Looks To Return To Football
Even before the Winter Olympics aired, Schramm had begun to look for a way to get back into pro football. When he learned in late 1959 that the NFL might soon award an expansion franchise to Dallas, he let it be known among his network of friends in football that he'd be interested in running the new team. George Halas of the Chicago Bears introduced Schramm to Clint Murchison Jr., a wealthy Texas oilman who'd tried for years to bring an NFL team to Dallas. The two hit it off immediately, and Murchison hired Schramm as general manager for a team that did not yet exist. For Schramm it was a dream job. "I'd always wanted, as far back as I can remember, to take a team from scratch and build it. So this was an opportunity I couldn't pass up even though we didn't know for sure that Dallas would get a team." On January 28, 1960, the dream became a reality when the NFL formally awarded the franchise to Dallas. In anticipation of winning the franchise, Schramm had already hired two key people for the team—Tom Landry as coach and Gil Brandt as personnel director.
Schramm firmly believed that the key to building a strong team was through the annual college draft and the signing of free agents. However, under the terms of the franchise agreement, Dallas was forced to acquire thirty-six veterans, three from each of the twelve teams in the expansion draft. With eleven losses and one tie, the Cowboys' debut season was an unmitigated disaster. Schramm stuck to his guns, building the team with young players wherever possible. A number of losing seasons followed. Impatient fans called for Landry's head, but Schramm was not to be moved, signing the coach to an unprecedented ten-year contract extension in 1964. It was slow work, but by 1966 the Cowboys had finally managed to finish the season over the .500 mark. The Cowboys won their first NFL Western Conference titles in 1966 and 1967 but lost to Green Bay in the NFL championship game both years. This marked the beginning of the team's ascendancy to a football powerhouse. For the next twenty seasons, Dallas won more games than they lost, making it to the playoffs eighteen times. Over the next two decades, the Cowboys won thirteen divisional championships, five NFC titles, and Super Bowls VI and XII. The team also played in Super Bowls V, IX, and XIII but lost to their AFC opponents.
"Once our popularity got started, we wanted to keep it going," Schramm later observed. "I think we were probably more image-conscious than most other teams. We tried to do everything first class, from top to bottom." Although Schramm didn't invent the "America's team" label for the Cowboys, he was quick to exploit it in his promotion of the team. At one point, he sent out 100,000 souvenir calendars bearing the "America's team" moniker. Despite all that he did to build Dallas into one of football's most outstanding franchises, Schramm was not universally liked. Some were put off by his outspoken nature. But even those who found Schramm somewhat abrasive were forced to acknowledge his impressive accomplishments while at the helm of the Cowboys. In 1977, he was named NFL Executive of the Year by Sporting News; the following year he received the Bert Bell Award for outstanding executive leadership in the NFL.
Murchison, who had owned the team since its inception in 1960, sold the Cowboys to Bum Bright in 1984. In the latter half of the 1980s, the fortunes of the Cowboys took a marked turn for the worse. Their twenty-year winning streak ended in 1986, and two years later the team finished the season with a dismal 3-13 record. In 1988 Bright sold the team to Arkansas oil man Jerry Jones, who made it clear from the outset that he would personally manage every aspect of the Cowboys operation. The time had finally come for Schramm to move on, which he did in early 1989, leaving to become president and CEO of the new World League of American Football. Less than two years later, he stepped down from that post when he clashed with NFL officials over the future of the new league. Although he's now retired, Schramm remains active and as outspoken as ever. He's also developed a reputation as an accomplished sports fisherman, noted in particular for his competitive tag and release search for deep-sea marlin.
Schramm's role in building the Dallas Cowboys into one of professional football's most legendary teams is undeniable. And whether they love him or hate him, almost everybody in football is forced to acknowledge his contributions to the game as a whole. For his part, Schramm always hoped that he could make of the Cowboys a gridiron version of the New York Yankees in their heyday. "They were tops, first class. That's the way we want to be," Schramm once said. "Football is such a great and emotional business, and I want to look and say I was a part of greatness." Most observers would conclude that Schramm succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.
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