History shows that Bob Lilly was the first player drafted by the Dallas Cowboys franchise, but in fact it was Don Meredith, who passed away Sunday at the age of 72, who really was the original Cowboy.
We actually had Chicago Bears owner George Halas to thank for that. The Dallas Cowboys didn't begin play until 1960, but Halas wanted to ensure that the NFL's newest franchise got off on solid footing, so he drafted Meredith out of SMU in December of 1959. One month earlier, Cowboys owner Clint Murchison had signed Meredith to a personal services contract with one of his side companies, Tecon Corporation.
Meredith guided the Cowboys through their early years when the team still struggled. By the end of the 1968 season, however, Dallas was one of the best teams in the NFL and the affable quarterback had earned three consecutive Pro Bowl trips. Nevertheless, Meredith chose to retire after the 1968 season -- going on to a stellar career as a broadcaster.
While Meredith is always thought of as that smiling, cheerful personality, fact of the matter is that he was one of the toughest players we ever had. Despite the skinny legs and the fact he never really lifted weights, he was one of the toughest guys you'll ever come across.
He once threw a 95-yard touchdown pass to Bob Hayes, hitting the Hall of Fame receiver in stride ... despite playing that game with broken ribs. He played many games with other significant injuries. We were overmatched in the early days, and Meredith took a pounding. But he never said anything about it.
Before his Cowboys days and even before SMU, Meredith was a legendary high school athlete in the area. In addition to his football prowess, he was a record-setting high school basketball player.
Still, as good of an athlete as he was, he was an even better person. His likability was so instrumental in the early success of "Monday Night Football." I believe that ability to draw in the casual fan to the Monday night broadcasts helped increase the popularity of the NFL to what it's become today. In this regard, Meredith's place in NFL history cannot be overstated.
But while his wittiness was second to none, it was his football talent and his toughness that endeared him to his teammates on the Dallas Cowboys.
Meredith -- the player, the broadcaster and the person -- will be missed.