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Sterling Cooper’s Heroes: Tom Landry

Brothers,

After the beautiful, American celebration of gluttony that is Thanksgiving, my family sits down for what, to me, is a much more treasured tradition: the Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving Game. Now for all of you that aren’t Cowboys fans, bear with me, and for all of you that actively hate America’s Team, you might as well try to hate apple pie. Because in spite of your hate, apple pie will continue to be American and tasty and also not give a shit about whether you like it or not because it’s an inanimate fucking object, idiot. Back to my point, before we actually turn on the TV to watch the boys in blue get down to business, we have another yearly tradition, the anti-Jerry Jones rant from my grandfather. Look, here’s the deal, a lot of people in the media don’t like Jerry. I get it. He’s over the top, makes seemingly nonsensical team decisions, and no doubt would have been fired as the GM of any self-respecting NFL team by now if he didn’t have the ownership papers stashed in his diamond-encrusted wall safe. But no one, and I’m not fucking kidding, no one hates Jerry Jones with the same kind of fervor and bile that my grandfather does. This all goes back to one fateful decision made by Jerry in the year 1989: the unceremonious firing of Tom Landry. First a little background.

Landry had a solid career as a college star at the University of Texas, playing both sides of the ball, while also getting a degree in industrial engineering. No big deal. He then went on to play for the Yankees. No, not those Yankees. The NEW YORK Yankees. Goddammit, not THOSE New York Yankees. The FOOTBALL New York Yankees. Yeah, I know, it’s confusing. Anyways, the team didn’t really need him for any of his normal positions, so they put him at punter, since their starter was injured. That’s what you do right? “Hey this guy who kicks the ball is injured…Landry, you know what a football is right? Well come here and kick the shit out of it.” And Billy Cundiff thinks his job is so damn complicated. Anyways, he went on to play both sides of the ball again. After a few years, the Yankees folded as a team (oh God, how I wish it were the baseball Yankees), and Landry went to play for the New York Giants. Before the next season, the coach decided to implement a new 6-1-4 defensive strategy. Apparently the coach was too lazy to explain this defense to his team, and instead told Landry to get up in front of his teammates and teach the defense. And that, kids, is how Tom Landry became a coach.

Landry spent the last few years of his playing career as a player/coach, playing defense in addition to being the defensive coordinator. His time as the Giant’s defensive coordinator led to three appearances in the NFL Championship in four years. By the way, some fucking guy named Vince Lombardi was the offensive coordinator on that same team. Landry then left to become the head coach of THE Dallas Cowboys in 1960. What ensued was sheer greatness. After inventing the 4-3 defense in New York, he implemented the “Flex Defense” in Dallas, a more refined version of the 4-3 that allowed for increased movement from defensive tackles in their sets to counteract tricky running backs who would do their own thing instead of following designated run patterns (thanks to some-fucking-guy, Vince Lombardi). But what always happens when you come up with genius ideas? Lesser people co-opt them and use them against you. So a few years later, he decided, “Okay, I’ve invented the perfect defense. Now I guess I should just come up with an offense that can beat it.” Hence his popularization of the shotgun formation, with an added twist: Instead of just having a quarterback hang out in the backfield by himself, blatantly proclaiming their intent to throw the ball, he added a back to line up with the QB, keeping a running option in play. Landry also revolutionized the use of pre-snap shifting, which allowed the offense to read defensive sets, and move to counteract the read. All of these strategies led to massive success. With the Cowboys Tom Landry won 2 Super Bowl wins, 5 NFC Championships, and pulled off an insane streak of 20 consecutive winning seasons, a record which has not been broken to this day.

In the late 80’s, the Cowboys fell on hard times. Their owner, H.R. Bright, was bleeding money, and there were several coaching changes in the assistant ranks that had divided loyalties among the coaches and team. The Cowboys had three consecutive losing seasons, and Bright ended up selling the team to Jerry Jones because of his financial troubles. Jones immediately fired Landry, without giving him even one season under new management to bring his team back to glory. He brought in one of his college buddies, Jimmie Johnson to coach the Cowboys. Now admittedly, this ended up working out…sort of. Johnson won two consecutive Super Bowls in ‘92 and ‘93…but then HE was fired. Yeah Jerry’s got some issues.

Landry left football forever, but was always beloved by Dallas fans until his death in 2000. My grandfather was one of those fans. A man who once owned season tickets for over a decade has never watched a single down of Cowboys football since 1989. He will refuse to watch SportsCenter with me unless he has the remote in his hands so that he can change the channel when Cowboys highlights come on. And every single Thanksgiving, I get to hear the same speech about the greatest man to ever wear a suit on the sidelines. It’s actually quite poetic. In the words of my grandfather, “I don’t approve of profanity, but Jerry Jones is the worst piece of shit I’ve ever had the dissatisfaction of meeting.” RIP, Tom Landry. Fedoras just never looked the same after you left.

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Sterling Cooper

Sterling Cooper is a contributing writer for Total Frat Move and Post Grad Problems. He has never understood why people like sand, and has been in a bitter ten year rivalry with Muggsy Bogues, for reasons neither of them choose to reveal.

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