Fifty years later, and nothing has changed when it comes to the personal regrets.
Nov. 22, 1963.
Why did I do what I did on that darkest of Fridays?
Walking out of a classroom on the North Texas State campus in Denton, the foyer was crammed with groups of students huddled around transistor radios.
So many radios, it sounded like an echo when I heard, “The president is dead.”
It was 1 o’clock in the afternoon. A new and beautiful kind of political music had died in our country. No president had ever appealed to the youth of the nation like John F. Kennedy.
I was a big fan, and still a year away from voting age.
Adding to the misery was that his murder had happened in my back yard, and we all knew the immense stain that was instantly placed on the city of Dallas. On us, really. All of us in the area, and across the state of Texas.
The university canceled classes, of course. Students were told, if possible, to return home.
Seven hours later, with the entire nation in shocked mourning, I was at a high school football game.
It was me, and 8,500 other people, crammed into the Gopher Bowl in Grand Prairie. With the district championship on the line, the Gophers of GPHS beat Wichita Falls for the first time ever.
The scene for a high school football game was obviously surreal and subdued. Why was this game played, the only game not canceled in Dallas County and one of the few played anywhere in North Texas?
My ongoing regret, 50 years later, is I was there when nobody should have been there, not at a high school game, not under these circumstances.
At the 25-year anniversary of JFK’s murder, I was doing a sports column for the Dallas Morning News, and a hot topic was the decision by NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle to allow NFL games to be played on the Sunday after the president was murdered.
There was very limited local sports talk radio at the time, but the print and radio debate was immense in the DFW area. Rozelle himself had said his worst decision as commissioner was to allow those games to be played two days later, even though he received an OK from JFK advisers and family.
It was also the quietest I’ve ever been on a lively sports topic.
No, as Rozelle would later say, the NFL should not have played the games on that particular Sunday. But I was a guy who attended a high school game seven hours after President Kennedy was pronounced dead.
That regret lingers today.
But 50 years later, it doesn’t compare to one other personal decision on that infamous Friday.
Leaving the classroom building at North Texas State, I was headed to my apartment, and then home to Grand Prairie, not even thinking about a high school football game I figured would be canceled.
Walking up the sidewalk in front of me were two girls, both of them with the sorority sisters look.
I’m in a daze, paying no intention, except then I heard the girl on the left say, “It’s not a bad thing Kennedy is dead, but the horrible thing is, Johnson is now president.”
In a rage, I walked up beside the girls, and give them a look of disbelief.
I’ve got to say something. If it’s a guy, you can take a swing, get your butt kicked on the spot but still feel good about it.
But these were girls, and they were obviously worried about my demeanor.
You can’t dog-cuss girls. That’s not right. But I’ve got to say something harsh. Real harsh.
All I had for them, however, was the meanest look I could muster. And I walked on.
I heard the other girl say, “What’s his problem?”
An hour later, a year later, 25 years later and now 50 years later, I got my answer to “what’s his problem?” for those women, who would now be pushing 70.
My problem remains me. I didn’t say anything to those sorry pieces of expensive clothes.
I have for 50 years wished I had a do-over on that one.
So if your grandmama was at NTSU in November 1963, and she fits the profile of those girls — nice-looking, well-dressed, sorority types — please ask her to call me. I need to scream at her. I need to remove this demon from my brain.
Some three years after the president was shot dead in Dallas, I was a cub sportswriter at the Morning News. I listened to the stories of veteran writers from all four local papers about the Cowboys playing in Cleveland on Nov. 24, 1963.
But just as interesting was what happened the next week, when the Cowboys hosted the New York Giants at the Cotton Bowl. The team from the media capital of the world was in town, bringing a horde of newspaper and TV people to size up the situation in, take your pick, “The City of Shame ... The City of Hate ... The City That Killed President Kennedy.”
Obviously, Dallas did not fare well in those reports.
And I remember the Cotton Bowl game two months after Kennedy’s death, on Jan. 1, 1964.
A top-ranked University of Texas team had unfortunately been lumped into the nationwide loathing of Dallas, and the opponent was Roger Staubach and Navy. Roger was JFK’s favorite football player.
That game wasn’t billed as “The United States vs. Texas,” but that was the perception. Texas won, which was only celebrated within state lines.
But then there’s the irony.
Ten days after the president was shot, the NFL held its 1963 draft, the early date being a product of the ongoing football war for players with the AFL.
Gil Brandt, now 80, was in charge of the Cowboys’ draft. As a sidenote, three of Brandt’s picks that day became Pro Football Hall of Famers. One was Mel Renfro, one was Bob Hayes and the other was, yes, Staubach, picked in the 10th round as a “future” because of his upcoming Navy commitment.
By the turn of that decade, the Cowboys had emerged as the most popular team in the NFL, thanks, of course, to Roger, to Bullet Bob, to Renfro and so many others, last but not least being Tom Landry.
As history tells us, the Cowboys were one of the reasons the city of Dallas slowly escaped the “City of Hate” image.
“I’d say it was the major reason, but that’s just me,” Brandt told me this week.
He may be right.
Fifty years later, a couple of personal regrets still remain. And the shock of that tragic day is ongoing.