Don Meredith didn't like repeating himself. A year after back-to-back losses in NFL title games (including the 1967 Ice Bowl) he retired from football. He was a Pro Bowl quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, which was about to become America's Team, but he had begun to lose the point of it all. He was 31. Then came a broadcasting career that briefly made him one of the most famous personalities in the land—and he eventually lost the thread there, too. "You know," he said one night, watching another episode of Monday Night Football unfold from the broadcast booth, "I think I've seen this game before." And he was gone again. He was 46.
Meredith—or Dandy Don, or in the bray of Howard Cosell, Danderoo—became an enormous and inadvertent celebrity. In 1970, when Meredith joined Cosell (Meredith's friend Frank Gifford rounded out the groundbreaking crew the next season), he struck the national nerve as a counterculture figure, slightly subversive, cowboy boots and Texas epigrams notwithstanding.
But he was a reluctant celebrity. As Gifford said, "Don can do anything he wants, but he only does what he wants." It's odd, when you consider what a cultural fascination MNF was in those early years, how little was actually known about Meredith. He had a daughter who was mentally challenged but was protected from the "human interest" stories that seem to round out the lives of famous people. And for all his reputation as a rounder, his nights on the road were spent with his wife, Susan, over room service.
His virtual disappearance in 1984, once he left MNF for good, puzzled the public but not his friends, who were happy to visit him in Santa Fe, where Meredith continued to enjoy his wife's company as well as a life of golf and tennis. He did not yield to the temptations of fame (no card shows, no Dancing with the Stars for him), so that even his death last week, at 72, seemed, in its complete surprise, a compromise of celebrity. But that was Meredith, a guy who tended to leave things on his own terms.
December 13, 2010
SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE
A car belonging to the wife of former NHL hockey coach Pat Burns, who died on Nov. 19, was broken into on the night of Burns's wake by thieves, who lifted family photos, autographed jerseys from each of the 30 NHL teams, Burns's wallet and a set of sheets from his hospital bed.