Big Tex

Cowboys icon Schramm left his mark on his team and those who knew him

Whether in his small corner spot on the 11th floor of his Central Expressway workplace or, later, in his spacious office at Valley Ranch, he was always pacing, ever on the move as he thought and spoke. For longtime Dallas Cowboys president and general manager Tex Schramm, who died Tuesday at age 83, stillness and idle pursuits were high crimes. He had no time for leisure habits such as card games and crossword puzzles; the only book I'm aware of his having read was his own biography, written by Bob St. John, and he could not even imagine the abject horror of sitting in one place for the two hours it would require to watch a movie.

On most days his subject was the future. Normally, Schramm was too busy looking ahead to reflect on what was already done. A driven man since those early days as a $35-a-week cub sports reporter for the Austin American-Statesman, PR man for the Los Angeles Rams and, later, assistant programming director for CBS-TV (where it was his brainchild to televise the Winter Olympic Games for the first time and use fellow University of Texas grad Walter Cronkite as the anchor), his passion became the Cowboys when Clint Murchison hired him as builder of the expansion franchise in 1960.

Before he would step down in 1989 to make way for new owner Jerry Jones, his list of accomplishments had arguably made him the most important and influential person in the history of Dallas sports. It was Schramm who found a young New York Giants assistant named Tom Landry and offered him the job as coach of a team still on the drawing board. Later, in those infant days when wins were scarce and the public growling, Schramm and owner Murchison put their heads together and silenced the controversy by awarding Landry a never-before-heard-of 10-year contract. In an effort to jump ahead of others in the league, it was Schramm who was the first in pro sports to hire a computer programmer to help with charting prospective players and game-day tendencies of opposing teams. The year was 1962, about the same time he and head scout Gil Brandt came up with the idea of timing players at a distance of 40 yards instead of 100 to determine their true "football speed."

“Sure, I’ve been driven by ego,” Schramm once confided to Carlton Stowers. “I need to be recognized as a successful person. I see nothing wrong with that.”
Mark Graham
“Sure, I’ve been driven by ego,” Schramm once confided to Carlton Stowers. “I need to be recognized as a successful person. I see nothing wrong with that.”

You get the idea. From all this resulted an NFL-record 20 straight winning seasons, five Super Bowl trips, two world championships and the moniker "America's Team," a name he did not come up with but which he made popular. What the Yankees were to baseball, the Murchison-Schramm-Landry Cowboys became to the world of professional football.

Along the way, Schramm never stopped polishing the image, adding touches that many NFL rivals would initially criticize, then rush out and copy. The sizzling sideline show provided by the hot pants-wearing Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders? Schramm's idea. A team-produced weekly newspaper whose circulation grew to 100,000 in its English-language version and 300,000 in Spanish? Schramm thought of that. When the NFL needed another team to volunteer to play an annual Thanksgiving Day game, Schramm jumped at the opportunity for additional nationwide exposure for his team. Long ago, when visiting teams had to put their black players up in a shoddy hotel in Fort Worth, it was the Cowboys' president and general manager who quietly persuaded the Ramada Inn near Love Field to set a new standard and discontinue its "all-white" policy.

Little wonder, then, that his personal trophy case includes a citation for being named the NFL's Executive of the Year and a bust memorializing his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Next season, he'll be belatedly added to the Texas Stadium Ring of Honor--another idea that was his.

In those days when I covered the team as a beat reporter for The Dallas Morning News and later as editor of the Dallas Cowboys Weekly, I wrote of such things, sometimes as they happened, often to put the growth of the franchise and its history into perspective. What I learned during my working relationship with Schramm was that he, more so than any other sports figure I'd ever encountered, actually enjoyed the media. Not that he wasn't trigger-quick to rail against something critical or inaccurately written, but as soon as his bombast ended, the waters calmed.

Former Dallas Times Herald reporter Steve Perkins loved to tell of the Sunday morning he was wakened by Schramm's bellowing voice, raking him over the coals about something he'd written for that day's edition. Perkins had listened patiently as Schramm's tirade went on and on. Only after the marathon rant ended was Perkins able to get in a word. "Other than that," he replied, "how did you like the story?" After a few beats of silence, Schramm burst into laughter. "Aw, hell, forget it," he said. "I'll see you at the game." The two headstrong men battled verbally for years, particularly after several rounds of Schramm's favored bullshots. Yet when time came to seek the first editor of the Cowboys Weekly, it was Perkins whom Schramm hired. Why? "Because," Schramm pointed out, "he was the best sportswriter around."

Such was the man's philosophy, whether hiring a head coach, computer programmer, scout or someone to watch over the mailroom. To Schramm, every job was critically important and expected to figure into the organization's success. It was that philosophy that prompted him, after the Cowboys won their first Super Bowl, to pass out championship rings not only to the players and coaches but to the business manager, scouts, trainers, equipment manager, film crew, etc. Secretaries received matching pendants to serve as visible proof they, too, played a role in the team's accomplishment. Everybody in the organization, top to bottom, had done his or her part to achieve the success, Schramm explained.

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