Mac Engel

Don Meredith’s filmmaker son found an ideal subject: his dad

It’s the eyes, not the voice, that bears resemblance to his dad, Don Meredith. Few have ever had the voice of Don Meredith.

Michael Meredith is 49, and the considerable shadow created by his dad still exists but is no longer so overwhelming.

Sure, sometimes Michael got sick of it.

“I get sick of everything every now and then,” Michael Meredith told me.

Meredith, who lives in Dallas, has a long history in Fort Worth. Arlington Heights is one of the seven high schools he attended. His mother went there. His grandfather attended Paschal, and his great-grandfather was the mayor of Westover Hills. Don Meredith’s brother, Jack, played at TCU.

Today, Meredith is married with two kids and firmly established as a filmmaker. A few years ago he decided to take on the one subject that for years was sitting in his lap — his dad.

Of all the players who ever wore the Dallas Cowboys uniform, no one created the image of a Dallas Cowboy with more flair or character than Don Meredith. The era in which he played, and the person he was, are ideal subjects for a documentary.

Michael Meredith is still collecting interviews but is optimistic that his documentary, “First Cowboys,” will be released in 2018.

The documentary is anchored by Meredith (who died in 2010 at 72) and was the first player to sign a deal with the Cowboys. The movie will also function as a history lesson about the birth of the franchise and the team’s impact on a region that was beset by morale and image problems after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.

The movie is also a way for a son to get to know his dad better. Michael grew up when his dad enjoyed national fame as an analyst sitting next to Howard Cosell on ABC’s “Monday Night Football.”

The part of his dad he didn’t know well was the Don Meredith who played for the Cowboys in the 1960s. He was Tony Romo before Tony Romo: the talented quarterback who could get close but not win it all. Meredith’s Cowboys were the team that could not beat the Green Bay Packers.

Meredith’s high point was a loss: The 1967 Ice Bowl.

“I remember asking him when I was a real little kid, and I was trying to figure out what your dad does for a living, and he said he was a football player; the first question was, ‘Wow — did you win the Super Bowl?’ ” Meredith said. “He said, ‘No. No, son, I didn’t.’ I remember wishing I had not asked him that question because it pained him.

“I found out, now, that there was a victory and that was helping the city get out of the shadow of the death of JFK.”

Meredith the filmmaker has interviewed Bart Starr, Mel Renfro, Rayfield Wright, Pettis Norman, Roger Staubach, Ralph Neely, Walt Garrison, Tom Landry Jr., Dan Rather and, best of all, Willie Nelson.

Willie was a family friend who frequented the house when Michael was a kid.

There are other interviews, too, notably with the late sportswriter Gary Cartwright, who covered Meredith. It was Cartwright who famously wrote in The Dallas Times Herald: “Outlined against a gray November sky, The Four Horsemen rode again Sunday in the Cotton Bowl. You remember their names: Death, Famine, Pestilence and Meredith.”

According to Michael, a handful of the players were irate with Cartwright over his ink treatment of Meredith. The plan was to beat the hell out of the sportswriter. Don Meredith put a stop to that.

At his home in Austin, Cartwright told Meredith on camera that he regretted much of what he had written about his father.

“And my dad and Cartwright were friends,” Meredith said. “He had a lot of regret. He said, ‘I hope your dad can hear me right now how sorry I am. If he can’t, I’ll have to tell him myself.’ 

Cartwright died in February.

“To my knowledge, that was the last thing he said on camera,” Meredith said.

In Meredith’s research for the film, which began four years ago, he has uncovered countless such anecdotes about his dad from a fleet of men who shared a common interest: A genuine respect and admiration for Don Meredith.

They all knew the man behind the silly laugh and personality made famous nationally on “Monday Night Football,” so when Michael Meredith called, they agreed to share their appreciation.

It should be one hell of a movie.

Mac Engel: @macengelprof

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