The Dallas Cowboys and Dealey Plaza


While the Dallas Cowboys are on a bye this week I thought it would be fun to go back in time a bit. Friday November 22, 2013 will mark the 50 year anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas. No team was more affected by the Kennedy assassination than the Cowboys. First of all it happened in their city. For years when people mentioned being from Dallas they heard replies, “You killed our President.” Dallas did not kill President Kennedy. Whether you believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone or not is irrelevant. The fact is Dallas did not kill the President. When you see the footage of the assassination Dallas is out in force showing the President their love.

Ironically enough that day in 1963 was also a Friday. As the motorcade turned onto Dealey Plaza and past the Texas Book Depository three shots were heard just over 10 seconds apart. The third shot was the fatal one. The one that took the President’s life and changed the world. It also changed things for the Dallas Cowboys in ways you might not know.

Oct 13, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee (50) jumps on the back of Washington Redskins running back Roy Helu Jr. at AT

Let’s start with the fact that the NFL for some unfathomable reason decided to play their games that weekend. The AFL did not play their games as scheduled. That second fact is often neglected to be reported because most people only talk about the fact that the Cowboys did play. The Cowboys were made to travel to Ohio to face the Cleveland Browns. Cowboys players often recount the discomfort the felt in the days following the Kennedy assassination as they too heard the “You killed our President” accusations. Dallas was known as a city of hate in the eyes of many. I have actually had one football fan tell me he could never root for the Cowboys as I do because “They killed my president.”

Many of the Cowboys players were deeply affected by these accusations, and if you ask any player who played for the Cowboys in those days about the assassination you will hear how deeply they were affected. They heard boos everywhere they went. They heard jeers. They heard the accusations of their guilt in the murder. Their stories are a relevant part of History and they were football players, not politicians. The players will tell you their hearts weren’t in the game against Cleveland at all. Who can blame them?

Before getting back to football let’s talk for a minute about the atmosphere in Texas during that time and whether or not a conspiracy did exist. If people had Kennedy killed then you can trace the reason why to one thing, and it is not politics. That reason is money. Greed is one of the seven deadly sins, and whether or not people know it, Dallas was a place of money. Wherever you find a lot of money you also find a lot of poverty tied to those who work for those who have the money. That existed in Dallas with the money coming from oil for the most part.

Kennedy had passed legislation that put incredible taxes upon the oil industry. In fact the Kennedy Tax, as it was called, is estimated to have cost the oil industry around $300 million. Is that enough money to create a conspiracy to have a President killed? I think it is. People are killed for a lot less money than that all the time.

Oct 13, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys defensive end Kyle Wilber (51) recovers a fumble by Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III (not pictured) in the fourth quarter at AT

One of the chief conspiracies posited to the world came from a woman named Madeline Duncan Brown. Ms. Brown claims to have had a long standing affair with Vice President turned President Lyndon B. Johnson. She even claimed to have had a son fathered by LBJ. She also claims to have been at a party the night before the assassination that explains why I said the assassination may not have been about politics. Ms. Brown said a number of high powered oil men and politicians attended this party. Among them was LBJ, a staunch Democrat, and Richard Nixon, the Republican who ran against Kennedy in the 1960 elections, and whom many feel was robbed of the election by shenanigans in Illinois.

The day before Kennedy’s visit, the Dallas Morning News ran a full page ad denouncing the tax on oil. I have often wanted to look through old newspaper archives to see that ad. Was it a warning? A portent of the impending assassination? We may never know. Among the oil men alleged to have attended this party that Ms. Brown claims took place were two who have ties to the NFL. The party was at the house of a Clint Murchison, Sr., father of Dallas Cowboys owner, Clint Murchison Jr., and also allegedly in attendance was H. L. Hunt, father of Lamar Hunt who first put AFL Football team in Dallas as the 2nd rendition of the Dallas Texans, and later moved them to Missouri as the Kansas City Chiefs.

Also in attendance according to Brown was J. Edgar Hoover. If the FBI was involved, then a cover up would be made a lot easier to produce. Brown also claimed to have seen Oswald in Jack Ruby’s place on numerous occasions, making his killing a silence. Do I believe there was a conspiracy to kill the President? I honestly do not know. It is not beyond the realm of possible at all. Many believe Jackie thought so immediately as she said, “They’ve killed Jack.” Note the plural. She also refused to change her blood stained dress as Johnson was sworn in aboard Air Force One. She is alleged to have said, “I wanted them to see what they had done.” Again the plural.

I do believe there was only one shooter, and that was Oswald, and I am 100% certain the shot that killed him came from behind the President and above, not from the grassy knoll. Could there have been others? Yes, but I do not believe they got off a shot and Oswald got off all three. I have watched every film and come to these conclusions on my own. I have a tie to someone else who has been mentioned in relation to the assassination, Charles Harrelson, father of actor Woody Harrelson.

October 20, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Dallas Cowboys middle linebacker Sean Lee (50) during second half action against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Pittenger-USA TODAY Sports

On his death bed he claimed to have been involved in Kennedy’s assassination, and he maintained his innocence of the assassination for which he was imprisoned. The man who allegedly hired him to commit that killing, of a Federal Judge in San Antonio, TX, Jimmy Chagra, later said that Harrelson was indeed innocent of killing Judge John Wood, and that the real killer was long since dead. Was Harrelson telling the truth about both killings? I don’t know. He claims to have been one of the three hobos who were arrested and later released when Oswald was caught. I have often wondered because I do have ties to Judge John Wood, and to the Chagra family, and possibly as well to Harrelson.

So let’s bring this back to football, and particularly to the Dallas Cowboys. I want to start with how the assassination affected one player in particular to begin this. In 1963 Mel Renfro was a speedy Running Back for the Oregon Ducks. If you know much about Mel Renfro you know that in Dallas he was a Cornerback, not a RB. It is no secret at all that Kennedy did more up to that point to affect change for the Black community than any other President. It should come as no surprise that many from those times would truly love and appreciate the man. Among them was Mel Renfro.

Mel was also a track star for the University of Oregon. In fact, for many years he was part of a world record time in the 4 x 100 relay for the Oregon track team. With him on that relay team was another future Dallas Cowboys, Safety Mike Gaechter. So, three Dallas Cowboys of the 1960’s were world class sprinters and record holders if you include “Bullet” Bob Hayes, the World’s Fastest Human.

Renfro was going through a lot of emotional turmoil at that time. In addition to Kennedy’s assassination the girl he was dating was cheating on him. At a frat party that weekend Renfro saw her with someone else and the pent up frustration of everything pushed him past his limits. He went into a bathroom and punched a mirror repeatedly, badly injuring his hand.

Nov 11, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles (9) passes the ball as he is hit by Dallas Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware (94) during the second quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

It was no secret to anyone that Dallas had scouted Renfro heavily. Everyone expected them to take him with the 4th pick of the 1964 Draft class. In those days there were no time limits on making picks. So when Dallas’ turn came up they were unsure if they should take him. They sent a Doctor to inspect his hand. Meanwhile the clock was ticking. The Cowboys were the first team to use computers in their football evaluations. I remember as a kid people sneering about this. I never quite understood that. Even thought he computers of that time were nowhere near as efficient as what we have today, they surely gave Dallas some advantages. Long into the wait for the report from the Doctor, Vince Lombardi, the Green Bay Packers legendary coach, supposedly walked by the Cowboys Draft table and asked them if their computer was broken. He used a rather blue adjective when mentioning the computer.

Over six hours passed as the Doctor hired by the Cowboys traveled to Oregon to inspect Renfro. Think of that now. Over 6 hours for one pick to be made. Dallas passed on Renfro and instead selected Texas Offensive tackle Dave Appleton. He never played for the Cowboys, opting instead to go to the AFL. Everyone just knew the Cowboys were taking Renfro. What did that Doctor find? Renfro, a no doubt about it first round pick in the eyes of everyone was suddenly damaged goods. In fact, he was damaged. Nerve damage in his hand would prompt his move from RB to CB for the Cowboys who did select him with their 2nd round pick. The other teams yelled foul. They felt they had been hoodwinked. Maybe they were.

Another player selected in that Draft was the aforementioned Bob Hayes. He would not play football in 1964 due to his training for the Olympic Games in Tokyo Japan where he ran the most incredible anchor leg in relay History and by virtue of breaking the world record in the 100 was dubbed the world’s fastest human. Did an Olympic hero help rebuild Dallas’ image as the city of hate? I believe it did.

Perhaps more than anyone else though the player taken in the 10th round of that Draft repaired the Cowboys image and the city of Dallas. That player was Quarterback Roger Staubach of the Naval Academy. He was the 1963 recipient of the Heisman Trophy as the best player in college football. He was a Navy man just like President Kennedy. The annual Army vs. Navy football game was scheduled for November 30, 1963. President Kennedy was supposed to attend that game. A bullet changed those plans.

Did the Cowboys choose the Navy hero to erase the bad karma of the murder of another Navy hero? I think they did. Like Kennedy, Staubach was a war veteran as well as a Navy man. He served five years in Viet Nam. He played in the rivalry game known as The President’s Game. Staubach was visited in the locker room in 1962 by President Kennedy himself after leading Navy to a victory. In 1963 leading up that game the Midshipmen, led by the amazing Staubach, were 8-1. Staubach was Kennedy’s favorite player. Not surprising for a Navy man to love the at that time, ultimate Navy man. Staubach would go on to win the Heisman Trophy. He was so good in fact that Life Magazine’s cover for November 29th was supposed to be of Staubach with the caption, “The Greatest College Quarterback.”

You can actually look up that intended cover on the Internet. It was shelved by Life in favor of course for coverage of the assassination of the President. Roger Staubach has a nickname Captain America. That was John F. Kennedy in so many ways. He was a war hero. A good looking man from privilege who fought for his country, showed incredible courage and married a beautiful woman who captivated the country. It was Camelot as we have often heard. The perception of Dallas changed when the Cowboys started winning, and especially when their own Naval hero took over.

Military ties and Cowboys football have gone hand in hand from the genesis of the team. Tom Landry was a WWII veteran. He was an Army Air Corps bomber co-pilot who joined to honor his brother who died after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He flew in over 30 missions and survived a crash. The Cowboys first QB was Eddie LeBaron. Eddie was a Marine in the Korean War who was shot twice and earned a Bronze Star for bravery as well as a Purple Heart. Staubach was a Supply Officer in Chu Lai. Chad Hennings was an Air Force A-10 Fighter Pilot during the Persian Gulf War.

Four men with ties to the Dallas Cowboys. One in each branch of the service, Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines. No other team can make this claim. No other team would have overcome the stigma of the Kennedy assassination and become the most popular team in all of football. November 22, 1963 was a day that changed the entire world as a young life so full of promise was snuffed out by an assassin’s bullet. My mother was pregnant with me at the time. Many times I heard her say she was panicked at the thought of the possible turmoil and what it would mean for her and her child. Every player and coach on the Cowboys was affected by that tragedy. It remains a moment of controversy and questions. Kind of fitting that controversy and questions still follow the team that would go from those times of derision to becoming America’s Team.

Nov 10, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; Dallas Cowboys free safety Barry Church (42) loses his helmet as he tackles New Orleans Saints running back Pierre Thomas (23) during the first quarter of a game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

I wish that this season had pitted the NFC East against the AFC North. I think it would have been very fitting if the NFL had scheduled the Cleveland Browns to come to Dallas and play on the 50th Anniversary. Yeah, a Friday game would have been an oddity, but the tribute to History would have been undeniable. Even if that History is one of incredible tragedy. From 1936 to 1963 the Army vs. Navy game was played in Philadelphia, the birthplace of freedom, at Municipal Stadium. This was about halfway between the two service academies. In 1964 they changed the name of the stadium to John F. Kennedy Stadium and the game continued there until 1979.

Tributes and football have always gone hand in hand. I just wish the NFL had arranged that game as a tribute after they erred in making those teams play back in 1963. I think it would have been a great teaching opportunity and could have lent perspective to the entire country who are football fans about how we overcame a time of uncertainty and tragedy.