Whenever the current Dallas Cowboys’ owner strikes the ire of Cowboys fans, those born in the 1960’s and prior hold up Clint Murchison, Jr. as the ultimate owner in franchise history. He always knew what to do. Whether due to early onsets of dementia, or more reasonably, an ignorance of history as it was happening, such fans neglect the realities that were Clint Murchison. Hence, why they never ask the question: if he’s such a great owner, why did he ever have to sell the team?
Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t a hit piece on Murchison, nor do I have any vendetta against the man. He was a great owner of the Dallas Cowboys and our “America’s Team” image came about during his ownership. But he was also a poor caretaker of that power and nearly destroyed it. The fact the Dallas Cowboys aren’t playing in Baltimore, Charlotte, Houston, or Los Angeles after Clint Murchison’s inadvisable actions is a testament to the current ownership.
One claim that Dallas Cowboys fans make, particularly those who listen to the Turkey Neck, or particularly those who confuse paranoia with freethinking and think being an unpaid moderator on a troll-catering fan forum is a lifetime achievement, is that Stephen Jones is a rich man’s son. He wouldn’t be where he is today without Jerry Jones. While that is undeniable, the same claim is never leveled towards Clint Murchison by these same vapid stiffs with distended abdomens.
Clint Murchison, Sr. was an oil baron in the 1920’s and 1930’s, and also a man with influential friends like Sam Rayburn and Earl Cabell. In the late 1950’s, Clint Sr. was one of the richest Americans, right there with Edsel Ford and all of the Rockefeller boys. When Clint Murchison, Jr. was 26 years old in 1949, his father gave him and his brother John the portfolio to 20 major companies under the umbrella of “Murchison Brothers.” Clint Jr. was a rich, fortunate son, enough for Tevye to sing about him in Fiddler on the Roof.
Socrates said he could spot a person with inherited wealth by their lax attitude towards money. For Clint Jr., this was self-evident. His father built over 50 homes for returning soldiers in World War II, and it was Clint Jr.’s job to sell the homes. Instead, he sold himself as a playboy and Papa Murchison had to hire someone else to broker the homes. If it wasn’t fun for Clint Jr., he wanted nothing to do with it. He wanted to find a line of work that fascinated him.
Clint Murchison, right, is seen with the 1961 Cowboys starting quarterback Eddie LeBaron.
For Dallas Cowboys fans, we would have the Hunt-owned Dallas Texans and their lone Super Bowl to celebrate if not for Clint Jr.’s mad desire to own an NFL team that dated back to 1952 when Clint wanted to buy the floundering Metroplex franchise. Also named the Dallas Texans, yet having no relation to Lamar Hunt’s franchise that would debut in 1960, NFL commissioner Bert Bell instead allowed Carroll Rosenbloom to buy the team and transform them into the Baltimore Colts. In the 1950’s, pro football made its money on ticket sales, not television and radio contracts. Therefore, owning a pro football team in the hotbed of college football would mean the franchise would be average at best. Nonetheless, Clint Murchison wanted to be an NFL owner.
In late 1959, Clint Murchison got his NFL team, the Dallas Cowboys. Interestingly, it was George Halas and Art Rooney who supported an expansion team in Dallas, much to the displeasure of Redskins owner George Preston Marshall. Admittedly, Murchison didn’t become president and general manager. Instead, Murchison hired Los Angeles Rams general manager Tex Schramm for those roles. Perhaps it was Murchison’s foresight, or it could have been the foresight of Murchison’s partners, as Clint Jr. never fully owned the team except for four years. Few Cowboys fans know that Bedford Wynne was a minority owner the team, and even fewer know that John Murchison, Clint’s brother, was a silent owner of half of the Dallas Cowboys until 1979.
Another claim that is made by fans who champion Clint is the fact he didn’t “meddle.” Clint meddled pretty mightily at the conclusion of the 1964 season. Rather than let Tex Schramm either choose to retain Landry or find a new coach like Bear Bryant, as some of the mediots of that time championed, Clint Murchison meddled and gave Tom Landry at 10-year contract set to begin at the conclusion of the 1965 season. Tex Schramm claimed that Clint was the backbone and support for the entire franchise. How’s that for “hands off” ownership?
Another example of Clint Murchison putting his needs ahead of the players’ was in the building of Texas Stadium. The Cotton Bowl in Fair Park had a grass playing surface that was less prone to causing injuries than the astroturfed surface at Texas Stadium. Instead, Murchison wanted a state of the art stadium, modeled after some European soccer venues, and then sold most of the $50,000 suites to corporations. The Dallas Cowboys selling out to corporate money was happening years before these over-the-hill schmucks on fan forums and article comments could say “goo goo.” And it began with Clint Murchison. Does that make him crazy? No, just makes him cutting edge.
However, Murchison’s playboy lifestyle didn’t stop when he owned the Dallas Cowboys, even though Clint had found a profession that finally interested him. Though geeky and mild mannered with Coke-bottle glasses, Clint was a sex-obsessed hound. He owned a penthouse on Park Avenue in New York, and he relished the chase of getting a hot young woman in the sack, which ultimately led to his divorce in 1972. In his early fifties, when most people are burned out and their lives ruined from cocaine, Clint had just begun. He found the drug helped aid him in his concupiscent escapades. While some Jerry detractors claim he’s on drugs, Clint Murchison actually was.
What would the mediots say if Jerry Jones was having an affair with Tom Ciscowski’s wife? In 1975, Anne Brandt divorced her husband Gil — yes, that Gil Brandt — and became Mrs. Clint Murchison by that June. Clint lived for excitement and thrills, and it was this addiction that led to the Dallas Cowboys’ downfall.
In the 1970’s, Clint Murchison got involved with real estate partners like Lou Farris, Jr. and Richard Baker. These were risky investments that Clint made, from building residential developments along the West Coast to overpaying nearly $5 million for over 45 acres near Washington, D.C. Clint was thrilled just to own the properties, because he believed real estate would always be a booming investment. Along with these real estate gambles came outlandish ventures, like tossing $10 million into converting cow patties to natural gas or financing a millions-of-dollars ski resort in Iran. In the mid-1970’s, Clint became addicted to borrowing money. It was a perversion of his father’s advice: “If you are going to owe money, owe more than you can pay, then the lenders can’t afford to foreclose.” As a successful economic policy or a business model is debatable, but it is incontrovertible that this is a failed philosophy when not backed by stable investing. John Murchison didn’t find out about Clint’s borrowing addiction, which got so bad he had to borrow money to pay existing debts, until the late 1970’s. This prompted John to commence dissolution of their partnership, complete by October 1981. However, John died in mid-June 1979 at a Boys Scouts speaking engagement. And that’s when the beginning of the end came for the Dallas Cowboys.
In the early 1980’s, banks were calling Clint Murchison daily demanding money. At that time, interest rates were 18%, and Clint held out hope that they would soon fall. He was paying $80 million just to cover the interest rates on his bank notes. Because of an embittered battle Clint found himself with his nephew, John Jr., over the borrowing against John Jr.’s $30 million trust, an injunction prevented Clint from refinancing his debt. When Murchison Brothers finally dissolved and John’s family branch was detached from Clint, the Dallas Cowboys remained with him. Dallas banks presumed that because Clint owned them, he would always be good for a payment when the time came; they were lax in forcing Clint to pay up. Instead, what the banks discovered was how insolvent Clint was, and they all panicked and demanded payment. It got so bad that even Clint’s law firm, the very law firm that his father bankrolled, would no longer represent him.
It all culminated in 1983 when an ALS-like disease struck Clint Murchison. The degenerative nerve disease really was the end for him, and it forced him to sell the Dallas Cowboys for $63 million and Texas Stadium for $20 million to pay off his debts and treat his condition. Even after selling the team in 1983, the lawsuits against Clint were just over $75 million and would not relent. By 1987, Clint Murchison had sold his mansion and lived in a standard middle-class house with his wife Anne. In twenty years, Clint had gone through $1.25 billion to $550 in debt. When he died, Clint’s children were living examples of going “from sandals to sandals in two generations.”
Tex Schramm eulogized Clint at his funeral as the glue that held the Dallas Cowboys together. This article doesn’t dispute that fact; rather, it is an example of the irresponsibility Clint Murchison had that led to the Cowboys’ downfall. Jerry Jones may never have been the owner of the Dallas Cowboys had Clint Murchison not had to sell the Cowboys to Bum Bright. Perhaps John Murchison, Jr. or one of the other Murchison kids would have owned the team and so many jingoistic fans would be able to sleep at night because a “Texan” owned the team. So for that, and all of the sundry woes that come with being a self-martyring fan, they have Clint Murchison to blame.
The on-field results are no more pleasing than they were at their onset fifteen years ago. But at least we have a team to root for. It’s very possible that the Cowboys could have been the team moved to Baltimore to replace the Colts and not the Browns. Or, the Cowboys could be the team that’s rumored to move to Los Angeles on an annual basis. The on-field results are nothing compared to the off-field irrationality of an owner most fogies hold up as a paragon for sanity and football ownership. Clint Murchison nearly wrecked the Dallas Cowboys more than some fantasize Jerry Jones is doing now.