Some people only need one name and you have it all: Madonna, Elvis, Arnold. Some go by a nickname: Hammerin’ Hank or the Say Hey Kid. And that’s how we’ll remember my subject today … Dandy Don. The great Don Meredith, football legend, iconic sportscaster, underrated actor and gold star entertainer passed away today at the age of 72. A private graveside ceremony is being planned in the days ahead.
Meredith had battled various health issues in recent years and suffered a minor stroke in 2004. But he was a star in everything he attempted, and those attempts were many!
Dandy Don was a two-time All-American at SMU and played for the Dallas Cowboys from 1960 to 1968. He led the Cowboys to the 1966 and 1967 NFL title games, both defeats to the Green Bay Packers. One bounce here or there and it would have been Meredith’s Cowboys, not Starr’s Packers, to be the historic team of the 60s.
That 1967 game, dubbed ‘The Ice Bowl,” is generally considered one of the greatest games in NFL history. Despite his tremendous numbers, Meredith was largely criticized and underappreciated by the Dallas fans of that era. He took much of the blame for the Cowboys’ always coming close but never winning it all. And so, despite all his achievements to that point, Meredith abruptly retired as a player in 1968 at the age of 31. That was the year I became an avid NFL fan at the age of 10. Craig Morton was the Dallas quarterback when I took notice, but it was not long before I knew all about “Dandy Don!”
In 1970, ABC Television launched a new concept, Monday Night Football. There were three commentators in the booth … the ever egotistical Howard Cosell, former New York Giants star Frank Gifford, and of course, Dandy Don. Meredith’s niche soon became not so much his football insights but his incredible timing for humor and inserting the words to a country music song. Almost immediately, football fans of the era would listen for Meredith to sing his immensely popular rendition of “Turn out the lights, the party’s over” whenever the outcome was no longer in doubt.
By the early 70s, he’d become more popular than ever. He headlined a country music show with Willie Nelson, was featured in television commercials for Lipton Tea, and showed amazing acting skills in several episodes of the 1973 hit TV series, Police Story. This classic anthology series detailed the personal lives of the men and women of the Los Angeles Police Department. The stories ranged from highly dramatic to extremely funny. Even though there weren’t any ongoing regulars, Meredith and Tony LoBianco were often seen throughout the run of the show as detectives Bert Jameson and Tony Calabrese respectively.
In 1979, North Dallas Forty (based on Peter Gent’s novel) took a decidedly negative look at life in the NFL. Loosely based on the Dallas Cowboys of the 60s, Meredith’s role is played by (ironically) country music singer Mac Davis. Like the Meredith in real life, Davis’ rendition steals the show.
Longtime Cowboys president and general manager Tex Schramm once said of Meredith, “He had a wonderful sense of humor and a very laid-back personality. But he was an absolutely intense competitor who could rally a team. He was very charismatic, maybe the most charismatic player we had.”
And so, today, we turn out the lights on Don Meredith, but the party goes on so long as we remember all the joy he brought into our lives for so many years. Thanks, Dandy Don! You were the dandiest of them all!