Sunday, December 12, 2010

Turn Out the Lights, the Party's Over

I watched the "Ice Bowl" on television.  The game in1967 when Bart Starr on fourth down quarterback -neaked into the end zone behind guard Jerry Kramer and tackle Forrest Gregg (later a Cowboy) to win the NFL championship.

That game solidified Vince Lombardi's reputation as a coach, and Starr's as the quarterback just behind the great Johnny Unitas.

But what about the losing quarterback that day?  The one who had the game won until the final few seconds?

Don Meredith was a brilliant quarterback.  He was tough.  He was intelligent, and, in the words of Tom Landry, "the best player I ever coached."

Every home game he ever played was in north Texas.  He played high school in Mt. Vernon, college at SMU, and his entire pro career with the Cowboys.

When he retired, I couldn't understand why.  He had barely spent nine years in the NFL.  He was just coming into his prime.  Had barely lost NFL championship games to Lombardi's Packers.  Barely.  Each game could have gone either way.  A play here or there could have turned the tide.  But he called it a career a season after the Ice Bowl.

Then he gave pro football his greatest contribution ... his presence from 1970 on Monday Night Football.  How many of us remember that the original Monday night trio was Keith Jackson, Howard Cosell and Don Meredith.  It was 1971 that Gifford, Cosell, and Meredith became a team.

And what a team.  The three of them changed football.  They blended together like the Three Stooges, or Johnny, Ed, and Doc.  And Dandy Don was the analyst and the comic relief all at the same time.  He brought the concept of entertainment to pro football announcing, something no one ever had before and no one has since.  He knew the sport and knew how to entertain while keeping the sport serious.

He became more famous than when he was a player.

I remember once when the camera showed a fan live flipping the bird to the nation. Gifford and Cosell were dumbfounded.  Didn't know what to say.  Meredith told a shocked nation that the fan was "telling everyone that his team was number one."  It broke the tension and brought Gifford and Cosell back into the picture.

Of course there was controversy.  Like when he was stoned on a broadcast from Denver and said, "Here we are in the Mile High city ... and I sure am."  Of course, the fact that Cosell had once puked on Meredith's cowboy boots and passed out, forcing Keith Jackson and Meredith to do the game alone doesn't get that much press.  Yes, he referred to the then President as "Tricky Dick."  Who cares, now?

I don't.

I just miss the man and what he brought to the sport.

He died this last Sunday, after hurting for a long time.  What I'll always remember about Dandy Don was that on any given Monday night, when a team would make a play to put the game out of reach, he would sing the lyrics to an old country song.

So, Don, I sing it to you now.  "Turn out the lights, the party's over.  They say that all good things must end."

Oh, heavens, I haven't said what I learned from Don Meredith.  Simple.  I learned to have fun doing what you do.  And I learned that having fun will get us through the most difficult of times.

And Don, stealing from Bob Hope, let me add, "Thanks For the Memories."


  1. Hey Rock- I remember: vintage times as a football -and Cowboy fan, for sure. See you soon @ Aaron & Jill's Wayward Home for the Lonely Thespians... -MC

  2. What a wonderful tribute to a man who gave so much to the sport. xoxo

  3. He was class and graciousness personified, plus he was a ton of fun and an underrated quarterback to boot! Monday Night Football is still on the air because of what Don Meredith and company brought to the booth. They made it must-see TV, and it became an institution.