said Landry, "but we had no gas so the plane didn't burn and we all walked out of it. A lot of planes were lost that night."

Out of the service, Landry returned to the University of Texas and played both fullback and defensive back on teams that won the 1948 Sugar Bowl and the '49 Orange Bowl. "As a player," says Ed Price, Texas's line coach when Landry was there, "Tom didn't break away. He wasn't flashy, but he was solid, could get the tough yardage. One thing I'll never forget, and I'm sure he won't, was in the 1947 season when we played SMU. We had Bobby Layne and they had Doak Walker. Both teams were undefeated, and the game was to see who would be No. 1 in the conference. In the fourth quarter we had a big drive going, and we decided to give the ball to Tom on fourth-and-one. He slipped in a mud puddle and fell down. SMU beat us by one point."

Landry had one of his best days as a player in the 1949 Orange Bowl, in which Texas beat Georgia 41-28, and was signed by the old New York Yankees of the All-America Conference. Along the way he had become intramural light-heavyweight boxing champion and had married Alicia Wiggs of Dallas, a University of Texas beauty and a Bluebonnet Belle nominee. The NFL and the AAC merged on Dec. 9, 1949, and Landry became a New York Giant. He played both offense and defense and once was called upon to quarterback the Giants in a game they lost 63-7. But it was as an All-Pro defensive back, as a player-coach and as defensive coach of the Giants that Landry made the reputation that got him the Dallas job.

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