It is 22 years since the Dallas Cowboys first appeared in the NFL—as sorry a bunch of football players as ever heard themselves booed in a half-empty home stadium. In that bright and innocent autumn of 1960, Y.A. Tittle was in his prime, Jack Kennedy had just beaten Richard Nixon for the presidency, the Beatles were still in their teens, and the Cowboys were 0-11-1.
However, that single tie, a 31-31 game with the Giants in New York on Dec. 4, offered some small reason for celebration, and Clint Murchison Jr., the wry, diminutive Texas Croesus whose fortune had bought, bred and fed those hapless Cowboys, recently spoke of it with fondness: "I remember well that day when we failed to lose our first game. I went out to brag about it. I went to a nightclub, El Morocco, I think, looking for someone who might be interested in talking about football. The only fellow I saw who showed the least bit of interest was an owner of the Detroit Lions. I said to him, 'Let me tell you what happened to my team today.' And I was left standing there with my finger in the air, because that very afternoon down in Baltimore, as he informed me in great detail, with 14 seconds left, Detroit was ahead of the Colts 13-8 when Johnny Unitas threw a touchdown pass to Lenny Moore. The crowd poured out onto the field, and it took 10 minutes to clear it. The next play after the kickoff, Detroit passed 65 yards for a touchdown as the clock ran out. He was understandably excited about this, and I never did get to tell my story about the first time the Dallas Cowboys failed to lose."
The Cowboys didn't fail to lose many more games in the next five years. By the end of the 1965 season their total record was 25-53-4. However, a 7-7 mark in 1965 was the turnaround. Not once in the last 16 seasons have they lost more than they have won. And, incredibly, today Dallas has the winningest regular-season record in the NFL for the '60s, '70s and '80s. The list of the Top 5 teams since 1960 reads: 1) Dallas (196-112-6), 2) Oakland (195-110-11), 3) Cleveland (180-127-7), 4) Los Angeles (178-125-11) and 5) Baltimore (174-135-5). And, whereas other winning clubs have experienced streaks and spurts of goodness or greatness, Dallas has been almost supernally consistent, missing the playoffs only once in those 16 years since '65 and playing in five Super Bowls—winning two of them, six years apart with two almost totally different teams.
So what does this mean? Well, for one thing, it means that an aura of myth—or miracle—has grown up around something called The Dallas Organization. People speak with awe of this thing—as if it were a cathedral or a shrine where one can go to be cured of everything from lumbago to losing poker hands. The Dallas Organization. It sounds monolithic, grandiose, like IBM, the Mafia, the Ewings or the Pentagon. Over the years, serious analysts of corporate structure have asked the Cowboys to share with them their managerial formula, the charts and diagrams that explain their administrative process. The Cowboys have had to say no.
August 31, 1982
For, in fact, The Dallas Organization is way too simple, way too small, for such an analysis. Like any other NFL organization, as a business the Cowboys are more akin to a mom-and-pop gas station than they are to General Motors. The Dallas Organization is nothing more than the tenuous chemistry that exists in the relationship of three men who share credit equally for making The Organization what it is, plus a fourth who operates at a slightly lower level of influence and responsibility.
The handful of men who occupy the minuscule peak of this tiny corporate pyramid do not operate as a palsy-walsy little committee either. Each has his own well-defined bailiwick, and there is a minimum of contact among them of any nature—particularly of a social nature. This is because they are totally improbable partners or colleagues in any kind of undertaking, be it business or pleasure. The following thumbnail sketches of The Dallas Organization principals will make it plain exactly how odd this odd-couple-times-two really is:
The owner and board chairman, Clint Williams Murchison Jr., 58, is very unlike the caricature of a Texas zillionaire. He's extremely articulate, humorous, curious, bright, with a masters from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—a theoretical mathematician, no less, and a damned good one. He has an almost elfin look, with horn-rimmed spectacles and a gray, clipped, flattop haircut. He's a multimillionaire and the son of one, an oil baron who was one of the highest of high-powered Texans in the 1920s and '30s. For most of his years, Clint Jr. walked on the flamboyant side, enjoying good companions, good times, good booze. In one of the few recorded incidents of nonbusiness fraternizing among the hierarchy of The Organization, Clint married Gil Brandt's ex-wife, Anne, in 1975. Since then she has undergone a born-again Christian experience. So has Clint, and the impact of this religious commitment has pretty much undercut his penchant for fun living.
The president and general manager, Texas Ernest Schramm, 62, has decidedly not undergone a religious conversion. He is a hail-fellow type, given to Scotch, laughter, tale spinning and terrible tirades—usually directed at the officials—mixed with unbuttoned hurrahs in the press box. Schramm grew up in Los Angeles but went to the University of Texas because his stockbroker father, who had named his only son after his native state, wanted some of the Lone Star magic to rub off on him. Schramm majored in journalism, went to work as sports editor of an Austin paper, then happily returned home in 1947, when the Los Angeles Rams hired him as a public relations man. He's a born impresario, someone who loves the flash and fun of the show-biz side of the game. He invented the strutting, swiveling chorus line of the Dallas cheerleaders, among other things. He's a man of great passion, restless innovation and powerful loyalties. He's certifiably the closest friend NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle has in the league. In 1952, while Schramm was working in the Rams' front office, he hired Rozelle as publicity director and the two have been like brothers ever since. During the recent Oakland Raider-NFL trial in L.A., Schramm remained at the commissioner's side almost constantly during the five weeks the proceedings dragged on.
The head coach, Thomas Wade Landry, 57, may look like a granite effigy on the sidelines, but that's misleading, for he's a gracious, pleasant fellow in conversation. Not humorous, however, and decidedly not a backslapper and not a cusser or a drinker. Indeed, in the same undramatic, casual tone that another man will use to tell you what he does for a living, Tom will say to you "The No. 1 factor in my life is my relationship to God." He wrote in a newspaper article that he talks to God regularly. Landry is concerned about the incipient immorality in the U.S. these days, as manifested on TV and in films. He has always believed that the Dallas cheerleaders are an indisputable—if minor—reflection of that problem. He doesn't approve of their presence on his sidelines. He also didn't like the Cowboys being labeled "America's Team"—a sobriquet that was one of two titles that NFL Films offered Schramm as the billboard for the Cowboys' 1978 highlights film. Landry says, "I think that title gave us a lot more trouble than it was worth. The other teams resented us for it."
The vice-president of personnel development, Gilbert Harvey Brandt, 49, was working as a baby photographer in Milwaukee when Schramm asked him to help out signing players for the still nonexistent Dallas team in the fall of 1959. Brandt's hobby as a University of Wisconsin physical education major was studying college game films to see why some players were better than others. Schramm had first heard of Brandt from one of his players in L.A., Elroy (Crazylegs) Hirsch, the Wisconsin halfback who starred as an end for the Rams, and Brandt had visited Schramm in L.A. from time to time. Brandt heads the Cowboys' nine-man scouting staff. He's an odd combination of computer memory bank and traveling salesman. He pores over the intricacies of readouts, evaluating potential Cowboy draftees like a medieval monk studying a Latin text, yet in his other life he's a born glad-hander. He sees to it that Cowboy birthday cards are sent to the sons and daughters of every significant coach in America. In coaching circles, he's known for his Cowboy-style high-on-the-hog hospitality. He's always on the sidelines for Cowboy games—as much for the public relations value of being seen on TV as anything else. He has remarried and is the father of a two-year-old boy.
So these diverse, divergent personalities are The Dallas Organization, and because of them the dynamo hums, the computers whir and the Cowboys win and win and win. What's the secret? Brains? Religion? Money? Longevity? Luck? Cunning? Salesmanship?
Well, it's some of all of that, as we shall see, but mainly, The Organization is nothing more than a happy cosmic coincidence. As Murchison says, "Another year, another group of people with slightly different backgrounds, and none of this would have happened."
Nothing is more important to the Dallas success story than Tex Schramm's 10 years with the Rams. When he arrived in Los Angeles, the NFL was just emerging from its prewar Dark Ages. There were no high-powered organizations in the league. Schramm recalls, "Coaches were paid six months of the year. George Halas ran a sporting-goods store—and went to work there. The Chicago Cardinals' office was on the fifth floor of a printing company, and I had to take the freight elevator to get there. There was no TV, and barely any radio. You had to beg to get a story about the NFL in the papers. In L.A. there were five newspapers, and I had to go by each one, talk the sports editor into running a story, then sit down and write it myself. I also had to write the headline. On the road, I'd write three or four different stories—each with a different angle on the same game—and file them back to L.A."
In 1952 Schramm moved up, becoming assistant to the Rams' president, the mercurial Dan Reeves, and learned about organization. "The Rams were miles ahead of other clubs, thanks to Reeves," Schramm says. "L.A. was the first NFL club to have a paid scout. The rest of the league was like a family that relied on friends and nephews and former players to feed them information on prospects. Not Dan Reeves. He paid a few top college coaches $500 a season to give us information on players in their areas. He also had a huge payroll of assistant college coaches at $50 a year feeding us material. We always had twice as many free agents in training camp as other teams. We tapped small schools, too. We invented Tom Harmon's Little All America team and sent out questionnaires to dozens of small schools. That gave us invaluable stuff about hundreds of unknown players.
That sort of thoroughness is today the trademark of The Dallas Oranization. In an era when every team spends heavily on scouting, the Cowboys keep introducing new wrinkles. For instance, they openly court college basketball coaches and used to offer them a paid vacation in Hawaii in return for recommending a basketball player who made the Cowboys.
The Rams' operation also taught Schramm ways of not doing things. The ownership was in chaos because there was no majority owner. "Reeves was a big drinker," says Schramm, "and there was lots of bickering. One thing I learned at L.A. above all else: You've got to be strong at the top. There can be no question where the authority lies." In 1957 Tex left to go to work for CBS Sports.
In late 1959 Murchison was pretty sure that the NFL would give Dallas a franchise, and he began to look for someone to run it for him. George Halas suggested Schramm to Murchison. Schramm recalls, "When I met Clint I said to him that he really should buy the Chicago Cardinals for $2 million instead of risking an expansion franchise. He said, 'Why should I spend $2 million when I can get the Dallas franchise for $500,000?' I knew from L.A. that the losses in Dallas would be horrendous. I said, 'You're going to lose a lot more than $2 million, believe me.' " Murchison believed him, but instead of buying the Cards, "I merely revised my loss plan a little and went ahead. I'm not only a very fervent football fan, I'm also an optimist."
In January 1960 the NFL owners voted Dallas a franchise. At that same league meeting the owners made a stunning and controversial choice to replace the late Bert Bell as NFL Commissioner—the 33-year-old general manager of the L.A. Rams, Pete Rozelle. Thus were launched two of pro football's most enduring and most ennobling entities—Rozelle and the Cowboys.
In his early meetings with Murchison Schramm demanded a contract that spelled out the philosophical foundation upon which The Dallas Organization still stands. Murchison recalls, "Because of the Rams, Tex was very sensitive to the question of who had what authority. He wanted it written in the contract that he hired the coach, and I wasn't to negotiate at all. He also insisted that the coach's contract would clearly give the coach complete authority over everything that had to do with the players. I believe in a great deal of hands-off with my managers in all my ventures. It's probably a little more pronounced in the Cowboys, however."
Schramm considered only two men to be the Cowboys' first coach: Tom Landry, the brilliant defensive coach of the New York Giants, and Sid Gillman, who had been the Rams' head coach in the mid-1950s. Landry got the offer, but he wasn't at all sure he wanted to accept it. "I really didn't want to be a head coach," Landry says. "I could have been the Giants' head coach, I suppose. Vince Lombardi had already gone to Green Bay, and Jim Lee Howell was sick of it. But my wife and I had decided to move back to Dallas and go into business. I had degrees in business and industrial engineering. I was well prepared to go into industrial management. When Schramm asked me to take the job, we said, 'Well, heck, we have a "house in Dallas, we might as well try it for a while.' I figured there was no way I'd survive because very few expansion coaches ever did. I never thought coaching had any future to it, anyway."
So the major pieces of The Dallas Organization were in place—each its own odd-shaped, queer-sized self, each with zigs and zags and knobs and gnarls which somehow—miraculously, magically—came to fit together. As Landry says now in wonderment, "There was no way to foresee the meshing of these three personalities. No way at all."
Brandt came on at the start, too. Schramm hired him and sent him to Dallas to open up the first Cowboy headquarters, two rooms in an insurance salesman's office. So Brandt became a fixture in The Organization, and not much later the next fixture for which the Cowboys became known was brought into the scouting empire: the computer.
Jim Finks, general manager of the Chicago Bears, has said, "I don't know if the Cowboys were actually the first to use a computer, but they were definitely the first to brag about it." The Cowboys and computers have come to be about as closely associated in the public's mind as Tom Landry's head is with his hat. There is no doubt that the Cowboys were the first NFL team to use computers to sort out the immense mass of scouting information they collected each year. They were also the first sports organization—anywhere, anytime—whose owner went out and started his own computer company in order to give his team constant access to the newfangled contraption.
The Cowboys' original computer-scouting program was created by one Salam Qureishi, a small, shy native of Aligarh, India. Brandt recalls wryly, "Salam didn't know whether a football was full of air or full of feathers." When first contacted by the Cowboys, Qureishi worked for IBM's Service Bureau Corporation. A computer genius, he proved to the Cowboys he could create a program for evaluating football players. Murchison hired him and eventually started his computer company, called Optimum Systems, Inc., in Palo Alto, Calif.
Despite The Organization's computer image, the Cowboys' offices in Dallas have never housed a computer. The printouts from the Cowboys' computer program, however, remain an essential factor in the Dallas operation. But the computer has never been more than an additional tool in the process of picking players.
The final authority in any Dallas draft decision is Tom Landry. Period. As Brandt says, "The computer gives us a little edge. Just an edge. Maybe a five or 10 percent advantage, no more than that."
Every team uses computers now, so the Cowboys are out to find another edge. They have developed a series of tests of athletic skills and reflexes, utilizing 90 pounds of portable electronic devices, so would-be Cowboys can be tested on their college campuses. These tests, says Brandt, led to Dallas' signing a walk-on free agent last year, one Everson Walls, who, as a rookie, became an All-Pro defensive back. The Cowboys' world-shocking decision to spend their 1982 second-round draft choice on Jeff Rohrer, a linebacker from Yale, was based in large part on these tests, too.
The Cowboys have also tried to steal a march on their rivals by creating a psychological test that will evaluate a man's emotional makeup and how it stacks up in terms of his becoming a great football player. This test has been less successful—and very expensive. "We've spent close to a million bucks trying to develop a psychological test," says Schramm. "But how do you test mental toughness? How do you find out why a man likes to hit other men? What's the difference between a sadist and a guy who loves contact? We've never gotten consistent results. We've tested our own players, and sometimes it has come out dead wrong." As Brandt says, "When a test flunks men like Lee Roy Jordan and Larry Cole for being psychologically wrong for the NFL, you know you're barking up the wrong tree."
Still, with all this fiddling with electronics and emotions, the strength and the success of The Dallas Organization really shows up in one place and one place only: the football field. And here we come into the cool, distant reign of Tom Landry. Now, it's said by everyone—and Landry particularly—that the main secret to his success is that Murchison never, never, never interferes. But can this be? Never?
Well, there was a time when Murchison interfered with Landry's career—and it probably saved The Dallas Organization for posterity to admire and emulate. It came at the nadir of those dismal early losing seasons—in February 1964. There was a lot of pressure on everyone then. Murchison was losing around $600,000 a year. Players were discouraged, angry, frustrated. Attendance was pitiful. Critics of Landry were baying like wolves, and it seemed that the only thing to do was to prescribe the age-old, conventional medicine for losing football teams: Fire the coach. Instead, after the 1963 season—a typical 4-10 bummer—Murchison up and interfered with Tom Landry by giving him a 10-year contract! This was unheard of in the NFL. No one had 10-year contracts. Not Vince Lombardi, not Pete Rozelle—and particularly not a head coach with a lifetime NFL won-lost percentage of .255!
"Frankly, I didn't really appreciate it at the time," Landry says, "because I wasn't desperate to continue as head coach of the Cowboys. I was still fully prepared for—and very pleased with—the idea of going into business." Obviously, Landry made his peace with being a lifetime football coach, and there are plenty of people who think that without Landry the Cowboys would be just another bunch of also-rans. One is Mike Ditka, for nine years a Dallas assistant and now the Bears' head coach. "The glue that holds it all together is Tom Landry," he says. "He's the reason they're a great organization." Says Dick Vermeil of the Philadelphia Eagles: "Landry's the strength of their leadership."
Everyone is quick to say—and it's true—that if the Cowboys weren't such a winning team, The Dallas Organization wouldn't be the widely envied machine it is today. Still, there is no doubt that The Organization has developed a myriad of other flashy, fascinating and wholly original facets which dazzle the eyes of the more mundane operations in the NFL. And the dazzle of Dallas is all due to Schramm—no one else. "It's one thing to win a lot of football games," says Schramm. "It's another to win them in an aura that reeks of class."
America's Team? Tex Schramm made it so before the nickname was conceived. He has hustled at every opportunity to put his team on national television. Thursday night? Sunday night? "We were among the first to play on those nights. We'll do anything to play on a national hookup," says Schramm.
Because of this exposure, Cowboy novelties, posters and bobble-head dolls marketed by NFL Properties outsell those of all other NFL teams by far. The Dallas Cowboys Official Weekly circulates in 50 states and several foreign countries and has a paid circulation of 100,000-plus at a hefty $15.95 annual subscription. The paper was Schramm's idea, and he says proudly, "We're the largest newspaperlike sports weekly in the country except for The Sporting News—and if you count our Spanish-language edition, which has a circulation of more than 360,000 and is given away as a newspaper insert all over Texas and Mexico, no one else comes close." The Cowboys have a radio network of 200 stations, the NFL's largest by far.
"All of this isn't because we're on an ego trip," says Schramm. "Everything we do is for the betterment of the team on the field. Kids grow up hearing about the Cowboys and watching them on TV. That has a practical value from a competitive standpoint. First, free agents may want to play for us instead of for other teams. Second, we think new players will be more anxious to adopt our system and methods because they think of ours as the successful way. And then there's the old thing about the Yankees, that people play better when they put on pinstripes. Maybe a player will do better with us than he has before."
The glamorous Cowboy image that Schramm loves to promote is displayed nowhere so openly as it is by the Dallas cheerleaders. In their sexy, foxy way they're a mirror image of what Cowboy football represents: entertainment dealt with as very serious business. Suzanne Mitchell, 39, runs the cheerleader branch of The Organization, a full-time executive position, and if there's any doubt about the significance of that position, note well that her office is the closest of any Cowboy executive to the corner office of Tex Schramm at Cowboy headquarters on the 11th floor of the Expressway Tower Building on North Central Expressway in Dallas.
Suzanne explains her operation: "I run it as a little football club. We have our training camp, our tryouts, our cuts. We study films, and we have three or four hours of training—rehearsals—every night. This past spring we had close to 2,000 girls audition. It's their ultimate dream. I understand that where little girls used to dream of being Miss America, now they dream of becoming a cheerleader for the Cowboys instead."
Once anointed a Dallas cheerleader, a woman is paid $15 a game. She's sent to a Dale Carnegie personality-enhancement course, and given weekly quizzes about Cowboy games. "If a girl is on a personal appearance and a kid asks why did Tony Dorsett run around left end when the right side was wide open, she has to know what it's all about," says Mitchell. "She can't look stupid about the team she supports." Dallas cheerleaders aren't allowed to fraternize with the players, on pain of expulsion. They are required to get an unlisted phone—this despite the fact that Tex Schramm himself has his phone number listed in the Dallas directory.
Each year for the past four, there also has been a Little Miss Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader contest. Last year 40,000 girls between the ages of four and 12 entered. There are other spin-offs—a line of Dallas cheerleader children's clothes, costume jewelry, coloring books, trading cards and a book called The Decade of Dreams, to be published to celebrate last year's 10th anniversary of the cheerleaders.
Well, it's all nothing if not impressive—and successful. The Dallas Cowboy Organization! Even in the eyes of its peers and competitors, it's most remarkable. Jack Steadman, president of the Kansas City Chiefs, says, "I see more and more successful organizations structured the way the Cowboys are. Based on their consistent record, they are the best." Vermeil chimes in, "I'm not embarrassed to say that my criteria all year are based on what we do to find a way to beat Dallas."
How much longer can it last? What happens when the magical chemistry is dissolved? Who knows? Murchison says, "Maybe the momentum will continue for a few years. Maybe not. But we'll find out fairly soon. Tom is 57, Tex is 62 and I'm 58. Though we keep searching, none of us has found the Fountain of Youth."