Gil Brandt selects his All-’60s Dallas Cowboys Team
Posted on Sat, Jun. 13, 2009
By RAY BUCK
His toughest choices came at quarterback and running back: Don Meredith, Don Perkins and Calvin Hill.
"All the names to consider, you really can’t make a wrong choice," said Gil Brandt, Dallas Cowboys personnel director during the Tom Landry Era. "There’s not a bad guy in the bunch ... and that’s what makes me the proudest."
Brandt’s All-’60s Cowboys Team — that is, pre-Super Bowl appearance No. 1 — won’t surprise you because these selections include some of the most storied names in franchise history.
While Landry carefully laid the groundwork for success with a multiple offense and a complicated flex defense, the ’60s were filled with a lot of other stuff going on:
Hitchcock’s Psycho, The Beatles, the Twist, Woodstock and Flower Power.
Sit-ins, Laugh-In, drop out.
The sports world had (among others) the Celtics, The Mick, Wilt the Stilt, The Greatest, Arnie’s Army ... and Mr. Cowboy.
But the fact that Neil Armstrong walked on the moon before the Cowboys could win the "big game" tormented Bob Lilly and his "Next Year’s Team" teammates for an entire decade.
These Cowboys rosters over the first 10 years of the franchise included four future Hall of Famers: Lilly, Mel Renfro, Rayfield Wright and Bob Hayes, plus one HOF coach in Landry.
The team struggled until 1965, when it finally avoided its first losing season (7-7), followed by a bittersweet second half of the decade.
Although the Cowboys lost only 16 of their last 61 games of the ’60s, four of those defeats came in the postseason against Green Bay and Cleveland with Super Bowls I through IV on the line.
Here are Brandt’s picks. The following also includes some of his comments:
Quarterback: Meredith went through the growing pains for us. Dandy Don took the team to two championship games (both vs. the Packers) — and it wasn’t his fault that Green Bay won to advance to Super Bowls I and II. Notables: Eddie LeBaron, truly one of the most unique NFL players of all time at 5-foot-7, 165 pounds, and Craig Morton, who closed out the decade strong as the starter. Roger Staubach, a ’69 rookie, waited until the following decade to set the world on fire.
Running backs: Perkins and Hill. Perkins led the team in rushing all but one of eight seasons in the league. Hill was a ’69 rookie out of Yale, immediately compared to Jim Brown, and later the Cowboys’ first 1,000-yard rusher. Notables: Walt Garrison and Dan Reeves definitely were all-time fan favorites. Another big-time contributor on those early ’60s teams was Amos Marsh. He and Reeves both were undrafted free agents.
Wide receivers: Frank Clarke and Hayes. Clarke arrived via the ’60 expansion draft from Cleveland. Landry gave him confidence to become a reliable deep threat and a playmaker. Later, Hayes flat-out changed the game with his world-class speed, forcing NFL teams to develop "zone defense" to corral him (since they couldn’t cover him). Notables: Journeymen such as Billy Howton, Tommy McDonald and Buddy Dial left their marks on the Cowboys. Later, Lance Rentzel and Pete Gent came along. Gent was pretty good for a guy who never played a game of college football.
Tight end: Pettis Norman. He manned the position most of the decade — and was usually the toughest guy on the field. Notable: Mike Ditka, a legendary Chicago Bear, who joined the Cowboys in ’69 as a 30-year-old player ... and an eventual Landry assistant.
O-line: Tackles Wright and Ralph Neely; guards John Niland and John Wilbur and center Dave Manders. Wright became a HOFer; Neely a consummate pass blocker. Niland’s first two of six Pro Bowl appearances came in the ’60s. Notables: Tackles Tony Liscio, Jim Boeke and Bob Fry, a 215-pounder who arrived via the expansion draft (LA Rams). Center Mike Connelly, extremely quick and a worthy predecessor to Manders. Guards Jim Ray Smith and Blaine Nye. Smith was a solid player for a long time as an undersized guy for the Browns; Nye, on the team but not a starter until ’70. Why Wilbur? Stick-to-it-iveness. As a ’66 rookie, he quit training camp and went home before I talked him into coming back to Thousand Oaks. Wilbur ended up having a nine-year NFL career (Cowboys, Rams, Redskins), although his father was angry that I interrupted his poker party at their LA home that night.
Placekicker: Danny Villanueva, a budding entrepreneur who played football on the side. Notables: Sam Baker, a great athlete who was an NFL fullback, and the late Mike Clark. Baker was a character. Once when the Cowboys were playing a preseason doubleheader in Cleveland, Baker (an ex-Brown) left a blank check under Landry’s door the night before. Planning in advance to break curfew, Baker attached a note to the check: "Coach, just fill in the amount."
D-Line: Tackles Lilly and Jethro Pugh; ends George Andrie and Larry Cole ... together, they spelled Doomsday. Lilly was the team’s first draft choice and most decorated Pro Bowler — 11 times. Pugh led the team in sacks for five consecutive seasons, beginning in ’68. Andrie was Lilly’s training-camp roommate and a consummate competitor. Big-play Cole scored four career touchdowns — all against the Redskins. Notable: Cole’s predecessor in the Doomsday Defense was Willie Townes. With today’s training-room techniques, Townes would’ve been an even better player than he was — and that was very good.
Linebackers: OLBs Chuck Howley and Dave Edwards; Lee Roy Jordan in the middle. A Landry favorite, Jordan redefined the MLB position. He was a quick, compact, emotionally charged team leader. Howley remains the only Super Bowl MVP from a losing team (SB V). He had 25 career interceptions. There are NFL cornerbacks today who don’t finish up with 25 career INTs. Notable: Jerry Tubbs gave the expansion Cowboys credibility because of his years with the 49ers. The only reason Tubbs was available in the ’60 expansion draft was because he planned to retire and take a district manager’s job with Coca-Cola in Arkansas. Instead, Tubbs spent nearly three decades with Landry, as a player and an assistant coach.
Cornerbacks: Renfro, a 10-time Pro Bowler, and Dave Grayson, a guy who never played a regular-season game in the NFL in the 1960s.Say what? Grayson spent the ’60s in the American Football League. He became the AFL’s all-time interception leader with 47. Landry simply had no room for him on the ’61 roster, so Brandt phoned Dallas Texans coach Hank Stram and said, "We have a guy here you might want to look at." Notable: Don Bishop, a Pro Bowler in ’62 who really had a nose for the football.
Safeties: Cornell Green and Mike Gaechter. A college basketball player and a college sprinter are the ’60s Cowboys’ all-time safeties, although Green (Utah State) could have made it at cornerback just as well. He was a five-time Pro Bowler at both positions. Gaechter and Mel Renfro were college teammates at Oregon, where they formed half the school’s world record-setting 4x110 relay team (40.0) in ’62. Notables: Cliff Harris and Charlie Waters? Nope. They came along in ’70.
Punter: Ron Widby started on the University of Tennessee basketball team. He was a scratch golfer ... and a Pro Bowler in ’71. Few punters are ever this good an athlete. Notables: Baker and Villanueva. They performed double duty ... and never missed a beat. Just curfew, in the case of Sam Baker.