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Sunday, April 11, 2010

Texas Stadium implosion end of beginning of Dallas Cowboys

Watching the video of the implosion of Texas Stadium is a hard thing for this blogger because it marks the end of the beginning of The Dallas Cowboys as America's Team, and the end of a period in American Culture where Dallas, Texas was new and all things seemed possible. The Texas Stadium implosion also sadly marked the end of one major tactile memory of my teenage and college years.

I was a huge Dallas Cowboys fan. Not the typical fan, though. I was attracted to the Dallas Cowboys because my Mom had befriended Oakland Raiders Defensive End Otis Sistrunk. Otis was a large and very nice man who announcers joked was from The University of Mars. Sistrunk came over for a visit in 1976; I was underwhelmed. At the time, football had no place in my life.

I saw football as a major part of an American cultural problem. When I was six, my late grandfather said I should play football; But I said all the blacks played; I wanted to coach. I thought it was weird that the all the players on TV were black but all the coaches were white. That was why I paid no attention to football; I was into science fiction and Star Trek.

But when I figured my Mom was going to be friends with this guy, Otis Sistrunk, who I'd never heard of, I'd better read something about the game. So I found and bought - well, had bought for me at the time - a big thick book called An Encyclopedic History of Pro Football.

The book had different sections and Otis was in it. But nothing interested me except a chapter at the back called "A Strategic History of Pro Football". This part of the book had diagrams of plays that were ran through the history of the game. And it had a special area on Dallas Cowboys Head Coach Tom Landry.

The segment explained that Landry used multiple offense and "pre-shifting" and brought "engineering concepts of feedback and control theory" to the development of The Flex Defense. As one who was interested in engineering, I found a reason to be interested in football and a fan of The Dallas Cowboys.

I subscribed to The Dallas Cowboys Weekly, and yes kept my issues for the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader centerfolds. But my dream was to visit Texas Stadium. On August 21st, 1979, I got my wish.

My Mom took me to Dallas and Texas Stadium as a one-day birthday gift. It was The Dallas Cowboys v. The Pittsburgh Steelers in a preseason rematch of their epic Super BowlXIII. What struck me at the time was how simple Texas Stadium was. The corridors were wide, but all concrete. I guessed the luxury I expected to see was reserved for the famous luxury boxes. I read that Dallas Cowboys Marketing Director Tex Schramm sold them to pay a private bond issue to build the stadium. In fact, that was how I learned what bond issues were.

After the game, I was hooked on the Cowboys and their defensive strategy. That led to a letter I wrote to then Dallas Cowboys Defensive Coordinator and NFL Hall of Famer Ernie Stautner. In the letter, I asked what "keys" Bob Breunig, then the Cowboys middle linebacker, looked for while running the "Flex Defense."  To my surprise, the letter he wrote back invited me to the Dallas Cowboys offices! So in July of 1980, I went back to Dallas.

I was allowed to see six reals of film: Dallas Defense v. The I Formation One, Dallas Defense v. The I Formation Two, Flex Strong: Quality Control, Flex Weak Quality Control, Flex Strong, and Flex Weak. What I noticed was that because the defensive lineman in the Flex started over the offensive player, then moved to a gap, an offensive lineman could actually block a defender before that person moved to their gap position.

That happened to Dallas Cowboys Defensive Tackle Randy White, who was head up on New England Patriots Guard John Hannah. The Patriots were in what the Cowboys called at that time "Brown Right" formation. In that, the tight end was on the right, the fullback behind the quarterback and the halfback behind the weakside offensive tackle. The fullback at the time was Sam "Bam" Cunningham. The Cowboys were in "Flex Strong", which is why White was head up on Hannah; White's assignment was the gap between Hannah and the Pats center. He never got there.

John Hannah blocked Randy White so hard and fast that the gap opened because the other defenders were flowing to their positions but not White, and Cunningham flew through the truck-sized hole and raced 56 yards for a touchdown.

When Ernie Stautner came in to check on me, I asked him about that, and he gave me a chalk talk on where White should have been. But with all of that, my love for The Cowboys and for Dallas and Texas Stadium was cemented. I found The University of Texas at Arlington because I wanted to study city planning in Dallas.

Dallas, Texas was growing at the time and basking in the glow provided by the success of the Cowboys and the TV show Dallas. I lived in Oakland; Dallas was everything the Bay Area was not: hot weather, steel and glass buildings, cranes all over and new. Everything seemed shiny new.

Of course, then I went to college and while I enjoyed my four years at UTA and the friends I met and still have today, I felt that Dallas and "The Metroplex" was 15 years behind the Bay Area socially, so I worked to come back. I was accepted at at graduate school and The City Planning Program at Cal Berkeley in 1985.  But before I left, I got a chance to go to a number of games at Texas Stadium.

The one I will remember isn't a Dallas Cowboys game; it's an SMU game.  SMU played Texas-Arlington at Texas Stadium and SMU, which had Eric Dickerson and Craig James, ran all over us.

They called Craig and Eric, "Dicker-James" and I think it was KRLD's radio announcer Brad Sham who came up with the name.  What I remember was my friend at UTA Shelly Gruwell saying "Look at them go" in that Texanese drawl of hers, over and over again.

My love for the Dallas Cowboys never diminished until a man named Bill Walsh came along with an innovative passing game - that's another story for another time. But part of that reason too was how new Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones handled the late Coach Tom Landry; by announcing on radio that he fired him. That was how Landry learned of his ouster.

Gil Brandt was the Cowboys Director of Player Personnel and the architect of the great Cowboys teams as well as the pioneer of using computers in the player scouting process. Gil was locked out of the Cowboys Headquarters.

It took me a long time to get over that. I've since met Jerry Jones and really admire him as a business man. But the "Landry issue" will always stick with me. Texas Stadium was a symbol of that. But also of a certain hubris and free-spending era, too.

In defense of Jerry Jones, Jones discovered a lot of fiscal overspending by the Cowboys management when he took over the organization. Jones cut the fat and caused the Cowboys to turn a profit.

One can say the new Cowboys Stadium is Jerry Jones way of saying "The Cowboys were OK then, but this is what they should be. An example for the sports World."

I'll miss Texas Stadium. May it rest in peace.


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