American football executive
It isn't easy to measure Tex Schramm's impact on professional football, for his mark is on so much of the game as we know it today. Schramm is perhaps best known for building a little-known expansion team in Dallas into one of football's most venerable franchises, so widely popular across the nation that it came to be known as "America's team." For nearly three decades he was the general manager of the Dallas Cowboys and in 1991 became the only football executive who never owned or coached a team to be elected to the Professional Football Hall of Fame. With Pete Rozelle , commissioner of the National Football League (NFL), and Lamar Hunt, founder of the American Football League (AFL), Schramm engineered the merger of the two rival leagues. He's also credited with building the NFL's first bona fide scouting system and is known as well as the father of the instant replay.
Born in Southern California
He was born Texas Edward Schramm in San Gabriel, California, just outside Los Angeles, on June 2, 1920. After graduating from Alhambra High School, Schramm, who had family ties in Texas, enrolled at the University of Texas to study journalism. As a freshman, he had a brief fling at collegiate football, playing fullback, but at only 147 pounds, he quickly decided that he'd be better off writing about football and not playing it. During his years in Austin, he covered sports for the student newspaper and also worked part-time for the Austin American-Statesman. After earning his bachelor's degree, Schramm served four years in the U.S. Air Force.
Returning to civilian life, Schramm was introduced to Los Angeles Rams owner Dan Reeves , who hired him to handle publicity for the team, which had only recently moved to Los Angeles from Cleveland. Five years later, in 1952, Reeves was promoted to assistant to the president of the Rams. Schramm became the team's general manager in 1956 but left the following year in the midst of a power struggle between Reeve and his fellow owners. Before leaving the Rams, however, Schramm recommended Pete Rozelle as his replacement.
From the Rams Schramm went to CBS-TV as assistant director of sports. Although he had no particular expertise on winter sports or the Olympic Games, Schramm had an idea. And, as he would soon begin to prove during his twenty-nine years at the helm of the Dallas Cowboys, a Schramm idea was not something to be taken lightly. Fortunately for television viewers, CBS executives liked Schramm's suggestion that the network televise competition at the 1960 Winter Olympic Games in Squaw Valley, California. And the rest is history.
|1920||Born in San Gabriel, California, on June 2|
|1947||Hired as public relations director for the Los Angeles Rams|
|1952||Named assistant to the president of the Rams organization|
|1956||Named general manager of the Rams|
|1957||Leaves Rams to join CBS Sports|
|1960||Oversees CBS television coverage of Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley, California|
|1960||Dallas Cowboys franchise awarded; Schramm named general manager|
|1966||Named president of Cowboys and chairman of NFL competition committee|
|1984||Launches Cowboys Center project|
|1989||Leaves Cowboys to become president and CEO of World League of American Football|
|1990||Replaced as head of World League of American Football|
Scouts Locations at Squaw Valley
After getting the green light from his bosses at CBS, Schramm scouted locations at Squaw Valley during the summer of 1959, several months before the scheduled games. Logistics for the operation were far more difficult in those days when every piece of camera equipment had to be attached by cable. For Schramm, the first order of business was the burial of miles of cable leading from the network's on-site headquarters to each of the Olympic venues. And the headquarters for CBS was hardly the plush affair to which we've become accustomed in recent years. Instead, the network's delegation was housed in the basement of a building erected for IBM, which would keep track of statistics for the competition.
Although this first coverage of the Winter Olympics was primitive by today's standards, Schramm ensured a touch of class by insisting that the format for coverage feature a central anchor desk moderating coverage from reporters at the various venues. No less a personage than Walter Cronkite occupied the anchor's chair, with such distinguished reporters as Jim McKay, Dick Button , Chris Schenkel, Bob Beattie, and Bud Palmer.
The Squaw Valley experience also produced a dividend that would resurface some years later and become transformed into a football tradition. At one point during the games, Olympics officials appealed to CBS for a replay of some of its tape to help verify the outcome of a contested event. Schramm filed away the idea, which returned to him years later in the form of instant replay.
Looks to Return to Football
Even before the Winter Olympics aired, Schramm had begun to look for a way to get back into pro football. When he learned in late 1959 that the NFL might soon award an expansion franchise to Dallas, he let it be known among his network of friends in football that he'd be interested in running the new team. George Halas of the Chicago Bears introduced Schramm to Clint Murchison Jr., a wealthy Texas oilman who'd tried for years to bring an NFL team to Dallas. The two hit it off immediately, and Murchison hired Schramm as general manager for a team that did not yet exist. For Schramm it was a dream job. "I'd always wanted, as far back as I can remember, to take a team from scratch and build it. So this was an opportunity I couldn't pass up even though we didn't know for sure that Dallas would get a team." On January 28, 1960, the dream became a reality when the NFL formally awarded the franchise to Dallas. In anticipation of winning the franchise, Schramm had already hired two key people for the team—Tom Landry as coach and Gil Brandt as personnel director.
Schramm firmly believed that the key to building a strong team was through the annual college draft and the signing of free agents. However, under the terms of the franchise agreement, Dallas was forced to acquire thirty-six veterans, three from each of the twelve teams in the expansion draft. With eleven losses and one tie, the Cowboys' debut season was an unmitigated disaster. Schramm stuck to his guns, building the team with young players wherever possible. A number of losing seasons followed. Impatient fans called for Landry's head, but Schramm was not to be moved, signing the coach to an unprecedented ten-year contract extension in 1964. It was slow work, but by 1966 the Cowboys had finally managed to finish the season over the .500 mark. The Cowboys won their first NFL Western Conference titles in 1966 and 1967 but lost to Green Bay in the NFL championship game both years. This marked the beginning of the team's ascendancy to a football powerhouse. For the next twenty seasons, Dallas won more games than they lost, making it to the playoffs eighteen times. Over the next two decades, the Cowboys won thirteen divisional championships, five NFC titles, and Super Bowls VI and XII. The team also played in Super Bowls V, IX, and XIII but lost to their AFC opponents.
"Once our popularity got started, we wanted to keep it going," Schramm later observed. "I think we were probably more image-conscious than most other teams. We tried to do everything first class, from top to bottom." Although Schramm didn't invent the "America's team" label for the Cowboys, he was quick to exploit it in his promotion of the team. At one point, he sent out 100,000 souvenir calendars bearing the "America's team" moniker. Despite all that he did to build Dallas into one of football's most outstanding franchises, Schramm was not universally liked. Some were put off by his outspoken nature. But even those who found Schramm somewhat abrasive were forced to acknowledge his impressive accomplishments while at the helm of the Cowboys. In 1977, he was named NFL Executive of the Year by Sporting News ; the following year he received the Bert Bell Award for outstanding executive leadership in the NFL.
Awards and Accomplishments
|1960||Hired Tom Landry as coach and Gil Brandt as personnel director for new NFL team in Dallas|
|1966||Engineered merger of AFL into NFL with AFL founder Lamar Hunt|
|1970||Negotiated four-year contract with NFL Players Association|
|1977||Named NFL Executive of the Year by Sporting News|
|1978||Bert Bell Award for outstanding executive leadership in the NFL|
|1987||Father of the Year by Dallas Father of the Year Committee and the New York-based Father's Day Council Inc.|
|1991||Inducted into Pro Football Hall of Fame|
Murchison, who had owned the team since its inception in 1960, sold the Cowboys to Bum Bright in 1984. In the latter half of the 1980s, the fortunes of the Cowboys took a marked turn for the worse. Their twenty-year winning streak ended in 1986, and two years later the team finished the season with a dismal 3-13 record. In 1988 Bright sold the team to Arkansas oil man Jerry Jones, who made it clear from the outset that he would personally manage every aspect of the Cowboys operation. The time had finally come for Schramm to move on, which he did in early 1989, leaving to become president and CEO of the new World League of American Football. Less than two years later, he stepped down from that post when he clashed with NFL officials over the future of the new league. Although he's now retired, Schramm remains active and as outspoken as ever. He's also developed a reputation as an accomplished sports fisherman, noted in particular for his competitive tag and release search for deep-sea marlin.
Schramm's role in building the Dallas Cowboys into one of professional football's most legendary teams is undeniable. And whether they love him or hate him, almost everybody in football is forced to acknowledge his contributions to the game as a whole. For his part, Schramm always hoped that he could make of the Cowboys a gridiron version of the New York Yankees in their heyday. "They were tops, first class. That's the way we want to be," Schramm once said. "Football is such a great and emotional business, and I want to look and say I was a part of greatness." Most observers would conclude that Schramm succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.
St. John, Bob. Tex: The Man Who Built the Dallas Cowboys. New York: Prentice Hall Trade, 1988.
"Tex (as Edward) Schramm." Almanac of Famous People, 6th ed. Detroit: Gale Group, 1998.
Horn, Barry. "Schramm Was Ready to Give Game the Old College Try." Dallas Morning News (November 24, 1998): 4B.
Luksa, Frank. "Schramm Left His Mark with First Televised Games." Dallas Morning News (February 13, 1998): 18B.
Moore, David. "Unable to Lead, Schramm Left Behind." Dallas Morning News (February 25, 1999): 12B.
"Cowboy Management." Tim's Cowboy History Page. http://users.conwaycorp.net/tstone/management.htm (October 18, 2002).
"Outstand Alumnus 1999-2000: Tex Schramm." College of Communication. http://communication.utexas.edu/alumni/outstanding.html (October 19, 2002).
"Tex Schramm." Professional Football Researchers Association. http://www.footballresearch.com/articles/frpage.cfm?topic=schramm (October 18, 2002).
"Tex Schramm: Biography." Pro Football Hall of Fame. http://www.profootballhof.com/players/enshrinees/tschramm.cfm (October 18, 2002).
Sketch by Don Amerman
In 2003, the National Football League (NFL) lost one of its greats with the death of Tex Schramm (1920–2003). Not a player, but an owner, a promoter, and an innovator, Schramm created the NFL where the Dallas Cowboys became "America's Team" and football became American fans' sport of choice.
Born in San Gabriel, California, in 1920, and named after his father, not the lone star state, Texas Ernest Schramm ended his football career after high school. The pint-sized-but-almost-150-pound fullback decided that writing about the game was safer than playing it. Attending the University of Texas, Schramm earned a degree in journalism. Then, after a stint in the U.S. Air Force, he began his career as a $30-a-week sportswriter for the Austin American-Statesman.
In 1947 Schramm entered the arena of football when he was hired as the then Los Angeles Rams' publicity director. During his five-year tenure Schramm hinted at what would become his unwavering commitment to do what was best for the game and its fans. This included forcing an end to discrimination within the team by signing a player from a black college, Tank Younger, in 1949. One year later, the Rams became the first team to draft a black player, running back Dan Towler. Rewarded for his dedication to the team, Schramm was named the Rams' general manager in 1952. Over the next five years he worked, on a broader level, to increase the NFL's popularity. To assist him in accomplishing this goal Schramm hired Pete Rozelle to replace him as the Rams' publicity director. Rozelle would eventually become the commissioner of the NFL.
In 1957 Schramm left his job as the Rams' general manager and returned to journalism, but not as a sportswriter. During the 1950s the major networks were just beginning to realize that sports–football in particular–could be a moneymaker. Schramm also recognized the potential of the new medium to give a boost to football's popularity. By broadcasting games on the television, more people would have access to the sport, effectively increasing the number of football fans, and increased ticket sales would follow. For the next three years Schramm, as an executive for CBS Sports, expanded the media coverage of U.S. football teams, among them a struggling small-market team called the Green Bay Packers. "I cut the Packers a check for $15,000," Schramm later recalled to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "I threw in more money, thinking it would be good for the network in the long run." Television, however, was not the only means used to increase football's audience. Logically, if the league had more teams, then football would have more fans.
Established Cowboys Dynasty
While expanding the NFL to include more teams has become a common occurrence, in 1960 expansion was a rarity. Schramm resigned from CBS Sports and was hired by Clint Murchison, the founder of the Dallas Cowboys, to become that team's president and general manager before the NFL even approved the Cowboy's existence. Once the NFL gave its approval, however, there was no stopping Schramm. In his plans to grow the team he was helped by what he later called "the most important piece of legislation in the history of sports," as the Fort Worth Star-Telegram quoted. That legislation gave all teams in the NFL equal shares of the revenue their televised games generated. The impact of this decision was immediate. No longer would small-market teams like the Packers have to beg Schramm for extra money because their television audience was only a fraction of big-market teams like the Rams. Parity had been created in the NFL.
This new parity helped Schramm and the Dallas Cowboys because the virtually unknown Cowboys now had money to not only attract competent coaches, staff, and players, but also to publicize the fact that a new football dynasty was being built in Texas. As the team's general manager, Schramm spent the team's television money wisely. First, he hired experienced coach Tom Landry and ingenious draft advisor Gil Brant, because he understood that coaching and drafting well would result in an unstoppable team.
For the next five years the Cowboys had a losing record. In 1965 the team began to emerge and reached the. 500 mark, and it was clear that the patience required to build the team through drafting was about to pay off. With notable defensive players like Bob Lilly and Mel Renfro as well as wide receiver Boy Hayes, the Cowboys, in 1966, tackled and ran their way into the championship game. Ironically, they lost to the team Schramm once donated money to: the Green Bay Packers.
Merged the NFL and AFL
For a team to become a dynasty, the bar of competition must be raised. However, within the NFL teams competed only against other NFL teams. There was a rival–the American Football League (AFL)–but teams from this league also played only against other AFL teams. What was needed was a merger of the two leagues. In this step the NFL resisted; it saw the AFL as its ugly stepsister, born off its own success. Schramm stepped in and called Lamar Hunt, owner of the AFL's Kansas City Chiefs. Together the two men negotiated a deal where both leagues could benefit. The first benefit of this merger was a championship game where the two top teams from each league competed. It was called the Super Bowl.
Now that the competition had been raised through the successful merger of both leagues, Schramm refocused his efforts on promoting the Cowboys. He wanted his team to be seen not just as just an expansion team, but as a team all football fans would root for, even over their home team. Throughout the 1970s Schramm established what would become the Cowboy's swagger: the unrelenting confidence that no team, no player, no coach was better. To publicize the team he decided to make another merger. Knowing that, on television as everywhere else, sex sells, Schramm hired professional female dancers. These dancers, as the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, toured around the country promoting the Cowboys as well as performing at the team's games. Schramm's highly successfully marketing campaign was not approved by Coach Landry, however. As noted by the London Times, Landry referred to the Cheerleaders as "porno queens." Schramm responded by forcing "his coach to watch a real pornographic film." Landry never again negatively commented on Schramm's ideas.
Pushed for More Innovations
Once Schramm had the television audience watching the Cowboys' cheerleaders, he came up with another idea to capture the fan's attention, and this time the focus was on the athletes. He would play the team on a national holiday. The Detroit Lions had already established their presence by playing a morning game on Thanksgiving. That changed when Schramm scheduled the Cowboys to play an afternoon game. Football fans, hungry for something to watch as they ate their turkey dinners, tuned in to the Cowboys. As a result, the team's popularity soared; a new stadium was built with its infamous hole in the dome roof where God could watch his favorite team play; and Texas Stadium's box seats were soon filled with Texas oilmen who would freely spend their money. By 1978 the Cowboys had won two Super Bowls. More importantly to Schramm, the Cowboys had also been named "America's Team" by NFL Films. Fans embraced the team's new name while Schramm conjured up another idea to expand the Cowboy dynasty.
Since its inception, football had been seen as an American sport. As the Dallas Cowboys reigned throughout the 1980s, Schramm knew his team, "America's Team" could become the "World's Team" if only the global audience had the opportunity to see them play-not on television, but live. So, in 1986, Schramm packed up the Cowboys and flew them to Wembley Stadium in London, England for a pre-season game against the Chicago Bears. He called it the American Bowl. His risky idea paid off and the Cowboys became even more popular. This influenced other teams to travel overseas including to Japan to expand their fan base.
By 1989 Schramm had, as then NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue told the Los Angeles Times, built "the NFL into America's passion by developing a glamour franchise with national appeal." Yet, this appeal could not stop the decline of the Cowboys. Infamous off-the-field antics and parties that ended in drug busts, as well as on-the-field poor play and the ineffectiveness of Coach Landry eventually overwhelmed "America's Team." New ideas were needed and those ideas came when businessman Jerry Jones bought the Dallas Cowboys. He surprised Schramm by not only firing Landry, but also firing Schramm.
Although no longer affiliated with the team, Schramm remained a fan of the Cowboys and continued working to promote the NFL through his tenure as president and CEO of the World League of American Football (now known as NFL Europe). His efforts led to the NFL being announced over more than 200 radio stations as well as games being broadcasted in Spanish. "Schramm was Barnum and Bailey all rolled into one," former Cowboy Charlie Waters told the Los Angeles Times. "He was a great salesman."
In 1991 Schramm was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but curiously had not been welcomed into the Cowboy's own Hall of Fame, the Ring of Honor. Jones rarely spoke to his predecessor until 2003, when Schramm's ill health prompted him to announce that Schramm's name would be added to the Ring. "He is going to be recognized as the architect as the man who started and built the Cowboys into America's Team," Jones told the Los Angeles Times. "That's as it should be."
Before the induction ceremony could take place, Schramm passed away on July 15, 2003. However, upon first hearing of his induction into the Ring of Honor during a visit to Texas Stadium, he "literally rose to the occasion … in stubborn rebellion against infirmity," Frank Luksa wrote in Texas Monthly, then "straightened his bent body as best he could and made his way to the stage to bask in forthcoming attention."
Forever Influenced Football
Schramm's influence on football continued after his death. Imagine the game without instant replay, overtimes, microphone-wired referees, the 30-second clock, goal post strips, wild-card playoffs, computerized draft selections, quarterback's wired helmets, and the Super Bowl. All were Schramm's ideas. However, perhaps he will be best remembered for being football's number one promoter who never forgot who mattered most: the fans. Bill "Cowboy" Lamza, president of the Dallas Cowboys Fan Club shared this memory of Schramm with the Houston Chronicle: "Tex was always a fan's fan … any fan could write a letter to Tex … and they'd get a letter back from him, signed personally." This personal touch made fans feel like an important part of the team. However for Schramm it was always the fans, as he once told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, who made him feel great, even after he had been out of the public eye for more than a decade. "When I go somewhere, people always come up and say, 'Tex Schramm? All I want to do is say thank you for a lot of great seasons and great memories.'"
Fort Worth Star-Telegram, December 4, 1998; January 17, 2001.
Houston Chronicle, July 15, 2003.
Los Angeles Times, July 16, 2003.
New York Times, July 16, 2003.
Texas Monthly, September, 2003.
Times (London, England), August 11, 2003.
USA Today, July 16, 2003.