From meager beginnings to America's Team
02/14/2008 4:30 PM
08/27/2009 10:50 AM
The 1960 Cowboys opened for business on a song and a prayer ... and 22 players taken in the expansion draft.
These acquisitions were older players, injured players, expendable players. They occupied the bottom nine spots on the rosters of the 12 existing NFL teams.
But the fledgling Cowboys couldn’t be picky.
The lifeblood of their first NFL season would have to come from these 108 names. (No wonder the ’60 Cowboys went 0-11-1.)
“We got 24 hours to make our selections,” recalled Gil Brandt, the Cowboys’ longtime personnel man before Jerry Jones bought the team in 1989. “Remember, we got a team too late to get in on the college draft that first year.”
There hasn’t been an NFL expansion team, before or since, to not have the benefit of a college draft.
But the Cowboys were different. They were born out of necessity.
Because the NFL desperately wanted a team in North Texas to compete for fan dollars with Lamar Hunt’s Dallas Texans of the upstart American Football League, the Cowboys were hastily thrown together, christened and shoved out the door.
Twenty-two players obtained in the expansion draft made the team.
Only two of them — middle linebacker Jerry Tubbs (from the 49ers) and wide receiver Frank Clarke (Browns) — lasted longer than a handful of seasons in Dallas.
Among the other expansion picks, veteran receiver Jim Doran (Lions) and tight end Dick Bielski (Eagles) each made a Pro Bowl; running backs L.G. “Long Gone” Dupre (Colts) and Don McIlhenny (Packers) became impact players on bad teams, and offensive tackle Bob Fry (Rams) hung on for just five seasons.
“Everybody else was either an old guy or an injured guy,” Brandt recalled.
In order to get things turned around, the team’s triumvirate of Tom Landry, Tex Schramm and Brandt had to get creative (or continue to get clobbered).
Since there were no “how-to” books or “NFL 101” classes to attend, Landry, Schramm and Brandt resorted to some old-fashioned ingenuity.
Brandt, the lone survivor at age 74, recalls how these three men put their minds together to build the foundation of one of the most successful sports franchises — ever.
Each had his own area of expertise. Brandt’s was to find players.
“We did all kinds of stuff,” Brandt said. “We even involved the wives of college coaches to find free-agents to sign.” How did the Cowboys do that?
Well ... not cheaply.
They offered Hawaii trips as a “finder’s fee” to any coach and his wife who led Brandt to lesser-known players who ended up making the Cowboys, or else another NFL team from which the Cowboys received compensation.
“In each case, we’d send a copy of this letter to the wife,” Brandt recalled.
And what happened?
“We got wives calling us and giving us players’ names.”
One of the best “finds” of the early ’60s was a 6-foot-3 Utah State basketball player named Cornell Green, who never missed a game in 13 seasons with the Cowboys (1962-74).
“Cornell was really amazing,” said Brandt, “because he never played a down of college football.”
Green, who made five Pro Bowls at two positions (cornerback and safety), was a product of the Cowboys’ annual hospitality room at the Final Four.
“Tex was great about us spending money,” Brandt said. “We’d go to the NCAA basketball tournament and set up a hospitality room for the [basketball] head coaches from all around the country.”
One year, University of Indiana’s coach — a guy named Bob Knight — recommended a 6-foot-5 Hoosier named Ken Johnson, who went on to play seven seasons (1971-77) for the Cincinnati Bengals.
“Our mistake with Johnson was that we tried to make him into an offensive tackle,” Brandt recalled. “The Bengals [who claimed Johnson on waivers from the Cowboys] tried him on the defensive line. That was where he belonged.”
But Green didn’t get away.
On a tip from Utah State basketball coach LaDell Anderson, the Cowboys discovered and signed the multi-talented younger brother of then-Red Sox infielder Pumpsie Green.
And when Brandt drove through a snowstorm from Salt Lake City to Logan, Utah, hoping to get Green to commit to the Cowboys for the “team-standard $250,” it was Utah State football coach John Ralston and Anderson who served as tag-team “agents.”
They drove a hard bargain. And Green ended up getting $750, as Brandt recalls the story.
“I think it was $1,000 altogether,” Green said. “The $250 was just for me putting my name on the contract, whether I showed up or not. That just kept me from signing with another team.”
But Green was leaning toward the NBA. He had been drafted by Chicago.
“I never planned on playing for the Cowboys,” Green recalled. “I just figured I was 250 bucks ahead.”
Even when he reported to training camp in Marquette, Mich., in 1962, he just thought of it now as a $1,000 gift from the Dallas Cowboys. “I figured I’d go there for a week ... and they’d cut me,” Green said.
But the difference between most NFL coaches and Landry was vision.
“That’s why we were able to keep a guy like Cornell Green,” said Brandt. “Because Tom had this knack of seeing what a player would be like two or three years down the road.”
Like Rayfield Wright, another basketball player out of tiny Fort Valley State, who moved from tight end to offensive tackle ... to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Brandt’s job was to unearth these long shots. Schramm spared no expense in finding them. And, of course, Landry saw the other side of the moon.
It was this teamwork that Brandt credits for the Cowboys’ early success.
“Everything was a lot easier than it is now,” Brandt admitted. “We sent out questionnaires to probably 1,000 players, just to find out stuff like their favorite team. We didn’t want to lose a player to the other league [AFL].
“We also set up a 1-800 phone line and told players that they could call in and find out where they were drafted, or if they were drafted ...and, by the way, what is your phone number?
“When the draft ended and teams were just getting ready to go after free-agents, we already had signed 50 guys. And we got ’em because of that 1-800 number.”
The Cowboys started what is commonly known today as “Pro Days” on college campuses for NFL-eligible players before the draft.
“We’d call the school and say, ‘We know your spring program begins on such-and-such, so we’d like to come out and time your entire team,’ Brandt said. “We promised to time everyone, so that nobody felt neglected.
“And then that evening, we would take the coaches and their wives out to dinner.”
A few of the more established NFL teams considered the Cowboys of the early- to mid-’60s to be frivolous spendthrifts.
“They thought we spent our money foolishly,” Brandt said. “But because we spent a lot of time on these players, we didn’t draft any 5-11 1/2 guys who were listed in the media guide as 6-4.”
And these college coaches remembered the Cowboys when there was only one reel of film on a certain player available.
“We usually got it,” said Brandt.
One of the earliest favors came from the league office. Since Dallas didn’t have the benefit of a college draft in ’60, the NFL office made sure Don Meredith (drafted by the Bears) and Don Perkins (Colts) were assigned to the Cowboys for a couple of future draft picks.
Perkins was a ninth-rounder.
He ended up playing eight seasons in Dallas — making six Pro Bowls — in large part because U.S. Senator Clinton Anderson of New Mexico sat on the Cowboys’ Board of Directors. Perkins was a star running back at the University of New Mexico.
“Somehow, the league just gave us the rights to Perkins,” Brandt recalled of the Cowboys’ first star fullback who played eight seasons and made six Pro Bowls.
Once the Cowboys began to draft, they didn’t have their own first-round choice until 1962, when they selected Lee Roy Jordan with the sixth pick overall.
In 1961, the Cowboys had lost their No. 1 to the Redskins in a ’60 trade to acquire veteran quarterback Eddie LeBaron.
In ’62, Dallas didn’t have a first-round pick because of a ’61 trade with Cleveland for the Browns’ first-round pick ... which became Bob Lilly.
“So, you can see, we moved around a lot,” said Brandt. “And we tried a lot of stuff.”
Most of the stuff worked.
The Cowboys have appeared in a record-eight Super Bowls — winning five. And oh, by the way, the franchise is worth $1.5 billion.
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