Eddie LeBaron barely gets a mention whenever people speak of the storied lineage of Cowboys quarterbacks.
Why not? He’s not Gary Hogeboom.
It’s always Meredith, Staubach, Aikman ... Romo.
Occasionally, Morton and White get tossed into the mix.
That’s usually it.
But LeBaron belongs on anybody’s short list (no pun intended). The 5-foot-7, 165-pounder was the team’s first quarterback, its first household name and its first proven NFL commodity when he arrived in Dallas in 1960.
At Washington, LeBaron led all NFL passers in 1958. But two years later, he was suddenly on an expansion team with very little help.
The ’60 Cowboys finished 0-11-1.
LeBaron, who turns 78 on Monday, was known as “The Little General” before Avery Johnson was even born.
Acquired from the Redskins for a pair of 1961 draft picks (first- and sixth-round), LeBaron made a futile attempt to convince Tom Landry to “dumb down” the offense enough to win a few games.
He remembers the exact conversation.
LeBaron to Landry: “Tom, if we could simplify our offense a little bit, I think we could beat some of these teams. Guys are getting confused.”
Landry to LeBaron: “No, Eddie. We’re going to put in a system that can beat the Cleveland Browns and the New York Giants. So, when we get the personnel, we’ll already have the system in ... and we’ll beat ’em.”
“That’s exactly what happened,” LeBaron said.
His memories of the early Cowboys are mostly good ones, even though the team didn’t post a winning season (1966) until after he was long gone.
In his four seasons in Dallas, the Cowboys went 13-38-3. And while he lost his job to Meredith for good in ’63, LeBaron made the Pro Bowl in ’62.
“We had the best offense in the NFL that year,” he recalled.
Eddie’s height made him an NFL novelty.
But he was better than that.
In his book, The Making of the Super Bowl, former NFL executive Don Weiss wrote: “[LeBaron] could be the most gifted all-around athlete I’ve ever known.”
To this day, LeBaron remains an avid golfer — an 8 handicap, to be exact. His highly competitive tennis matches with Don Shula at NFL competition committee meetings in Maui during the late ’70s and ’80s were legendary.
LeBaron is only about 10 pounds over his playing weight. He works out two or three times a week.
“So many people let themselves go to pot,” LeBaron said. “My wife won’t allow me.”
Eddie and Doralee — married 53 years — live on the 18th hole of a golf community near Sacramento, Calif.
LeBaron has always had to apologize for being short, which is a joke because NFL pass rushers seldom batted down his passes.
“I never thought it was a disadvantage to be 5-7 because I could move around in the pocket,” LeBaron said. “Anyway, it all boils down to technique, which is something you don’t see much of today.”
His list of NFL QBs with proper technique begins with Tom Brady, moves to Peyton Manning ... then drops off in a hurry.
Even Romo, the most recent branch on the Cowboys’ QB tree, is not a textbook passer by any stretch of the imagination.
“Romo is a movement guy with a quick release,” LeBaron said. “That’s how he gets it done.”
Just out of curiosity, LeBaron once measured himself against Hall of Fame quarterback Y.A. Tittle, who stood 6-foot.
“Tittle and I were at a Pro Bowl together,” LeBaron recalled. “We began measuring our release points and found that mine was six inches higher that his. Tittle threw sidearm.”
LeBaron is a retired lawyer, but still goes into his office for eight hours at a time. He’s the busiest retired person he knows.
Eddie hasn’t been with the NFL since leaving the Atlanta Falcons 22 years ago, serving both as the team’s general manager (1977-82) and executive vice president (1983-85).
His legal background played heavily in Eddie’s excitement about coming to Texas in 1960. He took the state bar exam and immediately found work at a Dallas law firm (Wynn & Wynn) while playing for the Cowboys.
But on the field, he just wasn’t Superman.
The NFL had just countered the upstart American Football League’s decision to put a team in Dallas and go head-to-head for the first time in 1960. (The Dallas Texans later became the Kansas City Chiefs.)
And so, Cowboys owner Clint Murchison wasn’t awarded an expansion franchise until after the 1960 NFL draft.
“We were the only team to ever come into the NFL that didn’t get a draft,” LeBaron said. “We picked up a few free agents in the expansion draft: L.G. Dupre (Baltimore) and Don McIlhenny (Green Bay) were good players; Frank Clarke (Cleveland) worked on pass routes after practice and became a great player. But most of the guys weren’t.
“A lot of ’em got hurt easily, so that first year was a mess.”
President/general manager Tex Schramm managed to pull a few strings and the Cowboys acquired a pair of promising rookies — Don Meredith (SMU) and Don Perkins (New Mexico) — from the Bears and Colts, respectively, in exchange for future draft picks.
“I think the league felt sorry for us,” said LeBaron.
The only game the ’60 Cowboys managed not to lose was a 31-31 tie against the New York Giants at Yankee Stadium in the next-to-last game of the season.
This was a grizzled Giants team that played for the NFL championship six times in eight years (1956-1963).
“That day,” LeBaron recalled, “you could see we were going to be pretty good.”
Unfortunately for him, it happened after he left Dallas.