The big trade that was never consummated
By Glenn Swain
Posted Jun 25, 2002
Few know that after the 1960 season, Vince Lombardi offered quarterback Bart Starr and another player to the Dallas Cowboys in exchange for rookie quarterback Don Meredith.
Why did Lombardi consider sacrificing Starr in a trade? Although Starr had helped lead the Packers to the championship game in 1960, his play was still erratic. Starr admitted he wasn’t mentally tough early on in his career. At that time the Alabama quarterback was chasing perfection at a snail's pace.
Even though Starr was accused for the loss to the Eagles in the 1960 championship game when he failed to spot open receiver Max McGee late in the game, his stats should have hushed any skeptics. On that day, he completed 60% of his passes and threw for 178 yards and a touchdown – to McGee.
Meredith was a cocksure young man with unlimited potential and heir apparent to the diminutive Eddie LeBaron, who was in the twilight of his career. No one doubted that Meredith was being groomed to be the Cowboys’ leader in the sixties. He was a sure wager in a game of chance.
This trade talk brings up another question. Why would Lombardi want another merrymaking tomcat like Meredith on his squad? He already had two of the best: Paul Hornung and McGee. He could barely confine them.
Jeff and Hazel Meredith’s baby boy was raised a Methodist in East Texas, which prompted him to enter SMU as a divinity student. Meredith quickly found the bright lights of Big D too enticing. His nickname became “Dandy” instead of “Saintly.” Although married to SMU's homecoming queen, Dandy Don partied long into the night and raised the hue and cry of many a Texas lassie. Football was never a life and death affair for Meredith. He simply had fun playing the game. He was his own man and one of the toughest quarterbacks to ever don a uniform.
You can bet that Lombardi knew of Meredith's shenanigans. But he was also a football coach with a great desire to win. Ignoring human vices is not a damnable offense, especially if the person in question is athletically gifted.
Historical vision is 20/20. The swap was never consummated. Like the relationship between Lombardi, McGee and Hornung, Cowboys’ head coach Tom Landry grudgingly tendered clemency to Meredith. They tolerated each other for the next nine years. After a winless inaugural season, the Cowboys went on to win three Eastern Division Championships. Their late-1960s antagonists would be Lombardi's Packers and Blanton Collier's Cleveland Browns.
Lombardi endured Starr's inconsistent play and saw it pay off in great dividends with two Super Bowls and five NFL Championships.
One can only speculate each team's fortunes if the deal had come to fruition. Some light can be shed when looking at raw statistics. Let’s compare the two quarterbacks seasonal numbers from 1961-68:
- Starr is the more accurate passer, hitting on 59% of his passes to Meredith's 54%.
- Passing yardage is in Starr's favor, 23,318 yards compared to 17,518.
- Meredith threw for 133 touchdowns, topping Starr's output of 112.
- Starr wins hands down in the category of interceptions, throwing only 76 while Meredith had 106 passes stolen.
No question, Starr was the most accurate of the two. The intangible is both player's supporting cast. Starr was surrounded by a talent-laden team. He didn’t throw as many touchdowns because he didn't have to. He had Hornung and Jim Taylor in his backfield. Dallas’ running attack did feature Don Perkins, and later Dan Reeves, but little else. In comparison, Meredith had slightly lesser talent to work with.
One can only speculate how Starr would have performed for Landry. Off the field they were a perfect match. On the field, Starr could have been the Cowboys’ missing link to a more prosperous nine years.
Lombardi would have given Meredith free reign between the chalk. He would have both dazzled and disappointed the great coach and, playing with the gifted Packers, probably would have led them to championship games and Super Bowls. Certainly makes good debate fodder for the sports mavens.