ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Don Meredith, the former Dallas Cowboys quarterback who served as a folksy foil for Howard Cosell on ABC’s “Monday Night Football” and helped carve out the niche for colorful ex-athlete broadcasters, has died. “Dandy Don,” as he was known, was 72.
Meredith’s wife, Susan, told The Associated Press her husband died Sunday in Santa Fe after suffering a brain hemorrhage and lapsing into a coma. She and her daughter were at Meredith’s side when he died.
“He was the best there was,” she said Monday, describing him as kind, warm and funny. “We lost a good one.”
Meredith played for the Cowboys from 1960-1968, becoming the starting quarterback in 1965.
While he never took the Cowboys to the Super Bowl, Meredith was one of the franchise’s first stars. He led the Cowboys to three straight division titles and to consecutive NFL Championship games in 1966 and 1967, where they lost both games to eventual champion Green Bay.
“Don Meredith was one of the most colorful characters in NFL history. He was star on the field who became an even bigger star on television,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said. “He brought joy to football fans, from his play in historic NFL games like the Ice Bowl to his great personality that helped launch the success of Monday Night Football.”
Over his nine-year career, Meredith threw for 17,199 yards and 111 touchdowns. He retired unexpectedly before the 1969 season and just two years later joined Keith Jackson and Cosell in the broadcast booth as part of the “Monday Night Football” crew.
He quickly became one of the most popular broadcasters in sports with a homespun humor that played off Cosell in particular. Meredith’s signature call was singing the famous Willie Nelson song “Turn Out the Lights” when it appeared a game’s outcome had been determined.
Meredith left ABC after the 1973 season for a three-year stint at NBC. He returned to the “MNF” crew in 1977 before retiring in 1984, one year after Cosell left the team.
Meredith was one of the first athletes to make the transition from the field to color analyst and the move to calling “Monday Night Football” was an easy one for him. He was part of many memorable moments on ABC’s landmark hit.
In 1970, Meredith was in the booth for the St. Louis Cardinals’ 38-0 whitewashing of his former team. The Cotton Bowl crowd late in the game began chanting “We want Meredith!”
Meredith quipped, “No way you’re getting me down there.”
Another famous Meredith moment occurred in 1972 at the Houston Astrodome. The Oakland Raiders were in the process of beating the Houston Oilers 34-0. A cameraman had a shot of a disgruntled Oilers fan, who then made an obscene gesture.
Said Meredith: “He thinks they’re No. 1 in the nation.”
“Don Meredith was a Dallas Cowboys original. His wit, charm, and strength of personality were matched only by his wonderful leadership, toughness and athletic skill,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said in a statement. “Throughout 50 years of history, the Cowboys legacy has been built by dynamic and colorful personalities who could also compete at the highest level. No one fit that description better than Don Meredith.”
Born April 10, 1938, Meredith was born and raised in Mount Vernon, Texas, about 100 miles east of Dallas. He never played a home game outside of North Texas.
Meredith was a three-year at quarterback for SMU and an All-America selection in 1958 and 1959. He was drafted in the third round by the Chicago Bears in 1960 and traded to the expansion Cowboys franchise for future draft picks.
Meredith shared time under center with Eddie LeBaron before winning the starting job in 1965 and the following year guided the Cowboys to their first winning season (10-3-1). He was named NFL Player of the Year after throwing a career-high 24 touchdown passes and 2,805 yards.
Meredith was one of nine Dallas players selected to the Pro Bowl that year — the first of his two Pro Bowl years.
Although Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman made the Cowboys’ quarterback job synonymous with greatness, both credit Meredith for launching that tradition.
“He did it without as much help as some of the other guys had,” said Lee Roy Jordan, a former Cowboys linebacker. “Our offensive line was not very good early on. He got beat up pretty bad — broken noses and collarbones and ribs, everything you can think of, Don had it. But he was one tough individual. He played with many an ailment and injury, and was very, very competitive. He and Bob Hayes really set the standard for the wide-open offense, the motion guys and big plays.”
Meredith’s last moment in a Cowboys uniform was painful. He threw three interceptions in a 1968 playoff game against the Cleveland Browns and was pulled in favor of Craig Morton.
“I tried to talk him out of it,” Dallas coach Tom Landry said after Meredith announced his retirement. “But when you lose your desire in this game, that’s it.”
In addition to his broadcasting career, Meredith appeared in several TV shows and movies after his playing career ended. He had a recurring role in “Police Story” and was a spokesman for Lipton teas. Meredith and Don Perkins were the second and third players inducted to Cowboys Ring of Honor in 1976.
Susan Meredith said a private graveside service was planned.