Meredith with the Dallas Cowboys
April 10, 1938|
Mount Vernon, Texas
|Died:||December 5, 2010
Santa Fe, New Mexico
|High school:||Mount Vernon (TX)|
|NFL Draft:||1960 / Round: 3 / Pick: 32|
|AFL draft:||1960 / Round: 1 / Pick: territorial|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Career NFL statistics|
Joseph Don "Dandy Don" Meredith (April 10, 1938 – December 5, 2010) was an American football quarterback, sports commentator and actor. He spent all nine seasons of his professional playing career (1960–1968) with the Dallas Cowboys of the National Football League (NFL). He was named to the Pro Bowl in each of his last three years as a player. He subsequently became a color analyst for NFL telecasts from 1970–1984. As an original member of the Monday Night Football broadcast team on the American Broadcasting Company (ABC), he famously played the role of Howard Cosell's comic foil.
Meredith was born on April 10, 1938 in Mount Vernon, Texas, located approximately 100 miles east of Dallas. He attended Mount Vernon High School in his hometown, where he starred in football and basketball, performed in school plays and graduated second in his class.
Even though he was heavily recruited by then-Texas A&M head coach Bear Bryant, Meredith decided to play college football at Southern Methodist University (SMU). He led the Southwest Conference in passing completion percentage in each of his three years as the starting quarterback, and was an All-America selection in 1958 and 1959. His fellow students jokingly referred to the school as "Southern Meredith University" due to his popularity on campus. He completed 8 of 20 passes for 156 yards in the College All-Stars' 32–7 loss to the Baltimore Colts in the Chicago College All-Star Game on August 12, 1960.
He would be honored twice by SMU in later decades. He was the recipient of the university's Distinguished Alumni Award in 1983. His jersey number 17 was retired during halftime ceremonies at the SMU–Houston football match on October 18, 2008. He was also inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1982.
The Dallas Cowboys franchise was admitted to the league too late to participate in the 1960 NFL Draft, so on November 28, 1959, one month prior to the draft, Meredith signed a personal services contract with Tecon Corporation which, like the Cowboys, was owned by Clint Murchison. This contract meant he would play for the Cowboys if and when they received an NFL franchise. He was also selected by the Chicago Bears in the third round (32nd overall) of the 1960 NFL Draft, after Bears owner George Halas made the pick to help ensure that the expansion Cowboys got off to a solid start. The league honored the contract, but made the Cowboys compensate the Bears with a third-round pick in the 1962 NFL Draft. He is considered by some to be the original Dallas Cowboy because he had come to the team even before the franchise had adopted a nickname, hired a head coach or participated in either the 1960 NFL Expansion Draft or its first NFL Draft in 1961. Their crosstown rivals in the American Football League, the Texans, also chose him as a "territorial selection" in their 1960 draft, but were too late to sign him.
Meredith spent two years as a backup to Eddie LeBaron, eventually splitting time in 1962 before he was given the full-time starting job by head coach Tom Landry in 1963. In 1966, Meredith led the Cowboys to the NFL postseason, something he would continue to do until his unexpected retirement before the 1969 season. His two most heartbreaking defeats came in NFL Championship play against the Green Bay Packers, 34–27 in Dallas (1966), and the famous "Ice Bowl" game, 21–17 in Green Bay (1967).
"Dandy Don", while never leading the Cowboys to a Super Bowl, was always exceptionally popular with Cowboys fans who remember him for his grit and toughness, his outgoing nature, and his leadership during the first winning seasons for the Cowboys. During his career, he had a 50.7 percent completion rate, throwing for 17,199 yards and 135 touchdowns with a lifetime passer rating of 74.8. He was named the NFL Player of the Year in 1966 and was named to the Pro Bowl 3 times. According to the NFL, the longest pass with no yards after catch (YAC) was his 83-yard pass to Bob Hayes. However, the NFL does not keep statistics on the distance of actual passes.
Following his football career, Meredith became a color commentator for ABC's Monday Night Football beginning in 1970. He left for 3 seasons (1974–1976) to work with Curt Gowdy at NBC, then returned to MNF partners Frank Gifford and Howard Cosell. His approach to color commentary was light-hearted and folksy, in contrast to Cosell's observations and Gifford's play-by-play technique. He was known for singing "Turn out the lights, the party's over" (a line from a Willie Nelson song, "The Party's Over") at garbage time.
Meredith's broadcasting career was also not without a few incidents of minor controversy; including referring to then-President Richard Nixon as "Tricky Dick", announcing that he was "mile-high" before a game in Denver, and turning the name of Cleveland Browns receiver Fair Hooker into a double entendre. (saying "Fair Hooker...well, I haven't met one yet!") He retired from sportscasting after the 1984 season, a year after Cosell's retirement. His final broadcast was Super Bowl XIX with Frank Gifford and Joe Theismann, which was the first Super Bowl broadcast by ABC.
Meredith also had an acting career, appearing in multiple movies and television shows, including a recurring starring role as Detective Bert Jameson on Police Story. One episode, "The Witness", features a picture of Don in his Dallas uniform hanging on a wall in Delaney's bar while Don interviews witnesses to a robbery below his picture. He was in a series of commercials in the 1980s as Lipton Tea Lover, Don Meredith, a.k.a. "Jeff and Hazel's Baby Boy". He was featured in an episode of King of the Hill ("A Beer Can Named Desire"), in which he misses a throw that would have won the main character, Hank Hill, $1,000,000.00. He was also part of an ensemble cast in his son Michael Meredith's film "Three Days of Rain" with Blythe Danner, Peter Falk and Jason Patric.
The novel North Dallas Forty, written by former Dallas Cowboy wide receiver and Meredith teammate Peter Gent, is a fictional account of life in the NFL during the 1960s, featuring quarterback Seth Maxwell, a character widely believed to be based on Meredith, and receiver Phil Elliot, believed to be based on Gent. Maxwell and Elliot are characterized as boozing, womanizing, ageing stars in the twilight of their careers, held together by pills and alcohol. Of the story, Meredith said, "If I'd known Gent was as good as he says he was, I would have thrown to him more."
Meredith was married three times. His first wife was former SMU cheerleader Lynne Shamburger; they were married from 1959 to 1963 and had one daughter, Mary. From 1965 to 1971 he was married to the former Cheryl King, with whom he had son Michael and daughter Heather. He met his third wife, the former Susan Lessons Dullea (ex-wife of actor Keir Dullea), as they were both walking down Third Avenue in New York City. They married in 1972.
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