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Don Meredith's son to tell the story of the 'First Cowboys'

Michael Meredith is working on a feature-length documentary on the 1960s Cowboys, called "First Cowboys," which he hopes will be released early in 2018. Courtesy of Michael Meredith

FRISCO, Texas -- About five years ago, Michael Meredith was embedded with the 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army in Afghanistan doing research for a script.

The village elders were wary of the soldiers, who were offering cement to rebuild a community center that had been torn apart by the ongoing war.

"I hear through the translator they thought we were Russians," Meredith said. "They were so far off the grid that they didn't know the Russians left and the Americans were there. That's how up there we were. Right after I hear that, I'm going, 'Michael, this is the most unplugged place you've ever been.' "

Then out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a boy peeking around a mud hut. He sees a blue and silver jacket. Then he sees the star.

"Everybody else is wearing traditional garb or old rags," Meredith said, "and this kid has this Cowboys jacket."

For Meredith, the sight of a boy in the mountains of Afghanistan in a Dallas Cowboys jacket spoke to the ripple effect the franchise has had since they made his father, Don, the first Cowboy in 1960 to now being the most valued sports franchise in the world.

On Monday, the Cowboys will unveil the Ring of Honor Walk at The Star. Monuments will be dedicated to the 21 members of the Ring of Honor.

For Meredith, who is Don's son from his second wife, Cheryl King, it will be more of a chance to reconnect with his father's past and dig deeper into a feature-length documentary on the 1960s Cowboys, called "First Cowboys," which he hopes will be released in early 2018.

"I've had the idea for a while," Meredith said on a June day, sitting outside a Starbucks not far from The Star. "Growing up, the Ice Bowl was so fascinating to me because I would hear these stories about how crazy the game was and how cold it was, and it was just like kind of a myth. There's a mythology to it.

"As I grew older, became a filmmaker, I continued to talk to my dad about it and I had the idea of doing a film just on the game with actors and things. Through that process, I started researching it and the players basically told me that [the Ice Bowl] is an amazing chapter in a book that started before."

Michael was born 100 days before the Ice Bowl, Sept. 22, 1967. Don, who died in 2010, retired after the 1968 season. Michael remembers best the times in the Monday Night Football booth with his father, Howard Cosell and Keith Jackson.

He knew his father was famous, but he did not know just how good a quarterback his father was until he was older.

"I'm learning a lot about stuff my dad never talked about," Michael said. "I feel like all the success in the booth and Monday Night Football he was proud of and happy with, and I was too. But I think he really wanted to win here. He was a football player and announcing just kind of happened. I was too young at the time, but I remember asking him, 'Daddy, what do you do?' and he said he was a football player. He didn't say an announcer or an actor or whatever.

"I remember going, 'Oh, wow, did you win the Super Bowl?' And he goes, 'No, I didn't,' and I remember seeing his pain, seeing his regret. ... I think it was for himself and his teammates and the city. He grew up down the road, played high school, college and pro all right here, so I think he was trying to win for a lot of reasons."

His father will play a central role in the documentary, including the story of how Clint Murchison signed him to a personal services contract out of SMU before Murchison was even granted a franchise. But also playing key roles will be Tom Landry, Tex Schramm, Gil Brandt, Dan Reeves, Pettis Norman, Don Perkins, Rayfield Wright and many other members of the '60s Cowboys.

But it's more than sports. Willie Nelson, a close friend of Don's, will be part of the documentary. The JFK assassination will be featured prominently, focusing on how the team carried the burden of the tragedy for years. The civil rights movement and Vietnam War will play a part. There was the "Summer of Love" and the cultural revolution. Don owned a music club in Dallas and one night Little Richard was crawling across a piano. One of the guitarists was Jimi Hendrix, before he changed his name and became world famous.

"Sometimes when you mix social and sport, it's a little bit forced," Michael said. "This is just what was happening culturally. It was literally spilling out on the field and vice versa. It was fascinating times."

The Ice Bowl might be the most fascinating because of its place in NFL history. Its 50th anniversary is Dec. 31.

"It's 1967, they had lost the first day of the year to the Packers and the last day of the year," Michael said. "It was one calendar year, so it was sort of a double whammy. I know my dad and a lot of players were surprised when they got off the plane at Love Field and the fans were there cheering and had signs that said, 'We Love You,' 'We'll get them next year.' For me, I didn't know about that.

"I've confirmed it with a bunch of first-hand accounts and I think it's symbolic. I think it's some kind of pivotal moment or a shift with the city and the team on pride, on moving from a place of shame into a place of pride. I'm not even entirely sure all the players really grasped that. Or how significant it was because it was the beginning of a new era."

From 1966 to 1985, the Cowboys posted a winning record every year. They won two Super Bowls and appeared in five. They became America's Team during that time, saw it rejuvenate in the early 1990s and maybe become even bigger, as can be attested by a boy in the Afghanistan mountains in a Cowboys jacket.