In two weeks, if the Giants hold up their end of the bargain, there could actually be a showdown for the playoffs at MetLife Stadium between Big Blue and “America’s Team.” Now it certainly hasn’t been the best of years in either “Jerry World” or along Route 3, but signs of life in the mediocre NFC are always a good thing in November, especially given New York’s dismal start.
Also looking to spice up the rivalry a little more is a new mega-bio out about former Giants assistant and Hall of Fame Cowboys coach Tom Landry. The Last Cowboy, by Long Island native Mark Ribowsky, is chock full of anecdotes about Landry’s college time and his dealing good and bad with legions of players in Dallas, where he eventually got a head coaching shot and built a franchise that for decades was the model of consistent winning not just in the NFL but in professional sports.
Why would New York fans care so much about a long look at a hated rival? Because of the great details Ribowsky, who also offered up the ultimate bio of Howard Cosell, provides about New York football. The early chapters go into little-discussed details of Landry’s time with the New York Yankees of the AAFC, owned by the team and playing to full houses while Tim Mara’s Giants across the Harlem River at the Polo Grounds were drawing small crowds. There are great tales of how Landry, as the AAFC was sinking and a merger with the NFL became imminent, found his way to Big Blue, finished his career and stayed on in New York as the Giants became the toast of the town.
The modern NFL came of age during that era, the book talks about, as Landry leading Jim Lee Howell’s defense and Vince Lombardi creating the offense built New York into really the first dynasty that casual fans and media recognized. The book also points out the Mara family’s hesitance to give the head coaching job to either Lombardi or Landry, a move which drove the Giants of the ‘60’s off the map and turned the Green Bay packers and the expansion Cowboys into powerhouses.
We learn in the book about Landry’s cordial and professional relationship with the fiery Lombardi, one which continued as they became rivals through the famous “Ice Bowl” in the late 1960’s, and how Lombardi’s death actually helped push Landry’s Cowboys even further into the limelight.
The book also details all the conflicts and support Landry got from his generations of stars in Dallas, from characters like Don Meredith and Hollywood Henderson to the staunch disciplinarian style of Roger Staubach. All had their issues with the hard set ways of Landry, but all admired and respected his style and his results.
The later chapters of the book focus on the down days in Dallas, ultimately changing when Jerry Jones took over ownership and unceremoniously dumped the legendary coach, and eventually player personnel czar Tex Schramm, to bring in his own front office staff, led by Jimmy Johnson. The book gives us the intimate details of the firing on the golf course and the poor way Jones treated Landry and his family, eventually removing their tickets and suite access and driving Landry to be…Giants fans.
While little should shock fans about the way Jones conducts business, even these details seem way over the top, and should lead Giants fans to boo even louder for when Dallas and their mercurial owner come calling in a few weeks.
In all, The Last Cowboy is a good read about an NFL gone by, one which Landry dominated and one which he would have trouble working in today. Given all the issues with the league now, it is a welcome look back to a different era, one dominated by a larger than life Texan, with great ties to the Big Apple.