Ex-Cowboy Michael Downs still covers a lot of real estate
10:09 PM CDT on Friday, August 20, 2004
By DAVE LANCE / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News
Michael Downs picked up the famously confusing Flex defense in a snap. Understanding the nuances of selling real estate wasn't as easy for the former Cowboys All-Pro safety.
"Most of our industries are regulated to where you have to get a license and take one or two classes," said Downs, who has sold residential mortgages through his company, MDInterprize, for two years. "I've done that, but I still find myself learning every week. I just had a friend call the other day, and she told me HUD (Department of Housing and Urban Development) was starting a new program that will assist Section 8 people in buying homes.
"I think that's a great idea. I'll have to go to a meeting to learn as much as I can about it."
Downs, 45, graduated from Rice in 1981 with a business management degree. The Dallas native had no real estate experience before 1997, when former Cowboy fullback Robert Newhouse hired him as a broker.
Downs now works from his North Dallas home, not far from Texas Stadium, where he became one of the Cowboys' great defensive backs. He played for the Cowboys from 1981 to '88, garnering All-NFC honors twice ('84, '85) and All-Pro recognition once ('84). Downs led the Cowboys in tackles and interceptions three seasons each.
All this from an undrafted free agent.
"The reason a player like Downs doesn't get drafted is ... people don't spend a lot of picks on safeties," said Gil Brandt, the Cowboys' vice president of player personnel from 1960-88. "But he was from Dallas [South Oak Cliff], and our scouts had heard of him. He went to Rice, so we knew he was smart. And he had good ball skills.
"He was a very good football player, and an even better person."
Brandt is right on both accounts, said Downs' teammate Everson Walls. The former Cowboys cornerback credited Downs with "making me look good."
Said Walls: "He knew what his responsibilities were, and he did all the grunt work. He was our captain because he was most qualified to make all the decisions on the field and on the sidelines.
"To just call Mike a teammate wouldn't even be a fair description. He was just a good person, period. I like to call him Mr. Perspective. No matter how high we got, or if we lost, he kept his perspective."
Maybe that's why stoic former Cowboys coach Tom Landry took to him immediately. Downs was so good so soon that Landry started him as a rookie against the Redskins in the season opener. Downs intercepted a Joe Theismann pass in the first quarter.
"Three or four weeks in training camp I knew I could play in the NFL," Downs said. "Back then, training camp was six weeks, and in that time I understood the Flex defense. That helped a great deal. I picked it up faster than other guys.
"After that, it's a matter of picking up the physical and mental stuff. You wonder if you're fast enough or strong enough. Once you make some plays, you say, 'Yeah, I can do this.'"
Family: single, daughter Carolynn (20).
Notable: Selected as an All-Pro in '84. Has written a book called Fruits of Faith, Hope and Love, Cowboy Style. Graduate of Rice University ('81) and South Oak Cliff.
Most influential teammate: Charlie Waters. "I can't say enough about him as a teammate," Downs said. "A great guy, put the team first, no ego."
Quotable: "Being a former Cowboy in Dallas isn't as powerful as some people think," Downs said. "You still have to perform your job. If you have the Cowboy name, you can get in the door. But once you do, you still have to perform."
Michael Downs came to the NFL as an undrafted free agent from Rice, one of many free-agent finds by the Cowboys. Here are five other undrafted Cowboys stars:
1. When he retired, his total of 489 receptions was tops in Cowboys' history. His Hail Mary catch in '75 is one of football's greatest moments.
1970-79, Ouachita, S: A devastating tackler, the four-time All-Pro won two Super Bowls with the Cowboys.
1962-74, Utah State, CB: A five-time Pro Bowler, Green is tied with Downs for fifth in career interceptions (34) in Cowboys history.
1981-89, Grambling, CB: His 11 interceptions in '81 is still an NFL rookie record. His total of 44 career interceptions ranks second in club history.
1983-97, Hawaii, OT: The two-time Pro Bowler was a mainstay on what's arguably the '90s best offensive line. Won three Super Bowls with the 'Boys.
He wrote the book on the Cowboys
A book about former Cowboys greats, by a former Cowboy great, with testimony from former Cowboys greats surely would be a best seller, at least in the Dallas area, right? Wrong.
Michael Downs wrote Fruits of Faith, Hope and Love, Cowboy Style last year. Most of the books printed remain unsold, with many collecting dust in Downs' garage.
"It was something I self-published," said Downs, a Cowboys defensive back from 1981 to '88. "I haven't had a whole lot of sales because I don't have a company behind me. I'm trying to get one now. You've got to find the right connection, but it's a full-time job."
Through interviews with past and current Cowboys, Downs pieced together vignettes that include information fans might not know: Roger Staubach sharing life lessons, how Tony Dorsett met his wife, why Larry Allen almost quit football as a rookie, how Lee Roy Jordan leads by example, how Darren Woodson learned to love. For more information about the book, visit Downs' Web site at www. mdinterprize.com.
Downs is not a novice writer. In 1985, he wrote a column for The Dallas Morning News once a week beginning in training camp.
"I wrote one article about everyone having a nickname," Downs said. "I wrote that until you do, you feel unloved. Another one I wrote was about coming from a small school [Rice]. ... I got some razzing here and there from the guys, but coach [Tom] Landry never said anything to me about it."
Downs said he had the same relationship with Landry that most Cowboys did.
"They'll say they didn't like him at first or understand him," Downs said. "You stay here three or four years, you have an appreciation and respect for him."
"My words should not inspire you. Looking at your hands with no rings should inspire you". - Michael Irvin