Joseph Don “Dandy Don” Meredith (born April 10, 1938, in Mount Vernon, Texas; died December 5, 2010 in Santa Fe, New Mexico) was a former American football quarterback in the National Football League who played 9 full seasons in the NFL for the Dallas Cowboys, a former football commentator and actor.
Meredith played college football at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, where he started at quarterback for three years, leading the Southwest Conference in passing completion percentage each year and getting selected as an All-American in 1958 and 1959. Meredith was so popular on campus that many at the time jokingly referred to the school as “Southern Meredith University.”
The Chicago Bears chose Meredith in the third round of the 1960 NFL Draft, and traded him to a young Cowboys franchise for future draft picks. (Incidentally, the Cowboys’ crosstown rivals in the AFL, the Texans, also picked Meredith as a “territorial selection” in their 1960 draft, though Meredith declined to play for them.) 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 in 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. Meredith is also said to be the only player to play his high school (Mount Vernon), college (SMU), and pro (Dallas Cowboys) career in and around the Dallas, TX area. He never played a home game, on any level, outside of North Texas.
During his career, he had a 50.7% 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 three times.
Following his football career, Meredith became a color commentator for ABC’s Monday Night Football beginning in 1970. He left for three seasons (1974 to 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 detailed and intellectual analysis and Gifford’s rather ponderous play-by-play technique. He was known for singing “Turn out the lights, the party’s over” at the time the game was apparently decided.
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 a Cleveland Browns player (Fair Hooker) into a double entendre. (saying ‘Fair Hooker…well, I haven’t met one yet!’)
Meredith 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 ABC’s first Super Bowl.
Meredith also had an acting career, appearing in multiple movies and television shows, including a recurring starring role on Police Story. 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.”.
The Dallas Morning News – By BRAD TOWNSEND
Don Meredith, the Dallas Cowboys and SMU quarterback and Monday Night Football icon, died Sunday evening in Santa Fe, N.M. He was 72.
Meredith died at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, a hospital spokesman confirmed this morning. The Meredith family’s attorney, Lisa Fine Moses, said his wife, Susan, and daughter Mary were at his side.
Meredith had battled emphysema in recent years and suffered a minor stroke in 2004.
He was the only living Cowboys Ring of Honor member unable to attend the franchise’s September 2009 inaugural game at Cowboys Stadium.
Meredith was the original Dallas Cowboy, signing a personal services contract on Nov. 28, 1959, two months before the franchise officially gained admittance into the NFL.
Hailing from Mount Vernon in East Texas, the quarterback nicknamed “Dandy Don” had the unique distinction of playing all of his home high school, college and professional football games within 100 miles of Dallas.
“I’m very thankful,” said Meredith, when a reporter from The News visited him in Santa Fe last October for a profile commemorating the 50th anniversary of his signing with the Cowboys. “I’m very thankful about where I’m from and who I am.”
He had given few interviews since leaving the Monday Night Football booth in 1984, preferring to remain largely out of the public eye while residing in Santa Fe with Susan, to whom he was married for 38 years…
He was born and raised in Mount Vernon but moved to a spacious adobe house in Santa Fe in 1982.
“My home is in Santa Fe, but I’m gonna always be from Mount Vernon,” he said. “I like that a lot.”
Meredith played impressively in his important role in Cowboys history while setting records for a team and a town that much preferred championship rings. While Meredith never delivered the Cowboys to the Super Bowl, he performed for them at an incredibly high level as they inched their way from wretched ineptitude toward the championships of the future, enduring immense pressure and incredible punishment in the process. He probably suffered more cruelty and injuries than any other Cowboys player because of a lack of support.
But Meredith was also maybe the most charismatic quarterback the franchise has known, a man who occasionally broke into song while huddling on the field with his teammates.
His profile increased after he threw his last pass. Meredith teamed with timid Frank Gifford and acerbic Cosell as announcers for ABC’s Monday Night Football and later was featured in television commercials for Lipton Tea.
Meredith was acclaimed as a broadcaster less for his insight than for his homespun sense of humor and penchant for country music, which prompted his immensely popular rendition of, “Turn out the lights, the party’s over …” whenever the outcome had been determined. He once headlined a country music show with Roger Miller and Willie Nelson.
But Meredith was the first legitimate quarterback the Cowboys had, a player of such importance that owner Clint Murchison signed him and halfback Don Perkins to personal services contracts before being awarded the NFL expansion team.
The situation was almost perfect for Meredith, who once stood with his father outside the Cotton Bowl as they visited the State Fair of Texas. Meredith remembered that as a prophetic occasion.
“I looked up at that big old thing,” he said, “and just knew I was gonna play ball there someday.”
That, in fact, happened many times. Meredith probably made more appearances there as a player through his 12 seasons than any other athlete. The Cowboys played their home games at the facility throughout Meredith’s nine seasons. The team announced plans to relocate to the Texas Stadium site Meredith found so contemptible a few months before his abrupt and shocking retirement from professional football in 1968.
He was 31, in the prime of his career. His decision was announced during a news conference in which Meredith, who had finished second in passing in the NFL, simply explained he had lost the desire to compete…
…The relationship between Meredith and Landry was odd. Landry found Meredith’s glib attitude the source of annoyance. Meredith could never understand his coach’s stoicism and serious nature. Meredith stubbornly resisted Landry’s attempts to control and influence him. But Landry maintained a devout respect for Meredith and desperately wanted him to succeed.
“Don and I were never real close,” Landry said. “Not that I (didn’t) like Don; I liked him fine. But you’d have to say we were really on different wave lengths. In defense of Don, he came up with some very poor teams. Gosh, they were awful. He took some tremendous punishment. I never had a player take more punishment or show more courage than Don.
“But Don just didn’t have the dedication to be the best quarterback in the business. He was very, very talented, maybe the most talented quarterback I’ve ever coached. Therefore, he could get by … without tremendous dedication. He didn’t have to do what he had to do to become great. And he could have been great.”
Said Schramm: “He could be a practical joker. He could do just about anything in that huddle or on the practice field, and that drove the head coach crazy. But put him in a uniform, and he played like hell.”
Once, Meredith threw a fourth-down touchdown pass to Dan Reeves against the Redskins, the score occuring one play after Washington linebacker Chris Hanburger delivered a thunderous direct shot that rendered Meredith semi-conscious.
When that was mentioned to Landry in the locker room afterward, the coach pretended to be unaware Meredith was unsteady.
“He kind of acts like that all the time,” Landry said.
Meredith found the standards of acceptable performance set so impossibly high he sometimes misinterpreted the tenor of an interview with a reporter who approached after he had completed 12 of 14 passes.
Asked if he realized he had done so, Meredith shrugged almost apologetically. “Well,” he said, “No one is perfect.”…]