Valley Ranch made special by Cowboys greats who took the field

Former Dallas Cowboys vice president of player personnel Gil Brandt looks back on his memories of Valley Ranch.

In 1985, I was there when the Dallas Cowboys opened their then-state-of-the-art Valley Ranch facility. On Thursday, I was there for the team's last practice at the facility. And it brought back a lot of memories.

When the facility first opened, it was like the Taj Mahal, a special place -- nobody else had anything like it. It was the envy of the league. The place we were moving from, on Forest Lane, was adequate, but moving to Valley Ranch was like moving from a three-bedroom house into a 15-bedroom mansion. It encompassed all of our offices, the cheerleader studios and so forth. The locker room, the coaches' offices -- it was all so big. In my estimation, that was a monumental day in the history of the Cowboys.

Valley Ranch had everything the players could ask for. People would come out just to see the place. I remember Duke coming by when the Final Four was in the area, and teams like UCLA using it to practice for the Cotton Bowl.

I was there Thursday with several ex-players who had been with the team during the Valley Ranch era, including Michael Irvin, Daryl Johnston, Russell Maryland, Tony Casillas and Nate Newton -- Nate and myself are probably among the only people who can say they were at Valley Ranch for the first practice and the last practice. It was like a reunion of sorts, with everyone coming out to say their goodbyes to the place, commemorated by group photos. And that was fitting, as the biggest memory I have of Valley Ranch is watching all those great players, like the Irvins and the Randy Whites, practicing out there. The best part of today was seeing all those Cowboys alums, talking to them and hearing what they thought. Nate -- who we picked up when the USFL folded -- gave me a big hug and thanked me for saving him.

When we moved to Valley Ranch, there was nothing there -- it was out in the country. What was vacant land then is now completely filled in by businesses and houses. But as the Cowboys move on to bigger, better pastures, I'll always remember this special place, and all the special talent I was able to witness firsthand here.

Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter @Gil_Brandt.

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