Don Meredith was listed at 6’3″, 210 pounds, but to a growing nation of football fan, he was bigger than life. Because of him and his ABC booth partners, Frank Gifford and Howard Cosell, the NFL experienced unprecedented growth during the 1970s. The game that had long labored under the giant shadow of Major League Baseball emerged to become America’s new pastime.
People tuned into Monday Night Football, not just for the game, but for the show. Meredith, Gifford and Cosell became overnight sensations and household names. Gifford’s no-nonsense play-by-play delivery, Cosell’s haughty intellectualism and abrasiveness, and Meredith’s homespun, down-home wit made for a chemistry in the booth never seen before or sense.
People loved to hate Howard Cosell, which contributed to their affection for Don Meredith. The east Texas-born former Dallas Cowboys quarterback handled Cosell masterfully, often pointing out Cosell’s gaffes or disagreeing with his points, but always in a humorous way that took the edge off.
Meredith was genuinely funny. But he knew football, too. He was the perfect foil for the sometimes infuriating Cosell.
I would venture to say that more people worldwide relate Willie Nelson’s country tune, “The Party’s Over,” with Dandy Don Meredith than with the man who actually wrote and recorded it. Whenever a game was out of hand, Meredith would begin singing the song in perfect pitch. It got so a young viewer such as myself couldn’t let the game end until Dandy Don sang his song.
Don Meredith was a quote machine, often making poignant points in humorous ways. In fact, the most-read article in the history of silverandblueblood.com is my article, Top Ten Quotes from Dallas Cowboys, written July, 2009. Meredith had three of the ten quotes.
Meredith once quipped, “If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, wouldn’t it be a merry Christmas?”
Well, Don. For millions of football fans old enough to remember the most colorful color analyst to ever grace a booth, your “ifs” and “buts” were candy and nuts. Ironically, here it is Christmas time and it’s time to turn out the lights, but thanks to you and your undying influence, the party is far from over.
Rest in peace, our old familiar friend.
Note: Tomorrow, we look at Don Meredith the football player.