Tucker's Turf

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As I listened to the seconds tick off in the Dallas Cowboy 35-30 loss to the Rams Sunday, my mind wondered back to the first Cowboy game I ever went to. I was one of the 30,000 people in attendance at the first Dallas Cowboy regular season game played at the Cotton Bowl in September of 1960. It was a good year for a 10-year old boy who loved football. I still have pennants I got in the 1950s from SMU and the Los Angeles Rams, who were my favorite pro team until pro football came to Dallas.

My dad, Clent Tucker, worked security at the old Ford Plant on East Grand Avenue. At that time, Ford security personnel could also work at the Cotton Bowl. Dad used to always work, what was then dubbed as the “Salesmanship Club” annual game, at the Cotton Bowl during the 1950s. The game was a fundraiser for the Dallas Salesmanship Club and it was always the final pre-season game matching the previous year’s NFL finals teams.

In 1960, it was the first year for the Dallas Cowboys and the Dallas Texans in the upstart American Football League. The SMU Mustangs also played in the Cotton Bowl at that time. When Dad was working security at the old stadium, I would get to go to most of the games.

The Cowboys had quarterback Eddie LeBaron, wide receivers Bill Howton and Frank Clarke and two great running backs, former San Francisco great Don McIlhenny and my favorite L.G. (nickname Long Gone) Dupree. They also had drafted SMU quarterback Don Meredith who did not get much action. The Texans, on the other hand, had some great Texas ties including former Baylor quarterback Cotton Davidson, North Texas running back Abner Haynes and TCU fullback Jack Spikes.

The Cowboys hired the legendary Tom Landry away from the New York Giants and the Texans signed their first coach, Hank Stram, from Miami University.

It was a young boy’s dream. There were high school games on Friday nights watching my beloved Samuell Spartans, Southwest Conference games on Saturday and every Sunday one of the Dallas pro teams would be at the Cotton Bowl.

The Cowboys and Texans each had fan clubs for kids. You got a team t-shirt, and you could sit in the end zone for 90 cents. Reserved seats were $4 and general admission $2. I rarely missed a pro game for a couple of years. The first year, the Cowboys started the season at home with 30,000 looking on. It was an exciting game, but it was Pittsburg quarterback Bobby Layne who was the star that day. The Steelers won that day 35-28, but it was an exciting time. The Cowboys never drew another crowd like that one the first year. The final game in the Cotton Bowl against the 49ers drew 10,000 fans.

The Texans started their season on the road losing to the Los Angeles Chargers 21-20 and beating the Oakland Raiders 34-16. The Texans’ first home game was at the Cotton Bowl where they defeated the Chargers 17-0 in front of 42,000. The Texans went 8-6 in 1960 while the Cowboys could manage only a 0-11-1 record. They salvaged 31-31 tie with the Giants for their only non-loss that year.

The Texans would go on to lead the league in attendance averaging 24,000 fans per game while the Cowboys barely averaged 20,000. The Texans’ final game in 1960 against Buffalo drew 18,000.

The Texans won the 1962 AFL championship over the Houston Oilers 20-17 in double overtime. Team owner Lamar Hunt decided he was tired of fighting the NFL and the Cowboys for fans so he moved the team to Kansas City where they became the Chiefs.

The early Texans were good about getting out in the community. Star receiver Chris Burford spoke at our Hawthorne Hornet football banquet and stayed until every autograph was signed. The Cowboys did some public relations, sending out the quarterbacks, LeBaron and Don Meredith, to the elementary schools to speak to youth programs.

I watched over the years as the Cowboys grew into a powerhouse and became America’s Team. I watched as my hero Don Meredith got beat up severely for years until they finally got an offensive line. The Green Bay Ice Bowl game will forever be an imprint in my mind.

It was 1971 when the Cowboys left the Cotton Bowl for Texas Stadium, I was 21 years old and really mad about the move. I vowed to never go to another Cowboy game unless they moved back to Dallas, not Irving or Arlington. Although I remained a fan, I also was a Kansas City Chief fan because of the old Texan identity. I broke my vow not to attend a game only once. A good friend’s father was an NFL official and she got me tickets for a Thanksgiving game at Texas Stadium. I went to the game, left at the half and have never been to another Cowboy game, although I watch and listen to the Pokes these days. I usually listen to Brad Sham on the radio, it’s just better than any of those announcers on TV. My only trip to Jerry World was in 2016 to see the Rolling Stones in concert.

I enjoy a Cowboy (and a Chief) victory today, but with the all that is going on in the NFL and pro sports in these times, I really could care less about supporting a bunch of multi-millionaires playing a game.

My preference these days other than high school football, are the college games on Saturdays. And most of all, I am a big fan of NCAA Division II (Texas A&M Commerce, Tarleton State) and Division III (East Texas Baptist, Hardin-Simmons, Howard Payne) where the players are still actually student-athletes.

The Cowboys (and Chiefs) have come a long way since those days of the $4 reserved seat at the Cotton Bowl to the $500 seats of today at Jerry World. I do like to see them win, but it does not break my heart if they happen to lose.

I listen on Saturdays to the A&M Commerce games and the Lions are undefeated ranked third in the nation in NCAA D-II. I am a proud Lion alumni. As a matter of fact, I was a senior at ETSU when the Lions claimed their last national title, led on defense by future Cowboy great Harvey Martin.

The Cowboys will go to the playoffs again, the A&M Commerce Lions will gain a national title, Mineola will return to the playoffs and the Quitman Bulldogs will win a game before the season ends. In the 56 years since I made that first Cowboy game, I still love the game I have played, coached and watched for six decades.

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