But to folks of a certain age, it will always be the signature of Don Meredith, the frivolous foil to Howard Cosell on "Monday Night Football," who died Sunday night at age 72.
To Texans, Meredith may be the first player signed by the Dallas Cowboys. To the nation he will always be the good-natured ex-quarterback who punctured Cosell's pomposity during what are fondly remembered as the golden days of television's Monday night showcase: "Howard, Frank and 'Dandy Don.' ''
Meredith was signed by the Cowboys on Nov. 28, 1959, after starring at Southern Methodist, the first player signed by an expansion franchise hastily put together to counter the American Football League's 1960 startup franchise in Dallas. As a native of Mount Vernon in East Texas and a star at a local university, he provided instant box office appeal for a franchise that was more than a decade away from becoming "America's Team'' -- their first year, the Cowboys didn't win a game, their only satisfaction a 31-31 tie with the New York Giants, the two-time Eastern Conference champion whose offensive coordinator, Tom Landry, had become the Cowboys' first coach.
Meredith blossomed into one of the NFL's more effective QBs, especially as the Cowboys began winning. But in 1968, after leading the Cowboys to two NFL championship games, including the "Ice Bowl'' in Green Bay, he suddenly retired at age 31, saying simply he didn't have his heart in the game.
"I don't know how badly I'd feel if I wasn't remembered at all,'' he said famously after a career in which he never played a home game outside of East Texas -- he grew up in Mount Vernon and played his college and pro ball in Dallas and his retirement came as he was approaching contemporaries like Bart Star and Sonny Jurgensen (if not John Unitas) in the quarterback ranks. Although to be fair, his interception in the 1966 title game contributed to a 34-27 loss to the Packers that helped keep the Cowboys out of the first Super Bowl.
As Meredith retired, Roger Staubach signed with the Cowboys although his immediate successor was Craig Morton.
But it was the "I don't give a damn'' attitude reflected in his desire for football anonymity that made him an instant hit on MNF.
ABC's Roone Arledge spotted it when he hired him for the original edition in 1970 opposite play-by-play man Keith Jackson and Cosell, the purposely pompous know-it-all New Yorker who was the perfect foil for the laid-back quarterback from Texas. "Turn Out the Lights, the Party's Over,'' he would belt out after a game-clinching touchdown, often as early as the third quarter of one-sided games and he was always the lightest part of the three-man booth -- Frank Gifford took over for Jackson in the second year -- that earned raves for its balance between Cosell's social commentary and Meredith's down-home and sardonic Texas humor.
In fact, Meredith ventured into political waters too -- he set off a minor controversy by referring to then President Richard Nixon as "Tricky Dick.'' He also announced himself on air during a game in Denver as "Mile High,'' although he always finished a broadcast -- Cosell didn't during a game in Philadelphia in which it was later disclosed he had imbibed considerable liquid refreshment.
Another bit of Meredith humor came in wordplay over a Cleveland Browns receiver named Fair Hooker. "Fair Hooker? Well, I haven't met one yet.''
Meredith was self-deprecating as an analyst -- some of the analysis came from Gifford, himself a Hall of Fame running back and wide receiver during his playing career.
But Meredith was indeed a fine quarterback.
In his nine seasons during an era where the rules where much harder on passing, he threw for 17,199 yards and 135 touchdowns with a team that at the beginning was a bottom-of-the-barrel expansion side. In three of his last four seasons, he had a touchdown-to-interception ratio of close to 2-1, had 22, 24 and 21 touchdown passes in 14-game seasons, and his passer rating of 88.4 in his final year was the best of his career. He was elected into the Cowboys' Ring of Honor in 1976.
He left ABC after the 1973 season to work at NBC but returned in 1976 and did his final game and his only Super Bowl in 1984, the year after Cosell left MNF.
But he remained a performer, doing country shows with Willie Nelson and Roger Miller and appeared both during and after his television career in movie and television roles, including a role as a Los Angeles cop on a show called "Police Story.''
Still, he preferred anonymity, moving to Santa Fe, N.M., with his wife Susan after leaving the broadcast booth in 1984 and giving few interviews for the last quarter-century of his life.
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