Wednesday, 12 January 2011


My obit of 'Dandy' Don Meredith is in today's Independent, you can link to it here. It was a bit shorter than I wrote, and I did mention Howard Cosell's ascerbic New York Jewish persona, against which Meredith played off so well, but it basically covers all the ground. It's hard to over-estimate how important Monday Night Football was to cementing the success of the NFL, turning it into America's favourite sport, and also changing the nature of sports' coverage. The entertainment factor of Cosell and Mereedith was absolutely huge. And even Cosell, notoriously bitter about the 'jockocracy' taking over sports commentary, never had a harsh word for Meredith. North Dallas 40 remains one of the best sporting movies, and I wonder exactly how much bitterness there was in Pete Gent when he drew the relationship between Mac Davis and Nick Nolte. I've always been amazed Davis didn't have a better acting career, but that's another story. I've also wondered if the born-again Christian back-up quarterback, who flubs the hold on the extra point and costs the team the playoff game, was based on Roger Staubach or Craig Morton or just bits of both...

I really enjoyed the Meredith-Tony LoBianco team in Police Story, which was based on Joseph Wambaugh's books and I remember as being pretty gritty for the times. The Indy didn't mention Meredith and Gifford doing The Odd Couple in summer stock in Santa Fe (now there's something I'd like to see; although Gifford had the looks, you can't imagine him actually acting!) nor did they include the movie Three Days of Rain, which was written and directed by his son (from his first marriage, to an SMU cheerleader) Matthew; Meredith had a small part, as did Keir Dullea, the first husband of Meredith's third wife, Susan.

As a quarterback Meredith is somewhat underrated, in part, I think because his announcing career saw him taken less seriously, and in part because his Cowboy teams fell at the final hurdle, or one before too often. But he lost many of his best years to Eddie LeBaron, who was a gamer but never a top-flight QB, and he lost something to Tom Landry's sense of control as well.

Landry admitted he and Meredith were 'on different wave lengths', but questioned his dedication to the game. Although once, when someone pointed out Meredith had thrown a touchdown pass to Dan Reeves while still only semi-conscious after being smashed by Chris Hanburger, Landry quipped, 'how could you tell, he's like that all the time'. What is indisputable is that when Dallas added receivers like Olympic champ Bob Hayes and Lance Rentzel, their downfield threat with Meredith was a big part of what turned the expansion Coswboys into a dominant team, and had Meredith not retired at only 31, when quarterbacks are reaching their peak, he might well have lost the starting job to Staubach anyway. I think what bothered Landry about Meredith is what I liked so much about him; he always had fun, and thought doing anything you loved doing ought, above all, to be fun.

No comments :