The story, as fabricated by Don Meredith, is that Tom Landry once flew over an obscure village named Thousand Oaks in Southern California, then looked down and was pleased with what he saw. So he blessed the scene by saying, "Let there be a college."
Sure enough, California Lutheran University was founded on the site, though Landry's benediction had nothing to do with it. Much later, the coach and the Dallas Cowboys spent 20-odd summers there during the Landry era for their preseason training camp. The town was perfectly located for its all-football purpose -- too far from the glitter of Los Angeles and too semidesert-rural to offer many temptations.
This left the Cowboys ensemble isolated, short-tempered from workout fatigue and dependent on in-house humor for amusement. As the names and events confirm, the following vignettes belong to the distant past, a period before corporate hucksters invaded training camps.
Now many camps are as Jimmy Johnson noted during his coaching term when the Cowboys trained in Austin. Johnson's gaze circled the practice field in disgust at the sight of banners, pennants, flags and corporate tents clogging the fences and sidelines.
"This place looks like a minor league baseball park," he grumbled. Johnson then paused to consider the revenue stream created by the new owner's merchandising schemes.
"But then, Jerry [Jones] didn't get rich being dumb," Johnson said, shrugging.
The future had arrived as a source of income. The past was still the best time to cherish because goofy things happened during those camps that will never be repeated. These Cowboys anecdotes from the 1960s, '70s and '80s provide some examples.
As soon as Clint Longley sucker-punched Roger Staubach as he dressed for practice, the shocking news traveled coast to coast. But Andy Anderson was alone in the team's public relations office at the time, and chaos reigned. Phone calls from print, radio and TV outlets around the country overloaded the switchboard.
Anderson's frustration increased with every ring because he still wasn't sure what had happened. His angst peaked when a Dallas radio station made a connection.
I don't have time to tell you anything! I'm up to my ass in alligators out here!
--Andy Anderson, Dallas Cowboys PR rep, on live radio after the Roger Staubach-Clint Longley "fight"
"This is KRLD, and we have Andy Anderson of the Cowboys' public relations staff on the phone live from Thousand Oaks," a voice from Dallas said. "Andy, what can you tell us about the Longley-Staubach incident?"
Anderson blurted for the benefit of KRLD's all-ears listeners:
"I don't have time to tell you anything! I'm up to my ass in alligators out here!"
There was a pause known in the radio business as dead air. Then, the voice from Dallas told his audience, "Heh, heh, we'll get back to Andy later."
The vet's Rx
Trainer Larry Gardner tired of the same player claiming injury day after day. On this occasion, the bogus complaint was a sore knee.
"This could be serious," Gardner lied after a brief exam. He pushed a table out of the way to clear floor space. Now get down on all fours, he said, and the player did so on hands and knees.
"Can you lift your right leg without extending your knee?" Gardner asked. The player was able to comply.
"A little bit higher," Gardner said. "It doesn't hurt, does it?"
"Well, no," the player agreed, and lifted his right leg as high as it would go.
"Now bark," Gardner said as he left the room.
Walt Garrison placed Charlie Waters in a fanciful yarn after Waters had been scalded in his debut as a defensive back. According to Garrison's joke, Waters was so concerned about his play that he consulted a psychologist. After hours of intense therapy, the shrink announced his findings.
"Charlie, you do not suffer from an inferiority complex," he said.
Waters sighed in relief.
"No," said the doctor, "you're just physically inferior."
On second thought
Guard Blaine Nye announced he was retiring forever and even longer if necessary, and he left training camp for home. One week later, he was back.
Asked to explain his abrupt turnaround, Nye said, "You can't take anything I say and chip it in granite."
Humbling the "Manster"
There was a steep hill behind the practice field at Thousand Oaks that was famed for the movie scene in which actor John Wayne as a Marine helped win the WWII battle for Iwo Jima. The Cowboys used it as a conditioning aid, and Tom Landry often ran the up-and-down route with players.
Future Hall of Fame defensive tackle Randy White was a rookie when he made his first round-trip. Landry showed up as company, and White wondered whether the 50-something-old coach might embarrass himself running against youngsters. Landry looked firm and fit, but really
Off they went. At least Landry did, as quick and agile as a mountain goat. In fact, when White stumbled off the peak, he saw Landry already standing at the base checking his wristwatch to time his panting stragglers.
"I thought to myself, 'I'll never make this team,'" White later confessed. "I can't even outrun the coach."
During a scrimmage, rookie end Pat Toomay heard veteran linebacker Chuck Howley audible a call he'd never heard before. Toomay froze after two steps. Howley ran up his back.
"Uh, what do I do?" Toomay asked.
"I don't care what the [expletive] you do," hard hat Howley snapped, "just stay out of my way!"
Veterans sent kicker Toni Fritsch to town for pizza one night and didn't get him back until the next morning. Police stopped Fritsch for speeding at 85 mph on his return to camp. Fritsch lacked a wallet, driver's license and, as a newly arrived Austrian native, much knowledge of the English language.
Fritsch identified himself as a "keeker" for the Cowboys, which amused the cop. Fritsch was 5 feet, 8 inches tall, pudgy and balding, and he spoke with an accent.
"If you're a kicker for the Cowboys, I'm Cary Grant," the cop announced. He handcuffed Fritsch and hauled him to jail, where he spent the night. Fritsch paid fines to the locals for speeding, then to the Cowboys for missing curfew.
"Goddom," Fritsch sputtered, "one cold pizza for you bastads cost me six hundred and forty marks!"
There were no dress codes for reporters during training camp, a fact that the normally stoic Landry once addressed with mock alarm.
As four scruffy newsmen approached after practice, all of them bearded, in need of haircuts and dressed from Goodwill discards, Landry shook his head.
"Every time I see you guys coming," he said, "I want to call security."
Breakfast for champions
Players complained that their food was tasteless enough on a daily basis. But once a week the master chef combined the past week's leftovers into a well, no one knew how to describe the mixture.
"Well," Garrison said, eyeing the leftover offering, "it looks like we're back to the star of 'Stagecoach.'"
"You mean, Ann-Margret?" someone asked.
"No. Slim Pickens," Garrison said. "I'll have some from that trough there, please."
And a new nickname is born
During a film review, Landry kept returning to the play of guard John Niland to censure Niland for lack of second effort.
"John, you're only taking one shot at it," Landry observed. Minutes later it was, "John, it's a one-shot deal. And again, 'John, you're only taking one shot at the man."
Landry's critique earned Niland a new nickname. Once known as Gorgo, the Frog that Ate the World, he now became Johnny One-Shot, and that explained one of the basic rules of the game to Larry Cole.
"Do you know why there's thirty seconds between each offensive play?" Cole asked Toomay.
Toomay didn't know.
"So Niland can reload."
The ultimate fan
Before every game, the equipment manager made his rounds of the locker room making last calls for Will Call tickets.
"Any more tickets for Will Call?" he hollered. "Brown, you got any tickets for Will Call?" he shouted to a confused rookie.
"Man, that Will Call is some rich dude," the rookie said. "He's been to every game since I've been here."
On his first day as the Cowboys' receivers coach, the meticulous Raymond Berry demonstrated how to run a sideline route to rookies. Berry made his usual precise numbers of steps, cut toward the sideline and landed -- 1 foot out of bounds.
"The field is too narrow, Tom," he announced to Coach Landry.
"No, Raymond," Landry said, "we've been out here forever."
This was the sixth year the Cowboys had practiced on the same field without complaint, yet Berry instinctively found it out of line.
"Either the hashmarks aren't right or the field is too narrow," the former Baltimore Colts star receiver insisted. Landry shrugged, called for a tape measure, and field dimensions were plotted to the exact inch.
Berry's sense of precision was validated. The field was 11 inches too narrow.
A Cowboy's work is never done
Public relations man Doug Todd kept compiling a list of funny lines from country western songs until he had enough to publish in book form. A wry foreword of the contents informed readers that, "If you're not used to very much, you'll like it."
Among Todd's favorites were these:
"My wife ran off with my best friend, and I miss him."
"When I'm alone, I'm in bad company."
"Thank God and Greyhound you're gone."
"I wouldn't take you to a dogfight, baby, even if I thought you could win."
"I don't know whether to kill myself or go bowling."
"I gave her a ring, and she gave me the finger."
Someone asked Walt Garrison if he ever saw coach Tom Landry smile.
"Nope," said Walt, "but I only played for him nine years."
Frank Luksa is a freelance writer based in Plano, Texas. He was a longtime sports columnist for The Dallas Times Herald and Dallas Morning News.