Gil LeBreton

Cowboys’ best Valley Ranch memories have grown dusty

The day was chilly, as I recall, and I remember thinking that we must be halfway to Oklahoma.

Why, I wondered, would the Dallas Cowboys want to move all the way out here?

But there were big plans for the planned Valley Ranch development in far north Irving, we were told again and again that day, and the Cowboys wanted to be the main reason for it.

The official groundbreaking came on Nov. 29, 1983, a Tuesday, which conveniently was also coach Tom Landry’s day to speak with the media. So we gathered in white tents, ate a catered lunch, and listened as team president Tex Schramm told of the state of the art facility that would soon house the Cowboys.

It was going to be the usual flora and fauna of the time — an asphalt weight training area, a basketball half-court, a jogging track and, as Tex noted proudly, a eucalyptus room where players could lounge and heal from the rigors of daily practice.

As Schramm spoke, however, it was evident that it might have been called Valley Ranch, but there wasn’t a cow or a tree in sight.

The Valley Ranch developers, Tex would chortle later, simply made the Cowboys an offer they couldn’t refuse. Which was sort of the way it was in those days.

When I arrived to cover the Cowboys in the summer of 1980, the team was practicing in a blue corrugated tin shed at the corner of Forest Lane and Abrams Road in Dallas.

The facility was spartan. There was a trailer moored outside the building where I once saw Mike Ditka eat a 6-inch thick meatball sandwich. A motel had sprung up on one side of the practice field, and the rumor was that George Allen had rented a room with a permanent view.

What it lacked in amenities, however, the old blue shed at Forest and Abrams made up in championship aura. The Cowboys went to five Super Bowls while practicing there and made the NFL playoffs 17 of 18 years.

When the team moved into its new Valley Ranch headquarters for the 1985 season, there were no flowery tributes to the old place. Little did we know that within five years the team would be sold, and both Landry and Schramm would go the way of the eucalyptus room.

That night — Feb. 25, 1989 — is still the one that most of us will forever remember about Valley Ranch. A sleepless, far-too-giddy Jerry Jones had just bought the Cowboys and fired Landry.

By the end of the next season, Jones would be complaining about all the windows at Valley Ranch and how it jacked up the electric bill. The place would be better suited as a doctor’s complex, he said, which I guess meant he didn’t plan to include the goal posts.

Valley Ranch didn’t stay a sleepy prairie land for long. The Cowboys soon were swallowed up by the neighborhood like, well, just another doctor’s office.

The huge white-roofed indoor facility gaudily earmarked the landscape for a spell, but tragedy intervened and flattened the place.

On Thursday at Valley Ranch, old Cowboys names gathered to reminisce about the team’s outgoing home. When the current team gathers in Texas again, it will be at the franchise’s new home at The Star in Frisco.

Most of the fond memories that the Irvins, Newtons, Haleys and Johnstons have, however, are from the early and mid-1990s. For the Cowboys, the past 20 seasons or so could have used a eucalyptus sprig or two.

It was still Valley Ranch, but the current Cowboys are all helmet and no cattle.

There are bigger meatball sandwiches to be found in Frisco these days. And maybe, who knows, an actual trophy to spruce up the new neighborhood?

Gil LeBreton:

817-390-7697, glebreton

@star-telegram.com,

@gilebreton

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