Saturday, October 15, 2011


When SMU All American and NFL/Dallas Cowboy legend Dandy Don Meredith died last December I felt a great sense of loss - a major part of my generation and all that I embraced had died with him. I hoped against hope wondering if the Millennium and Boomlet generations will bother to remember Meredith and those of his ilk. Meredith who was renowned for his easy going center-stage sense of humor and naturally entertaining behaviors in his early career sought anonymity in retirement. Even with that Dandy Don opined, "I don't know how badly I'd feel if I wasn't remembered at all." That will, hopefully, never happen so long as we appreciate his inspiring All-American story.

Don Meredith was the real reason why the Cowboys were America’s Team though many fans never really understood his relationship with a mostly aloof Coach Tom Landry who more often than not threw Meredith under the bus in defeat. But, that’s another story...

Many of the War Baby and Boomer football icons are getting old and now meeting their maker with alarming frequency as calculated by this 68 year old writer. One by one they process towards those pearly gates. Some might argue that they are already occupying the other domain, but rest assured, most were good men worthy of the ultimate reward for a life well lived. If telling the truth, playing for no other reason than the love of the game, having a good time and being a good person condemns one to the everlasting fire, then I need to get my clothes fireproofed. Now I didn’t live those lives on the edge and never did drugs but like many I pondered and sometimes coveted the free-wheeling, outrageous and absolutely absurd lifestyles they embraced.

On September 30, 2011 another Dallas Cowboy bit the dust, Peter Gent of Bangor, Michigan who at 69 passed to greater glory. Gent was joined at the hip with Meredith, Buddy Dial, Dan Reeves and other Dallas Cowboy icons in a different time and place. While he enjoyed that wide open throttle with his cronies, he had a serious side which just might be his greatest legacy.

Gent may not have made the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor but he could be a footnote on either Meredith’s or Mel Renfro’s plaque. We all want to make a difference while we are on this mortal plane and Pete did it big time. Gent wrote the sorta autobiographical North Dallas Forty (ND40), along with several other significant books that exposed professional football’s unsavory side. ND40 became a dark social commentary of Texas and The South in the 1960’s where players were exploited and as commodities were property to be used and discarded and to be a minority meant you couldn’t live near the practice field in North Dallas. Yes, that’s where the name of Gent’s book came from. That offended the egalitarian and socially conscious Gent who always asked WHY and cooked his story from 1964 to the ultimate publication of ND40 in 1973 and the movie of the same name six years later.

As Gent noted later, “I kept asking why the white players put up with their Black teammates being forced to live in segregated south Dallas, a long drive to the practice field. The situation was not changed until Mel Renfro filed a fair housing suit in 1969." The antiauthoritarian Gent may have been the social conscience of the Dallas Cowboys because nobody else bothered to raise the alarm and call people out on their behaviors. Embarrassingly, no owner, player or even legendary coach Tom Landry with all their celebrity chose to address this and other discrimination issues (shame on them). Offering an insight to his writing in 2003 Pete Gent offered that, “Pro football shows you where your culture is coming apart.” Indeed it was then and is now a reflection of our society, culture and our value system. As we have pointed out in previous posts that includes not just the owners and players but the fans as well.

Gent was certainly a unique individual even to his athleticism. After an exceptional basketball career with the Bangor, Michigan Vikings and the Michigan State Spartans he was drafted by the Baltimore Bullets of the NBA. He tried out for the Dallas Cowboys in 1964 after he learned they would pay $500.00 to training camp attendees. That was a helluva lot of money in those days. And then, surprise, surprise – Gent made the team and basketball went by the wayside.

Gent was as tough as they come and the ND40 character of receiver Phil Elliott mirrored the abuse and subsequent daily pain that Gent and many other NFL players endured then and for the rest of their lives. ND40 along with other exposés like Dave Meggyesy’s 1970 Out of Their League and Jim Bouton's 1970 Ball Four helped shape current policy on injuries and treatment of athletes both at the college and professional sports levels. No, I don’t include Dan Jenkins' "semi-honest and half-funny" 1972 novel Semi-Tough in that same genre… We also need pay attention to great writers like sports columnist Bob Kravitz who likewise chronicled those darker days.

So we thank Peter for his life to include his contributions to society, for being a pretty good Father and for five passable years as a receiver with the Dallas Cowboys. We suspect and hope that Pete and Dandy Don are together again smoking cheroots, drinking Royal Crown Mists and listening to a little Willie Nelson.


Ned Buxton

No comments: