Don Meredith always walked away from whatever he was doing way before anyone thought he should walk away. No matter what he did for a living, he left each organization, ala Barry Sanders, at the top of his game. First, when he retired from the Dallas Cowboys at the age of 31; second, when he left his Lipton tea commercial gig; and finally, when he retired from Monday Night Football in 1984. That was his unorthodox style, compared to his celebrity peers.
Joseph Don was born April 10, 1938 in an East Texas town, Mount Vernon, population 1,423. Meredith packed the football and basketball stadiums wherever he played. He was busy racking up the most points, 52, scored in a basketball game, at the time, and winning All-State awards. A model student, he was senior class President, member of 4-H, Future Farmers of America, and Methodist Church Youth Fellowship. It was well known around the small community that he loved where he came from and talked about the town throughout his life.
Heavily recruited by Texas A&M, Meredith decided to play at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. #17 was very popular around campus, making friends wherever he went as a Phi Delta Theta. Because he was so friendly and charismatic, many referred to the college as “Southern Meredith University.” He brought a renewed interest to the Ponies. On the football field he set records for passing completion percentages, earning All-American status, and eventually had his jersey retired, along with a Distinguished Alumni award in 2008. He is much loved by Mustang fans to this day.
Before Dallas even had a football team, they already had a player signed. The franchise didn’t make it in time for the 1960 season, but they were able to sign Meredith, if and when they secured a spot in the NFL. The Chicago Bears drafted him in the third round, surprisingly to help the Cowboys get into the league. In exchange, the Cowboys would give up a third round pick in the 1962 draft. Meredith is and was the original Dallas Cowboy. He would spend a couple of years as a backup quarterback, but Mr. Tom Landry gave him the job in 1963. Meredith would lead the Cowboys to the post-season beginning in 1966 and every year thereafter. The Green Bay Packers broke his heart in back-to-back years, 1966 (championship game) and 1967 (the Ice Bowl game) which both contributed to his early departure. Dandy Don, once again, won over the fans, despite never winning a Super bowl. As a Cowboy, he threw for over 17,000 yards, 135 touchdowns, was a three-time Pro-bowler, and the NFL player of the year in 1966. He retired unexpectedly, the year I was born, 1968, at the age of 31. In 1976, he was the second Cowboy inducted into the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor.
Because Meredith was such an outgoing and beloved person, he was sought after to do the ABC Monday Night Football gig, along with Howard Cosell and Keith Jackson. September 21, 1970, the show aired with a game between the New York Jets and the Cleveland Browns. The three would work together for one year, then in 1971, Frank Gifford joined Cosell and Meredith. Gifford and Dandy Don formed a lifelong friendship during the 70’s. For some good laughs and memories – if you were a child of the 70’s, like me – read more here.
When asking around about information on this great man, my good friend and co-worker, Carley, lifelong Cowboy fan herself had this story to tell: Frank Gifford had married a much younger Kathy Lee and she was pregnant with their first child, Frank told his buddy Dandy Don the good news. As Gifford tells it, Meredith looked at him askance and said, “Frank, I’m gonna get the sumbitch who did that to Kathy Lee.” A few years later, Kathy Lee was pregnant with her second child with Frank Gifford, so again Gifford told Meredith the news. Meredith’s reply: “Damn, I must have got the wrong sumbitch.”
I hope you enjoy reading about these Cowboy greats, as I am writing about them. I said last week, God doesn’t make them like Walt Garrison anymore, but Dandy Don was one-of-a-kind, as well. “Turn the lights out, the party’s over.”