He Was the Best Don Meredith He Could Be
Jeff and Hazel’s son, Don Meredith, was always one of the great ambassadors for The Upper East Side of Texas with both his talent and his down-home sense of humor that always seemed to cut through pretension.
Dandy Don died December 5 in his adopted Santa Fe home after suffering a brain hemorrhage and lapsing into a coma. His longtime wife, Susan, and daughter were at his side.
The Mount Vernon native – the first floor of the Fire Station Museum is dedicated to his honor – was an All-American quarterback at Southern Methodist University in Dallas before gaining real fame with the Dallas Cowboys, leading the team to three consecutive division titles and two National Football League championship games from 1960-68, and being named the league’s player of the year in 1966.
His pioneering role as a color – and colorful – analyst on Monday Night Football alongside Howard Cosell and Keith Jackson and then Frank Gifford opened the door for the flood of former players analyzing games today. He won an Emmy as a broadcaster.
His signature, perhaps, as an analyst was singing the Willie Nelson song “The Party’s Over” when one team built a seemingly insurmountable lead over the other.
His humor was quick.
In a 1972 game at the Astrodome as the Oakland Raiders were pounding the home team Houston Oilers 34-0, the camera panned across a nearly empty section of seats. One fan, sprawled across a couple of rows, looked defiantly into the camera, and made an obscene gesture that went across the nation on TV.
“He thinks they’re No. 1 in the nation,” Don quipped.
Of his one-time coach, the legendary Tom Landry, Don once said, “He’s a perfectionist. If he was married to Raquel Welch, he’d expect her to cook.”
As a player, Don performed without the supporting cast that future Cowboys Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman had.
“Our offensive line was not very good early on,” said former linebacker Lee Roy Jordan. “He got beat up pretty bad -- broken noses and collarbones and ribs, at least two concussions, even a collapsed lung – everything you can think of, Don had it. But he was one tough individual. He was the toughest son of a gun I’ve ever seen, and very, very competitive.
It was not unusual for the beat-up quarterback to walk back into the huddle singing a country song.
“Don Meredith was a true legend, whose disarming style and quick wit helped him successfully transition from star NFL quarterback to broadcasting legend. He helped launch Monday Night Football on ABC in 1970 and his contributions over the next decade helped transform sports television’s signature series into a cultural icon,” said George Bodenheimer, president of ESPN and ABC Sports.
Don retired from football in 1969 because, he said, his heart was no longer in the game and he didn’t want to shortchange anyone.
He also had forays onto the stage and into the movies and television (even guest-hosting “The Tonight Show” – and even recoded a couple of songs – but it was his Monday Night Football job – even more than his playing days – that made Jeff and Hazel’s son a household name.
After a minor stroke six years ago and an ongoing battle with emphysema, he spent most of last years near his home two-story adobe home, often playing the FreeCell computer-based card game. He was a winner at that, too, with statistics showing he won 18,339 of 21,959 games (83 percent)
The Meredith exhibit in the Fire Station Museum, 201 S. Kaufman in Mount Vernon, emphasizes his small-town values.
His first job was at his dad’s Meredith Dry Goods at age six or so, propped on the counter by the front door and instructed by his dad: “Son, when you see someone come in that door, you greet ’em by their name. Even a dog likes to hear his name.”
He went on to become an all-state player in both football and basketball, and was an “A” student who participated in 4-H, Future Farmers of America, student council, and the Methodist Church Youth Fellowship.
Don had already been accepted to SMU’s law school when he signed with the Cowboys – a decision and a path he’d never regret.
“I never had a burning desire to be anyone thing other than to be the best Don Meredith I could be,” he once said.