TEXAS HISTORY MINUTE: Tom Landry, image of professionalism, sportsmanship

By Ken Bridges
Special to the Herald Democrat
FILE - In this Dec. 18, 1988, file photo, Dallas Cowboys head coach Tom Landry watches from the sideline during an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles in Irving, Texas.New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick may seem like one-of-a-kind, and he will set himself apart with a win Sunday in Super Bowl 51, which would make him the first coach to capture five Super Bowl rings. But he has much in common with Tom Landry, Chuck Noll, John Wooden and any other coach to put himself among the Mount Rushmore of the best to ever run a team. (AP Photo/Ron Heflin, File)

For 29 seasons as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, Tom Landry was the image of professionalism and sportsmanship.  His determination and leadership made the Cowboys one of the most famous and successful teams in the nation.  

   Landry was born in 1924 in Mission, Texas.  Football was his passion from a young age, leading his team to a perfect record during his senior year in high school.  He attended the University of Texas as an engineering major while playing for the Longhorns.  

   After his brother was killed during World War II, Landry volunteered for service in the U. S. Army Air Force.  He flew 30 missions as a co-pilot on a B-17 bomber.  Afterward, he finished his degree at UT and then earned a masters degree in industrial engineering from the University of Houston.  

From 1950 to 1955, he played halfback for the New York Giants, making the All-Pro and Pro Bowl team in 1954.  In the 1954 season, he also became defensive coordinator for the Giants, helping the Giants make the NFL Championship three times.  

            In 1960, the new Dallas Cowboys hired Landry as their first head coach.  The team struggled in the first years, but made a major breakthrough in 1966, winning ten games and appearing in the NFL Championship.  The Cowboys won their division for the next six straight seasons.  

 The Cowboys reached their peak under Landry in the 1970s.  In 1972, they won Super Bowl VI, walloping the Miami Dolphins.  The team had a winning record each season of the decade and only failed to make the playoffs in 1974.  Additionally, the team won the NFC East division seven times during the decade.  In 1978, Landry led the Cowboys to their second championship, defeating the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XII.  

Freeport's Preston Pearson receives the play call from Dallas Cowboys head coach Tom Landry in Super Bowl XII. The Cowboys beat the Denver Broncos, 27-10 to win their second NFL championship.

            The 1980s were not as successful, but the team went to the playoffs five times and won the division twice.  However, in his last three seasons as coach, the Cowboys finished with losing records for the season, the first since 1964.  Team owner Bum Bright sold the team to Jerry Jones in 1989, and Jones immediately fired Landry.  The move shocked Cowboys fans, who rallied to Landry’s defense, to no avail.  Due to that support and years as a championship coach, in 1990, Landry was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  

As famous as he became for his success as a coach, he was instantly recognizable for dressing up every game in a suit, tie, and fedora.  His modesty, faith, and determination won throngs of admirers.  For decades, he was an active member of Highland Park United Methodist Church, even teaching Sunday School on Cowboys home game days.  

As coach, he developed a reputation for efficiency, preparation, and training.  He was the first to use specialty coaches for speed and weight training and for examining opponents for strength and weaknesses in upcoming Cowboys games.  

 In 29 seasons as coach, the Cowboys won their division thirteen times and went to the Super Bowl five times.  With 250 wins, Landry ranks third on the NFL all-time list, behind Miami’s Don Shula and Chicago’s George Halas.  He was twice named NFL coach of the Year.  In 1993, when he was inducted into the Ring of Honor along with all the other team legends after leaving the Cowboys, an image of the hat was placed next to his name.  

   In his last years, he suffered leukemia.  Landry died in February 2000, revered by football fans across the world.  Two Texas schools named their football stadiums in Landry’s honor as well as Tom Landry Elementary School in Irving.  

Dr. Kenneth Bridges

Ken Bridges is a Texas native, writer and history professor. He can be reached at drkenbridges@gmail.com. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.