This week marks the 48-year anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination in Dallas, and for those who were alive on Nov. 22, 1963, the death of our 35th president marked an unforgettable time of darkness.
Football was far from anyone's mind, but NFL games went on as scheduled that weekend amid a cloud of loss and confusion. Certainly no team endured stranger circumstances than the Cowboys, who traveled to Cleveland for a game that NFL.com's Gil Brandt still remembers in detail.
"We were at practice when it happened on Friday afternoon," said Brandt, who was the Cowboys' vice president of player personnel at the time. "Coach (Tom) Landry told the team after we finished. We weren't sure if we were going to play, but when they decided we would, the plane ride up to Cleveland was quiet. Everyone was in a stupor."
The city of Dallas found itself under a microscope, resented by many for Kennedy's death, placing Cowboys players on high alert.
"Neither team wanted to play. Our guys were worried about getting shot on the sideline," Brandt recalled. "Landry told the guys, 'Don't go to a restaurant and say you're with the Dallas Cowboys. Don't go in large groups, try to stay inconspicuous.'
"I think the general sentiment was, 'I can't understand why we're doing this. Why are we here?' "
Landry fought to keep his players focused, even while fresh drama unfolded out of Dallas. On Sunday morning, the nation watched as nightclub owner Jack Ruby shot and killed Lee Harvey Oswald on live television while the suspected assassin was being transferred from city to county jail.
"When we were in the locker room, right before the game, Tom Landry was at the chalkboard when a security guard busted in and said, 'They just killed the man who killed Kennedy,' " Brandt recounted. "Landry paused for a moment and said, 'Thank you,' then went about his business.
"At that point, someone turned to me and said, 'I told you we shouldn't be playing here today.' "
The mood that Sunday at Cleveland Municipal Stadium was unfriendly, to say the least.
"When we went out to warm up, there were strong boos," Brandt said. "And when we were introduced, they made a point of not saying 'Dallas.' They just called us the Cowboys. There was a smaller crowd than normal, but they were booing."
Special thanks to NFL.com editor Jason Klabacha.