Don Meredith is recognized as the first Cowboy. Dandy Don spent all nine seasons of his NFL career as quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys before he shocked the team and retired in the prime of his career. While many NFL players disappear after their playing days are over, that wasn’t the case for Meredith. He was just getting started.
Meredith parlayed his on-field success into a trip upstairs to the broadcast booth where he joined Frank Gifford and Howard Cosell to become the first “Monday Night Football” broadcast team. Meredith “turned out the lights” on his broadcasting career in 1984. Here’s a look back at the life and tragic death of Dandy Don Meredith.
Don Meredith becomes the first Cowboy
Don Meredith was pure Texan born and bred. He grew up and played high school football within 100 miles of Dallas, before receiving a football scholarship and attending Southern Methodist University. After a very successful career with the Mustangs, including earning two-time All-American honors in 1958 and 1959, the Dallas Cowboys were interested in acquiring the services of the hometown kid. There was just one problem—the Cowboys didn’t officially exist.
However, future Cowboys owner Clint Murchison Jr. planned ahead. Before the NFL officially admitted the Cowboys as a team in 1960, Murchison signed Meredith to a five-year personal services contract to work with Tecon Corporation, another business Murchison owned. The deal meant Meredith would play for the Cowboys if and when they received an NFL franchise. That happened in 1960 after the NFL draft.
Fortunately, the NFL honored the personal services contract after the franchise was voted in. And Don Meredith became the first Cowboy.
Meredith’s career with the Cowboys
While Don Meredith might have been the first Dallas Cowboys player signed to a contract, he wasn’t the first to play. In fact, Meredith served as a backup quarterback behind Eddie LeBaron his first two seasons in Dallas. In 1963, head coach Tom Landry turned over the reins to Meredith toward the end of the season.
Landry and Meredith, however, didn’t always see eye to eye. The strict coach was more focused on reading defenses and good sound offense. Meredith was a gunslinger who liked to throw bombs deep down the field. The two met in the middle. As the team’s record steadily improved under Meredith’s guidance, the coach gave him a little more leeway.
In 1965, the Dallas Cowboys recorded their first-ever season at .500. The team appeared to be prime for a run of success during the next few seasons. And that’s exactly what Meredith delivered. Meredith and the Cowboys made it to the NFL championship in both 1966 and 1967, only to lose both times to the Green Bay Packers, including the famous Ice Bowl game in 1967. Meredith was named NFL Player of the Year in 1966 and earned Pro Bowl honors in 1966 and 1967.
In 1968, Don Meredith had another Pro Bowl season as he led the Cowboys to an impressive 11-2 record. Unfortunately, the team fell short again in the playoffs, losing in a divisional round game to Cleveland, where Landry benched Meredith during the contest. Following the season, Meredith shocked the Cowboys and retired at age 30.
Don Meredith stars on Monday Night Football
Less than two years later, Don Meredith joined Frank Gifford and Howard Cosell for an experiment broadcasting football on Monday nights. “Monday Night Football” was a smash hit, and the charming Dandy Don, was a big reason why.
Meredith’s knowledge and quick wit entertained the viewing audience. There were more than a few memorable moments including one night in Philadelphia, when Cosell got sick and vomited on Meredith’s cowboy boots. “Howard’s going to have to leave us now,” Meredith said. “Something’s come up.”
Another Meredith moment happened during a MNF game in Houston. During the broadcast, one camera focused on a fan, who grew annoyed at the ABC camera pointed in his direction. The fan raised his right hand, then his middle finger. “That’s right!” Meredith said. “We’re No. 1!”
Don Meredith was most well known for his performances at the end of the football broadcast when one team clearly had the game in control and he would break out in song. “Turn out the lights…the party’s over,” he would croon. Meredith’s party ended in 2010 at age 72 when he suffered a brain hemorrhage. His party may have been over, but his many memories last forever.