One autographed photo hangs on the wall in Tom Landry's office. Seated at his desk on the 11th floor of a new glass and granite building the color of charcoal, the coach of the Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys can look north above an expressway that plunges across what was pastureland until structures began to grow on it faster than grass and sunflowers. Or Landry can glance in the direction of this single photo that hangs there as liniment for an aching soul in the event his critics get strident again or another running back is busted for carrying the wrong kind of weeds into a small town. When you think of all the autographed photos Landry could have placed on the wall if he were that kind of man—Nixon, L.B.J., Clint Murchison Jr., Vince Lombardi, even Don Meredith—this one color photograph becomes a window for glimpsing into a personality that is often described as inscrutable. It is a signed portrait of Billy Graham, the evangelist.
Meredith, who played quarterback for Landry in two NFL championship games and then quit after he felt he had been humiliated by his coach in an important game at Cleveland, has said Landry is regimented, unemotional and so well organized that he has no need to communicate. Before Running Back Duane Thomas stopped talking to the outside world last season, he told reporters Landry was a "plastic man." Landry has also been called Computer Face. It has been said that he has transistors in his heart, that he is unblinking to the cries of humanity around him. He has been seen to weep in front of his team in the locker room, break up with helpless laughter on a TV show and run 40 yards to yell at a football official, but these are rare moments in his public life. An old friend from college days, Rooster Andrews, says, "People want to know what makes Tom tick, and he's too smart to tell them. He was born polished. He's such a gentleman it's almost spooky."
What puzzles many people about Landry is that outwardly he is so coherent and stable that he seems like a freak in the midst of our madness.
"If he's got a human flaw, I don't know what it is," says Andrews.
September 17, 1972
"I've never seen Tommy get mad at the kids because something went wrong, and I've never seen him depressed around the house," says Alicia Landry, his wife.
"He's extremely consistent. Wherever he is, he's the same person, mature in his responses," says Rev. Tom Shipp, a Methodist minister in Dallas.
To a degree, Landry is who he is because he believes in Jesus and in rules. It is fitting then that he is preoccupied with a game where prayers are offered for success and protection against injury, achievement can be measured by records, rules are rigidly adhered to and transgressors are punished with Old Testament suddenness.
"I became a Christian in 1958," Landry said not long ago. This is a surprising statement because he has been a Methodist since he was a boy in the South Texas truck-garden town of Mission. "What I mean," added Landry, "is I was a churchgoer before then but not really a Christian. In 1958 I was invited to join a Bible-study breakfast group at the Melrose Hotel in Dallas, and I realized I had never really accepted Christ into my heart. Now I have turned my will over to Jesus Christ. Outside of football and my family, I spend most of my time speaking to various organizations about the joy and fulfillment of having Christ in your heart."
There would seem to be a contradiction here. Could Jesus have been a fan of a game that is so violent and mercenary? In Sunday morning pregame devotional meetings, some of the Cowboy players—teeth gritted and eyes rolling, still dressed in civvies and shot full, of hope, their shoes scraping anxiously on the carpet—have groaned as guest speakers invited by Land' urged them to be good Christian warriors.
"Gosh, there's no contraction," said Landry, who was a coordinator for Billy Graham appearances in 1971 and is in line to become the next president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. "Christianity and pro football are very compatible. It's a matter of intent. If you're vicious and want to hurt people, that's bad. But you don't often find that feeling among athletes. We're tough because we've got t¬£ be tough to play pro football. But if "L see a man hurt, you don't kick him. You pick him up. God gave us talent and expects us to use it. As long as Christ is the center of your life and you're doing things with your talent that are acceptable tin Him, it's fine. There are outstanding Christian people in pro football."
Although Landry and his large staff have prepared charts and schedules to cover everything the Cowboys do from running back kickoffs to catching the stadium bus, the team remains a collection of individuals, some of them very much so. At least three have been arrested in the past two years, two or three have gone bankrupt, several were very active on behalf of opposing candidates in a recent Texas gubernatorial election, several travel on motorcycles and one rides wild bulls for fun. Meredith and former Flanker Pete Gent have been writing novels about their experiences on the Cowboys, and Lance Rentzel wrote an autobiography that was 2,800 pages long before it was edited. But one of the usual criticisms of the Cowboys in the years when they were coming close to the top and failing in the big games was not that they were too weird to win but that they were too soft, that Landry's Christian gentleman notions robbed them of a certain meanness that success in pro football demands.
"This criticism was leveled at us because we didn't win at the right times," Landry said. "But it was a lack of maturity on our part, not a lack of character. Mentally, you have to be competitive. This game is played with the heart. You don't have to drink or swear or hit people in the face when they're not looking, but you do have to be tough to win. When you take on the Cowboy team today, you won't find them too easy. They'll strike you.
"Eventually, character is a real controlling factor in man's success a large amount of the time. Maturity and experience are key things, too. Nobody gave us much credit for being where we were in 1966 and 1967, in championship games against great Packer teams that had been there before. We weren't quite seasoned enough to take them, but we played well against them.
"Criticism that we would always lose the big ones wasn't valid, but it was so strong that it caused our poor Cleveland games of the next couple of years," Landry went on. "The criticism pounded on our people and they finally started playing as if they believed it. But two years ago this team turned it all around. For two years this has been as good as any football team I've ever seen. Before this, people couldn't find a reason we weren't champions, so they started putting their fingers on reasons that never existed."
Another reason frequently mentioned was Landry's supposed lack of emotion. In contrast to Lombardi, on the sidelines Landry looked as if he were watching a game of dominoes. "Tom hides his emotions," says Murchison, the owner of the Cowboys. "Just because he doesn't rant and scream and shout doesn't mean he's unemotional. This is a business, and he's concentrating like a golfer on the next shot." Alicia Landry says, "Tommy is certainly not unemotional at home. He's witty, has a great sense of humor, goes into giggling fits. He doesn't jump up and down on the field, but he was very emotional during our playoff win over San Francisco last year and toward the end of the Super Bowl."
"Listen," Landry said with a bit of an edge, "none of the Cowboys' troubles have been because I am unemotional. In 1966 we were like the Mets. We might have pulled it off, beaten Green Bay, but we probably wouldn't have done it the next year. It's like the Mets or the Jets who couldn't do it again. We weren't mature and experienced enough yet to win year after year.
"I have strong emotional feelings. The reason I take on the appearance of being unemotional is I don't believe you can be emotional and concentrate the way you must to be effective. When I see a great play from the sidelines, I can't cheer it. I'm a couple of plays ahead, thinking. But look at me in the highlights film of 1970, at the end of our playoff game with Detroit, and you'll see emotion. Week in and week out I stay engrossed in the game. I have to.
"Lombardi was winning, and he was emotional, but his style of play was very different from ours. The Green Bay system of offense—we call it the basic system—was that you were going to run the power end regardless of what the other team put against you. Run that play over and over. It was all execution. So Lombardi had to develop the players to an emotional pitch, keep them doing their best all the time against a defense that knew what was coming. Once Lombardi's players slipped down, they had problems. Emotion didn't distract them from their jobs because they knew in their sleep what to do, but they had to stay very high emotionally in order to do it.
"Our system is different. We run a multiple offense and must take advantage of situations as they present themselves. Everything we do from every formation doesn't work against every defense, so we have to concentrate, we have to think. Our defense also is quite complicated. It depends on reading movements and formations and knowing where to go. Therefore the nature of responses from the sidelines must be very different for us than for a Lombardi-type team. The players don't want to see me rushing around and screaming. They want to believe I know what I'm doing."
This opinion is endorsed by Lee Roy Jordan, the Dallas middle linebacker. "Tom gets excited like all of us," Lee Roy says, "but it's not verbal. You can look at him and see agony and joy in his face, if you know how to read him. If we thought he was throwing tantrums and screaming, we might lose control. He projects confidence, poise and composure to us. It doesn't bother us that he's not always patting us on the back. He has unbelievable knowledge of the game, and he tells us what we have to do to win. It's up to us to get emotional on the field. If Tom says 'damn it' we know something severe has happened. He lets us know how he feels. He doesn't show the writers and fans, but back in the locker room he tells us. The important thing is how we feel about each other, not what the outside people think we feel. Tom is not the type you can be buddy-buddy with. But no successful head coach can hang around and drink with his players and be their pal. That relationship is bound to spoil."
Gent, the novelist, did not get along well with Landry during his five years on the Cowboys. "I used to be able to tell when I made him mad messing around on the field or in meetings," Gent says. "The muscles beneath his ears would pop out and his eyes would sort of glaze over. His normal method of disciplining was to treat you like a number, and he seemed to be concentrating on talking to you mainly to keep you from vanishing. I agree with Thomas that Landry is plastic, and I think he's dishonest. This Christianity kick is a method to defend himself against the incredibly unchristian things he does to the people who work for him, so he can play with their minds and then forgive himself. His system of football is directed in the hope of finally ending up with 11 complete strangers making up the team, each person knowing his job and the system completely and interacting with his teammates only as specified in the playbook."
Last September, when Landry had not decided whether to go with Craig Morton or Roger Staubach at quarterback, Meredith was interviewed by Sam Blair of The Dallas Morning News and spoke very harshly of what he said was a Landry tendency to set up alibis for himself. "Landry's responsibility is to pick a quarterback and go with him," Meredith said. "After all this time if he doesn't know which is best, Dallas ought to get another coach."
A few days after Blair's column appeared, Meredith was in the Cowboy office. "I ran into several people who were very cool to me," he says. "Then I ran into Tom. He greeted me warmly and we sat down and talked and it was like he had never seen the column, though I'm sure he must have."
Meredith figured in many of Landry's decisions and pronouncements over the years. Once in a scrimmage in training camp, Meredith threw a pass that was intercepted by Cornell Green. Meredith yanked off his helmet and chased Green down the field as if he intended to bash him with it. Everybody laughed except Landry. At the team meeting that night Landry said, "Gentlemen, nothing funny ever happens on the football field."
There was no humor, as far as the Cowboys were concerned, in their 1968 playoff loss to Cleveland. Dallas, which had been runner-up to Green Bay for the NFL title the two previous years, went into the Cleveland game with a 12-2 record and seemed headed for a championship at last. But the Browns won 31-20. Meredith was yanked from the game in the third quarter after throwing his third interception and was replaced by Morton. One of the interceptions had bounced off a Cowboy receiver's hands. Another, Meredith felt, was at least partly the fault of Landry's disciplined system of play, which has rules that determine where defensive players will go when offensive players do certain things. Meredith threw the ball where Landry's rule said there would be no defensive player, but one of the Cleveland backs was in the wrong place and the ball went straight to him. Meredith played one more game for Dallas, a 17-13 Runner-Up Bowl win over Minnesota in Miami, before retiring the following summer. "I went into Tom's office with tears in my eyes, halfway hoping he would talk me out of quitting," said Meredith. "Instead, he spoke to me quietly and accepted my decision."
"There's no doubt in my mind that what happened in Cleveland had an effect on Meredith's quitting," said Landry, "but I have no regrets about taking him out of that game. For years Meredith got a bad rap playing with a bad team. There was nothing wrong with him. We had been very confident before the Cleveland game, but we started going downhill fast. The whole team was playing poorly. If a quarterback is ineffective early in the game but the rest of the team is playing well, the quarterback can often bring himself around. But when everybody's going bad and he's part of it, there's nothing you can do but hope a new quarterback will get hot and pull you out.
"Anyhow, that game and the one we lost to the Browns in the same playoffs the next year brought us a great deal of criticism. It may sound funny, but those games also helped us develop character as a team. When you lose the way we did, you can either become disorganized, or you can come back and win again. No team could have come back as we did after our 1970 shutout loss to St. Louis if we hadn't had the experience we had against Cleveland those two years and the great disappointment of the ice game against Green Bay in 1967. You can't turn yourself around if you don't have a backlog of adversity. The Apostle Paul says suffering brings on endurance, endurance brings character and character brings hope. Once you develop character you tend to always hope things will work out. The guy with character continues to do the best he can, even against the odds, and keeps a bright outlook."
Meredith took part last winter in a University of the Pacific seminar called "Sport: An Existential Inquiry into the Phenomenon of Competition." Among other things, Meredith said, "One Dallas victory only creates an insatiable need for another. Coach Landry believes winning is the only thing. I once told him he should get out of the rotten business because he wasn't giving himself a chance to live."
"I don't believe in winning at all cost, if that means cheating or doing things that are bad," Landry said in rebuttal. "But if you think winning is not too important, then you are not willing to pay the price to win. Take away winning and you take away everything that is strong about America. If you don't believe in winning, you don't believe in free enterprise, capitalism, our way of life. Our way of life means succeeding, and you must win to do that. Today in America everything is let's be free, let's be ourselves. But that eliminates responsibility. If you have freedom, you must have responsibility. Everybody knows that. If you're going to have free enterprise, have a country like ours, man, you've got to win, got to pay the price, got to do the things that make our country progressive. Once you start moving away from that—and that's what we're doing in America today—sooner or later you're going to fail, you won't remain strong.
"This country is organized no different from a football team," Landry continued. "It's built on discipline, competition, paying the price. Take away those things and you have chaos, weakness, immorality, all the things that are taking place in America right now. So winning is important to America. It's got to be."
Landry, who is 48, got an early introduction to winning as a high school fullback in Mission, the Rio Grande Valley city where his father worked as a mechanic in his own garage and is still the fire chief. In Landry's senior year his team outscored opponents by over 300 points. "I helped to recruit Tom for the University of Texas," says former Texas Coach D. X. Bible, who is retired and lives on a farm outside of Austin. "He was a fine player, a leader, modest and quiet. He had a lot of influence without being loud or blustery. I used to tell the boys that if they would pay the premiums they would get the dividends. Tom paid and still is."
In the spring of his freshman year at Texas, Landry joined the Air Corps. At 19 he got his wings and became the copilot of a B-17. Stationed in England, Landry flew 30 missions for the Eighth Air Force. He crashed once, in Belgium, after running out of gas on a long flight back from a bombing run over Czechoslovakia. "We came down between two trees that sheared our wings off," said Landry, "but we had no gas so the plane didn't burn and we all walked out of it. A lot of planes were lost that night."
Out of the service, Landry returned to the University of Texas and played both fullback and defensive back on teams that won the 1948 Sugar Bowl and the 1949 Orange Bowl. Ed Price, now assistant dean of students at Texas, was line coach when Landry was a player. "There were some fairly rowdy boys in school then," Price says, "but Tom was very mature and dependable. He was no kid coming to the big city. He'd been in a war, he was older, he acted his age. I guess it's surprising to find a man of his character and religious intent in the rough, tough game of pro football, but I don't think he's changed much now from what he was then. He was quiet and poised, reliable—all the good American terminology.
"As a player," says Price, "Tom didn't break away. He wasn't flashy, but he was solid, could get the tough yardage. One thing I'll never forget, and I'm sure he won't, was in the 1947 season when we played SMU. We had Bobby Layne and they had Doak Walker. Both teams were undefeated, and the game was to see who would be No. 1 in the conference. In the fourth quarter we had a big drive going, and we decided to give the ball to Tom on fourth and one. He slipped in a mud puddle and fell down. SMU beat us by one point."
Layne was the Texas quarterback when Landry returned from service, and some of the escapades in the athletic dormitory were legendary. "I guess you'd have to say our pranks were outstanding," says his friend Andrews. "Tom's not a prude. He didn't, frown on us or criticize us, and he seemed to enjoy some of the stuff we did, but he didn't participate. Landry wouldn't let you upset him, and he wouldn't upset you."
Landry had one of his best days as a player in the '49 Orange Bowl, where Texas beat Georgia 41-28, and was signed by the old New York Yankees of the All-America Conference. Along the way he had become intramural light-heavyweight boxing champion and had married Alicia Wiggs of Dallas, a University of Texas beauty and a Bluebonnet Belle nominee. The NFL and the AAC merged on Dec. 9, 1949, and Landry became a New York Giant. He played both offense and defense and once was called upon to quarterback the Giants in a game they lost 63-7. But it was as an All-Pro defensive back, as a player-coach and as defensive coach of the Giants that Landry made the reputation that got him the Dallas job.
"I was playing defense with Tom in 1952 and 1953," says Frank Gifford, the ex-Giant halfback who is now an ABC-TV sports announcer. "It was hit or miss. You had an area to watch or a man to guard. But Tom put the same kind of discipline into defense that the offense had. Tom created pro defense as it is played today. I don't know who takes credit for the 4-3 defense, but Tom exploited it. Few people outside pro football realize what a great coach he is. Most coaches should be worshipping at his feet.
"We used to have a slogan on our blackboard that said WHOTIF and underneath THERE IS NO WHOTIF. That's because Tom would be talking to the defense, and he'd tell them something an offensive back would do in a certain situation, and somebody would say, 'What if he doesn't?' and Tom would say, 'He will.' Sometimes Tom was wrong, but not often. His defensive rules are rigid, even for the tackles. I intercepted a pass one day and I suppose I was way out of position when I did it. Later Tom pointed out that I was in the wrong place. He believes in what he says. He's real. It shocks the hell out of people when they can't find anything neurotic or complex about him as a person, but I think he's exactly what you see that he is."
Glenn Davis, the famed Army All-America and later a halfback for the Los Angeles Rams, tells a story about playing against Landry. Davis got 10 yards behind him, caught a pass and was 12 yards ahead of Landry at the goal line but he heard footsteps still coming. "I knew he was going to punish me for what I'd done to him," says Davis, "and he really racked me in the end zone. I said, 'If you want the ball so bad, you can have it,' and I threw it at his head and ran for the bench."
The extreme competitiveness of Landry, mixed with a frustrating lack of speed, led him to analyze the teams he faced so he could be in the right place without having to outrun anybody to get there. "When I came to the Giants as a defensive back, Tom would tell me what the offense was going to do on every play, and I would think there was no way he could know that," says Dick Nolan, a former Landry assistant who is now head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. "But finally I accepted it and trusted him, and he was nearly always right."
"Since I had no speed and was playing cornerback, I had to anticipate where the receiver would go," said Landry. "Well, I've always had an analytical mind [he has a business degree from Texas and an industrial engineering degree from the University of Houston]. Things had to fit together. I analyzed offenses and got the idea of a coordinated system of defense in which everybody read certain keys the offense provided and then controlled a specific area. My concept was contrary to everybody else's and still is. Nobody plays defense exactly like we do except San Francisco. The old Eagle defense was a five-man line, but the offenses began to split their linemen and hit the middle and tore up the Eagle defense. Steve Owen conceived the 6-1 with the Giants. Then we turned it into the 4-3.
"But it's getting harder to play the 4-3 these days unless you play it the way we do or unless you have some real strong, penetrating people up front, like Minnesota has and the Rams used to have. Offenses have had 15 years to look at the 4-3 and they're going to destroy it unless you're highly coordinated or else you have two or three Bob Lillys to knock them all down."
After 1955 Landry retired as a player and became a full-time defensive coach for the Giants. In those days the job only took six months a year, and Landry had just moved his home from Houston to Dallas and had gone into the insurance business (as late as 1962 he sold a life-insurance policy to sports announcer Frank Glieber). In 1959 Landry was contacted by Tex Schramm, who was then an assistant director of sports at CBS but had been hired as general manager of the new Dallas Cowboys franchise. They had lunch, and Landry was offered the head coaching job. "I wasn't surprised," Landry said. "Our defense at New York had been very successful, and Vince Lombardi had recently gone from our staff to the head job at Green Bay. But until Tex called me, I really had no intention of remaining in coaching much longer. If I'd been offered a head coaching job anywhere but Dallas, which is where I wanted to live, I wouldn't have taken it."
Believing that suffering builds character, Landry had an opportunity to develop into a superhuman during the first half a dozen years at Dallas. "The NFL gave us the pleasure of selecting three of the worst football players off each team in the league, refused to give us a draft and then said O.K. boys, let's play," he says. Some exceedingly strange things happened to the Cowboys in those early seasons. They lost one game when Eddie LeBaron threw a 99-yard touchdown pass to Frank Clarke, only to have the play called back and a safety awarded the other team because a Cowboy lineman was caught holding in his own end zone. That was the day Landry ran onto the field and screamed at the official. The opposing coach, Buddy Parker of the Steelers, demanded to know why the official didn't penalize Dallas further. "Because I invited Mr. Landry out here," the official replied.
After the 1963 season, when Landry's career record at Dallas stood at 13-38-3, there was a great outcry in Dallas to remove him. Landry's relations with the press had been fairly smooth. He was always easy to approach and talk to, his explanations for defeat always sounded reasonable and he was to veto at least one team vote that would have banned a critical sportswriter from the team plane and locker room. But the crowds at the Cotton Bowl were scanty, and Dallas fans don't like losers any more than fans elsewhere. Something had to be done. So at a press conference Murchison announced he had just signed Landry to a new 10-year contract.
"Tom had been around long enough that I knew he was as good as his advance billing," says Murchison. "I wanted to get away from this matter of peripatetic coaches. The point was we weren't going to operate that way, no matter what. Rather than change coaches, we would correct our other deficiencies. I wanted to impress Landry, the players and the public with this belief. After we won only one of our first six games in 1964, I was having lunch with a friend who told me there was a silver lining to all this, after all. I asked what it was, and he said, 'Landry's only got nine years to go.' "
In 1965 Landry had what he describes as his worst emotional experience. The Cowboys had drafted quarterbacks Morton and Jerry Rhome, and the fans were urging Landry to bench Meredith, who had suffered for years with ragged teams, in favor of Morton or Rhome. After winning the first two games of the season, Dallas then lost four in a row, with Morton at quarterback in the last one. Before the seventh game, against Pittsburgh, Landry decided to start Meredith again. The Cowboys lost 22-13 in one of their worst performances ever. Landry cried in the locker room after the game. "He was crying not so much about the game as about me," says Meredith. "He had wanted me to do well, and I was awful. I stood up and swore I was going to work harder and we would win, but people kept sitting there with their heads down."
The following Tuesday, Landry summoned Meredith to his office and said, "Don, you're my quarterback. I believe in you." They both started crying again. But the Cowboys won five of their remaining seven games, went to the Runner-Up Bowl for the first time and have not had a losing season since.
"The decision to stay with Meredith was much more difficult than the one I made last year to start Staubach over Morton," said Landry. "Staubach and Morton were both doing well. Nobody had any right to criticize either of them. It was the team that was sitting back and not making its move. But public opinion was mostly on Staubach's side. In the Meredith decision, public opinion was mostly against him. It was unfortunate for Don that he had started as a young quarterback with a bad team, and we hadn't had time to build a winner before people turned against him the way people do against quarterbacks. If I had listened to the public that year, I would have chosen Morton or Rhome. But I thought Don was the one who could win for us."
In 1966 the Cowboys were down 14-0 to Green Bay in the championship game before the Dallas offense ever touched the ball. But Dallas got to the Packer goal line at the end of the fourth quarter, behind 27-34 and clearly about to tie the game and put it into overtime. Much has been written about a Dallas tackle, Jim Boeke, jumping offsides, as if that penalty cost Dallas the game. However, three other things happened in that final minute or so that were perhaps even more important to the result. Dallas Halfback Dan Reeves had been poked in the eye and could-barely see but neglected to tell Meredith and wound up dropping a pass he could have scored on. Meredith threw another pass a bit too low to Pettis Norman, who was tackled short of the flag. And on fourth down, for what has to be as much Landry's fault as anyone's, Bob Hayes was in the game. Hayes is always removed for a stronger blocker when the Cowboys are on the goal line, but this time he stayed in, and, instead of being able to run the ball across on a roll-out, Meredith was rushed hard and had to throw a desperate pass that was intercepted.
"We weren't ready to challenge Green Bay that year, but we came close because of our style and flair," said Landry, who had invented the multiple-offense system for Dallas in 1960 and was watching it not only produce a lot of yardage but become widely imitated. "The next year, though, I thought we would beat the Packers. They weren't the Packers of old anymore." Instead, on a frozen field in weather so bitterly cold several players were treated for frostbite, Bart Starr scored on a quarterback sneak at the very end of the game, and the Packers won 21-17. "That one was very hard for me to live with," said Landry.
After playoff losses to Cleveland the next two years, the Cowboys had a mediocre record in 1970 until they got smashed 38-0 by St. Louis in a nationally televised game with Meredith in the announcing booth informing a somewhat startled country that something smelled in Dallas.
The morning after that sad affair, Schramm called Murchison and said, "This is getting serious."
"What is?" said Murchison.
"Landry's catching a lot of criticism. The fans are really grumbling. We've got to strengthen Tom's position."
"Simple," Murchison said. "Call a press conference, and I'll give Tom a new 10-year contract."
The Cowboys won their next seven games, including the divisional playoff and the NFC championship, before losing to Baltimore in the Super Bowl. Last year Dallas returned to the Super Bowl and won it, beating Miami in what Clifford calls "a real surgeon's job."
Landry's Dallas contract expires in 1974, but Murchison is ready to offer him a new one whenever he wants it. Landry also has an option to purchase a piece of the Cowboys—probably 5%, though some sources say it is as much as 20—at the 1960 price. It is unlikely he will ever need to sell another insurance policy.
"One of Tom's great talents is his ability to recognize potential in a player," Murchison says. "We have players who wouldn't have been kept around on other teams that are contenders. Tom can see something worth keeping in a mass of humanity. Tactics dwindle in importance to that. What a coach can contribute to a team is about 10% inspiration, 10% motivation, 20% to 30% tactics, and the rest is recognition."
Driving to his house on the outskirts of Dallas, Landry talked about how he finds and deals with players. The Cowboys do use computers for compiling figures on their own and other teams, but they have abandoned psychological testing. "I have great faith in people," Landry said. "I won't turn my back on them until I've given them every opportunity to bring out the good. My job would be easier as a coach if I eliminated from the team people who have the hang-ups, have the problems, who are a little detrimental to the team effort, but I won't do that until they have a chance to pull themselves out. Some do and some don't."
Landry parked in his semicircular driveway, and Alicia came to the door—still pretty, very charming and soft. Their daughter, Lisa, 14, was sitting at a table in the den (daughter Kitty, 19, is a sophomore at the University of Texas, where son Tom, 22, is in law school after a football career at Duke in which he underwent three knee operations and another on his shoulder). Through a glass door one could see a swimming pool and a stockade fence. Tom and Alicia still go out regularly one night a week, to a movie or for dinner and dancing, and used to eat lunch together once a week until two years ago when Landry decided he was getting too busy for that.
"I love my life," Alicia said while Tom changed clothes. "I keep reading that coaches' wives have horrible lives, but I can't believe it. I've never really had a bad experience. I love the trips, and I love to watch the games, although I don't really understand what is going on. We take a vacation with the kids every June. We play cards and pool and swim and work for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and Tom plays golf, which always puts him in a good mood. I don't see how things could be much better for us."
That night Landry and Miss Teenage America were speakers at an FCA Huddle Club gathering at a high school in nearby Carrollton. Landry opened with a couple of funny stories for the 200 teen-agers and the smattering of adults in the audience. He said the Dallas offensive line was so bad in the early 1960s that Eddie LeBaron had to signal for a fair catch to take the snap from center. They laughed. "Another time, after we'd taken our usual whipping from the Bears," he said, "George Halas told me we would lose every game. 1 knew that, but I didn't want him to say so. He claimed we were tipping our plays. He said when we came out of the huddle, three of our hacks were giggling and the fourth was white as a ghost." More laughter.
Then Landry got serious. He said the Apostle Paul would have been a great halfback. "You could stone him out of town, but he was harder to stop than Walt Garrison," Landry said. He discussed the values of faith and training and hard work. "You must treat your body as an athlete does. Make it do what it should do, rather than what it wants to do." He revealed the secret to a happy life: "Something to hope for, something to do, someone to love." When he was through, the audience clapped, cheered and lined up for autographs. "Tom would sign autographs for those kids all night," said Bill Krisher, an FCA member and former Oklahoma All-America.
Outside, a cool wind was stirring the grass in the empty fields around the high school. The sky was clear and crowded with stars, and the night seemed empty and beckoning. Landry leaned against the car door, his head up, smelling the fresh wind.
"As a kid I ran free," he said. "No supervision. That's how you learned. Of course, I was spanked like the devil when I did wrong. Things are changing these days, and so are football players. There's more freedom. But freedom must have boundaries. Man is not made strong enough not to have boundaries. Without boundaries, you have the breakdown of the individual and then of society, and then you have chaos. With boundaries, people are happy."
Landry got into the car and shut the door and the night was sealed off by the glass and the glow from the dashboard. "Knowing that," he said, "I don't really ever worry about anything."