(This story is an excerpt from America’s Team: The Official History of the Dallas Cowboys.)
First, the Yanks were an utter and complete failure in every sense of the word in 1952. Then there was this undersized running back with the genius IQ, his old man among the richest men on the planet. And the song, the song was big. Likely no Dallas Rangers without the song. But then this other gazillionaire’s son decided to start his own league and, well, that was just a mess, although not quite on the scale of the Yanks.
And that’s how the Dallas Cowb– er, Rangers were born into this world the afternoon of Oct. 19, 1959, in Chicago.
A trio of men was entrusted to nurture this expansion franchise, three men and a baby … photographer. There was also a television executive and an engineer. Not exactly what one would expect.
The three faced the most daunting of tasks in assembling a football team from scratch without the assistance of the college draft, and they even traded their first pick in the following year’s draft for a lawyer who stood 5 inches shy of 6 feet. He would be their starting quarterback.
Oh, and the dungeon, almost forgot the dungeon. Well, maybe it was a medieval castle, no one was certain, except for perhaps Jungle Jamey, but more times than not he was occupied with his monkey … or his longtime friend John F. Kennedy.
High school and college football were considered so entrenched among their respective fan bases that while football was always king in Texas, many felt the professional variety would never succeed. This was back in the 1950s, and the belief was certainly proven when a nomadic franchise – formerly of the All-America Football Conference, absorbed by the NFL – landed in Dallas via Baltimore and New York in January of 1952. At the time, NFL commissioner Bert Bell said, “The enthusiasm of Texans for football is the greatest in the country.”
Sure enough, the team formerly known as the Yanks was quickly renamed the Texans, the Dallas Texans, an ownership group of 16 strong anchored by 32-year-old textile manufacturer Giles Miller. The team would play home games at the Cotton Bowl where more than 75,000 fans routinely jammed for collegiate contests featuring SMU, Texas, Oklahoma and TCU.
The National Football League was coming to Dallas!
Some 44 days after their season-opening 24-6 loss to the New York Giants at the Cotton Bowl on Sept. 28, the franchise folded, the Texans playing their final five contests on the road, funded by the league. They finished 1-11 and were outscored by 245 points.
However, the franchise and its players survived, landing once again in Baltimore as the Colts. Five years later, Johnny Unitas and the team formerly known as the Dallas Texans won the 1958 NFL Championship, defeating the New York Giants, 23–17, in “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” Still, the interest in a professional football franchise in Dallas was not dead.
Clint Murchison Sr. was among the richest of Texas oilmen, appearing on the cover of Time magazine in 1954 with an estimated net worth of more than $300 million. He was also friends with longtime FBI director J. Edgar Hoover and heavily involved in national politics. His philosophy was simplistic enough, once telling his sons, “Money is like manure. If you spread it around, it can do a lot of good. But if you let it pile up in one place, it just stinks.”
The second of three sons, Clint Jr. was brilliant with a devilish sense of sarcasm and a lifelong love affair with football. Honestly, who knew that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – amongst the vaunted of academia – even fielded a football team? Quantum physics was nothing compared to dodging tackles on the MIT team as a 130-pound halfback with poor eyesight.
Later in life, Clint Jr.’s three sons would barely see him during the workweek; dad was always busy. But come YMCA and Pop Warner football practices and games, their coach, their father, was always present and accounted for.
H. L. Hunt had absolutely zero interest in football. Another Texas oil mogul, Hunt was wealthy beyond the definition, often referenced in print as the richest man in the world. Conversely, his son Lamar loved the game and was a backup end at SMU.
Around the time the Baltimore Colts were winning the NFL Championship, Lamar Hunt, 26, and Clint Murchison Jr., 35, each desperately desired inclusion in the world of professional football, their respective adoration for the game outweighing any and all financial risks. They were both willing to spend millions. Money was no object really. Lose $5 million the first three years? No problem; where do we sign?
The issue, though, was lack of opportunity.
George Halas, coach and owner of the Chicago Bears and without question the most powerful man in football, was also the chairman of the NFL Expansion Committee and had absolutely zero plans of adding a 13th or 14th franchise.
That is until Hunt decided he was no longer waiting. The NFL wouldn’t award him a team? He’d simply start his own league. And on July 29, 1959, the American Football League was opened for business with franchises in Dallas, Houston, New York, Denver, Los Angeles and Minneapolis. Boston and Buffalo quickly joined, giving the league eight teams for its inaugural season of 1960.
Less than a month thereafter, Halas and friends decided that expanding the NFL was, in fact, the most brilliant of ideas, an obvious counter to Hunt’s start-up. Halas introduced Murchison and his partner, Bedford Wynne, as the new owners of a Dallas team at a press conference in Chicago on that fateful October day in 1959. The price tag was $600,000 and included an expansion draft where Dallas would select 36 players from the other 12 teams.
Unfortunately, they still needed unanimous approval from the dozen NFL owners, and that vote wasn’t slated for more than three months at the annual league meeting in Miami. And while 11 votes were considered a virtual lock, there was a minor problem brewing in the nation’s capital.
Washington Redskins owner George Preston Marshall believed his team held territorial rights to the South and would one day serve as the cornerstone of a Southern television network. He feared placing a team in Dallas would significantly hinder his plan, never mind there are roughly 1,350 miles between the cities. Regardless, Marshall, among the more stubborn of men, wasn’t casting a favorable vote to expansion anywhere south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
But this was before Marshall learned that Murchison, that whippersnapper down in Dallas, was responsible for “stealing” his pride and joy, the team’s song, “Hail to the Redskins.” The lyrics to the tune were written by his wife, Corinne Griffith, no less, the former silent-screen starlight who, incidentally, was born in Texas.
Marshall was furious that Murchison had somehow a year earlier acquired the music to the song for $2,000 via an associate, Tom Webb, who was friends with the composer, Barnee Breeskin. Marshall told one and all that Murchison was “obnoxious,” to which the latter replied, “If he thinks I’m obnoxious now, how will he feel when he meets me?”
Long story short, the pair met just two hours before the league gathering in Miami on Jan. 28, 1960, and actually got along splendidly, with Murchison giving Marshall the copyright to the music in return for his vote. The new team was officially approved, and the Dallas Rangers became a reality.
Murchison didn’t wait until the owners’ decision, though, to surround himself with the best and brightest men available, a trio that would remain in place for an incredible 29 years.
First he hired 39-year-old Texas Earnest Schramm Jr., “Tex” to one and all, as his general manager/vice president at $36,500 per year with stock options. Since resigning as the general manager of the Los Angeles Rams in the spring of 1957 – where he hired future NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle as publicity director in 1952 – Schramm had been working in the sports department of CBS television in New York.
Before entering the world of professional football, Schramm was a sportswriter for the Austin American-Statesman, having graduated from the University of Texas with a journalism degree in 1947. Before a job interview lunch in late 1959, Murchison and Schramm had never met, a recommendation from Halas leading to the meeting.
The two men then focused their attention toward landing New York Giants defensive coordinator Tom Landry as their head coach, a former All-Pro defensive back and punter who was also a product of the University of Texas. During the 1959 season, Giants head coach Jim Lee Howell cited his assistant as “the greatest football coach in the game today.”
On Dec. 28, 1959, Landry signed a five-year contract with an annual salary of $34,500 and was introduced as the first head coach of the Dallas Rangers. Before inking the deal, Landry and Schramm spoke of an agreement that would serve as the backbone of the franchise for nearly three decades.
“Tom knew he had authority over the players and everything that had to do with the playing of the game. I had the remainder,” Schramm later recalled. “There’s one thing you must have in football: one continuous line of authority. The players had to understand that, as far as they’re concerned, Landry is the boss. They had to understand that the only person I will listen to is Landry. Secondly, they had to understand that I had that kind of backing from Murchison. If everyone doesn’t know that there’s a definite line of authority, you have chaos.”
Shortly thereafter, Schramm hired Gil Brandt, who was running a baby photography business in Milwaukee, as his director of player personnel/scouting director. Brandt never played or coached football previously and wasn’t even 0 years old, but he had done some scouting work for Schramm back with the Rams.
En route to piecing together a makeshift roster for that 1960 inaugural season without the benefit of the NFL Draft, which took place before the league meetings, the Dallas Rangers were no more. In the March 18 editions of multiple local newspapers, there were numerous headlines and references to the Rangers. Two days later, with no[MB1] explanation to speak of, the Dallas Cowboys were signing rookie free agents and promoting season tickets.
Luckily, in 1970 Murchison explained what took place amidst a series of articles he wrote for the team’s Insider Newsletter:
“It came to me right away, like a bolt from the blue: The Dallas Rangers. Now there, I declared, was a name for a football team if ever there was one. Its connotations were historical, proud, tough. My grandfather, who was one, would have loved it.”
At least he would have loved it more than Tex Schramm, who started hollering that there already was a team in Dallas called the Rangers. Even worse, allowed Tex, it was a (minor league) baseball team. The media would confuse the two.
Almost immediately, Murchison and Schramm agreed to change the team name [MDB2] but struggled with the solution. Through this stretch, the media and team press releases referred to the club as the Dallas Rangers. Finally, in mid-March of 1960, a decision was made. Schramm called Murchison at the airport and demanded a resolution. He read each of the three finalists aloud, and before hanging up the phone, Murchison said, “Okay, let’s go with Cowboys.”
The choice of wearing blue was a relatively easy one, Murchison concluded, since Hunt’s Texans had already revealed their red uniforms.
Five years later, during the offseason, Schramm told a reporter that Murchison was floating the idea of changing the monitor back to Rangers. The morning the information appeared in the newspaper, Murchison’s office was flooded with calls. He later wrote to the newspaper that his office received 1,148 calls, with the response breakdown as follows:
Keep the name Cowboys – 1,138
Change the name to Rangers – 2
Murchison is stupid – 8