Big Tex

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

For much of his career I was in a position to watch his reaction to the highs and lows of the franchise. Yet the only thing I knew for certain about Texas Earnest Schramm was that aside from family, the success of the NFL and the Dallas Cowboys were the passions that drove him. His focus on the goals he'd set was nothing less than remarkable.

Only during a late-'80s conversation in his office one evening did it finally occur to me that no matter how successful, innovative and history-making his tenure, time would come when the mantle he so proudly wore would ultimately be passed. Schramm had recognized its approach well before it crossed my mind.

That night, as darkness fell over the practice fields that could be seen from his office window, as he paced among the memorabilia collected over the decades, he was not responding to questions so much as just thinking aloud. There was no bluster in his voice; the energy and enthusiasm so much a part of his personality were absent.

“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.”

Still, I was surprised when he admitted that he had begun to experience days when there were more problems and frustrations than he wished to deal with. "I find myself thinking that it isn't as much fun as it once was," he said. "Sometimes I ask myself why in the hell I don't just get out of it. But then I think of the alternative, and it scares me to even think about retiring, giving this up to go fishing and just sit around doing nothing. Besides, there's still a lot more I want to accomplish."

Having learned to occasionally translate Tex-speak, I sensed a sadness I'd never before heard, as if he had come to grips with the fact that the end of his career was nearing. At that particular moment he didn't know that interim owner H.R. "Bum" Bright, having purchased the team from Murchison, would soon sell to Jones, but he seemed to have already accepted that the reins he'd so tightly held were no longer really his.

Schramm was, for the moment at least, thinking back, not to the future, and wondering how he would be remembered. He acknowledged that humility was never his strong suit. "I guess I could have sat back and said, 'Gee whiz, look how humble I am,' but to actively seek goals that represent greatness is something else. Sure, I've been driven by ego. Psychologically, you might say that I have a little insecurity. I need to be recognized as a successful person. I see nothing wrong with that."

As I drove home that evening, I found myself wondering how Schramm would adapt to a life that no longer offered the daily challenge and the always-shining spotlight. How many marlin could he bring onto his boat off the Florida Keys before boredom became the toughest opponent he'd ever faced?

The answers came more quickly than expected. Shoved aside by Jones, Schramm briefly busied himself by helping the NFL establish the World Football League in Europe and throughout the United States. There was the anticipation of being inducted into the Hall of Fame that energized him for a time. Finally, he began to fade from the sports pages. His gravelly voice was rarely heard on the talk shows where he'd once been a regular guest. A bad back could no longer be ignored, and he began walking with a cane.

Then, he suffered great loss in a short time. The death of a daughter, Mardee, hit him hard. Then his beloved wife, Marty, his soul mate since college, passed away. When he'd gather with old friends for lunch, he'd only take part in the conversation, whereas there had been a time when he directed it. The Tex Schramm dead certain he could run a better railroad than everyone from the president of the United States down to the NFL referees and didn't mind saying so became satisfied with sharing memories of the good times.

The last time I saw him, just a few days after his 83rd birthday, the pacing had finally ended. He lay in a hospital bed, watched over by daughter Kandy, sleeping peacefully--as if aware there were no more battles to fight, no more games or arguments to be won, no more idle days to fill.

As I stood there, I wished that sleep was accompanied by the comforting realization of his monumental accomplishments, of the amazing legacy he would soon leave behind.

"I hope," Kandy whispered, "that he's dreaming about winning the Super Bowl."

« Previous Page
My Voice Nation Help