Gary Cartwright, who passed away yesterday at the age of 82, didn't hesitate when asked to name his favorite athlete to write about.
"Don Meredith, without a doubt," he said. "He was a really classy guy and a great quarterback. He retired far too young at 31. He would have become one of the best all-time quarterbacks and the Cowboys would have won several Super Bowls with him."
Sometimes, in the pressure of a big game or a newspaper deadline, other memorable things occur. What happened on Nov. 21, 1965, in the Cotton Bowl was a classic example.
An overflow crowd of 76,251 roared as Meredith, with the defending NFL champion Browns battling to hold 24-17 lead with 4:34 left, quarterbacked the Cowboys to the Browns' 1-yard line. Then it gasped as Meredith did the weirdest thing.
After the Browns subbed two wide-body linemen for their safeties to jam the middle, he faked a handoff to fullback Don Perkins, whirled and fired a bullet pass over the center of the line toward Frank Clarke, jammed among a mob of Browns. The ball was tipped by lineman Jim Houston, soared upward and fell lazily into the hands of astonished linebacker Vince Costello.
When the game ended, Cartwright began his story for The Dallas Morning News:
* "Outlined against a gray November sky, the Four Horsemen rode again.*
* "You know them: Pestilence, Death, Famine and Meredith."*
When Meredith saw Cartwright later that week, he complimented his clever writing. His teammates weren't feeling so gracious. Cartwright, a fine writer but rarely given to subtlety, had been harshly critical several times and some guys thought they could improve his attitude by roughing him up. It never happened. "No," Meredith said. "He's just doing his job."
Over seven decades of writing, Cartwright felt the pain of regret about some things he said.
"In a column I said Meredith was a loser," he said. "That was stupid. Meredith wasn't a loser. I was."
Charles Burton, a veteran writer whose career at The Dallas Morning News began in the 1930s, was first to leave the original foursome of Cowboys beat writers, victim of a fatal heart attack at Love Field minutes after stepping off the Cowboys charter returning from Cleveland in October 1962. He was 53, a generation older than the other three of us. Bud Shrake and Cartwright wrote for the Dallas Times Herald *in 1960 when the Cowboys and AFL founder Lamar Hunt's Texans made Dallas a two-team town and later joined me as colleagues at *The News. Shrake and Cartwright met in the mid-1950s in Fort Worth when they were competing police reporters on the Press and Star Telegram and became lifetime friends.
Shrake joined The News as the daily sports columnist in 1961 and left for Sports Illustrated in 1964. He ultimately won acclaim as an author, biographer, playwright and longtime companion of Texas governor Ann Richards. He died of cancer at 77 in Austin on May 8, 2009 and was buried beside Richards in Texas State Cemetery.
Cartwright, who became a star columnist for Texas Monthly after he left The News, called Bud "my friend, compadre and mentor for 50 years. Every success I enjoyed owed directly or indirectly to Bud Shrake."
A marvelous mixed bag, Cartwright's final book, The Best I Recall, is a fine memoir which tells you a lot about him, a sometimes roller-coaster life and some gifted people who enriched it. It was published by University of Texas Press in Austin, where he lived and wrote in a lovely home on historical Judges Hill about halfway between the State Capitol and the UT campus where our friendship began in the fall of 1953 writing sports on The Daily Texan.
I was a senior journalism major and Cartwright was a junior transfer from Arlington State College, now UT-Arlington. He left school that winter, drafted into the Army for two years, but our paths would cross again often. Sometimes as competitors, sometimes as colleagues, but always as friends.