Remembering Former Cowboys Offensive Lineman Tony Liscio

When Tony Liscio died on Father's Day of ALS, the notorious Lou Gehrig's Disease, he could no longer speak but he could still remember a life full of love, laughter, friendship and football achievement. Fortunately, he wrote those memories down in a casual loose-leaf journal, which his wife of 54 years, Annette, kindly shared with me.

OK, here we go.

Tony was a "Pittsburgh Guy," so he was thrilled as a Cowboys offensive tackle in October 1963 when his team played in his hometown. Also chilled.

Tony had to line up against the legendry Ernie Stautner, the Steelers Hall of Fame defensive lineman. What was a raw rookie to do?

"I grabbed the back of his pants on pass blocking," Tony wrote, "because he went around me instead of over me."

Tony died 14 days short of his 77th birthday. He was born on July 2, 1940, the youngest of seven children (five brothers, one sister). His parents, Leonardantonio Liscio and Irene Dell'Aquila Liscio, were born in Italy. Tony was 8 when his father died but his mother lived a long life and kept the family home full of Old World charm and the enticing smells of her cooking and winemaking.

"Mother loved cooking when I brought a lot of teammates for Saturday night dinner," Tony said. "The alcoholic content of her homemade wine was well over the limit. Don Meredith loved it. He got drunk and had a bad game the next afternoon. Tom Landry said, 'When we go to Pittsburgh, don't go to Tony's house for dinner.'"

In 1969, the season after Meredith retired, Dell'Aquila Liscio saw her first football game. After the Cowboys beat the Steelers, 10-7, on a wet, icy December afternoon. She stood outside the Cowboys locker room and met the man who shut down her beloved Saturday night dinners.

"Mother," Tony said, "this is Coach Landry. She took his hand in both of hers and gave him a big smile. 'Ahhh,' she said, 'the Bigga Boss!'"

Tony made all-state in football and basketball at Westinghouse High School, then achieved more stardom at the University of Tulsa. His bond with his Oklahoma alma mater glowed in his funeral arrangements with Golden Hurricanes teammates serving as his pallbearers at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Lake Highlands.

Defending NFL champion Green Bay signed Tony in 1963 after drafting him in the third round. He missed several weeks of training camp with the Packers working out with the College All-Stars before they played the NFL champs in Chicago in early August. The All-Stars surprised the nation by winning. When both teams were honored at a post-game banquet, a smiling blonde-haired woman came to Tony's table and patted his shoulder. All-Star teammate Chuck Morris of Ole Miss, another Packers rookie, blurted, "Who the hell are you?" Tony, however was gracious to her.  

She was coach Vince Lombardi's wife, Marie, who wanted to welcome them to the Packers.

Not long after that Tony was traded to the Cowboys.

Tony played offensive tackle for a struggling young team in 1963 and 1964, then missed 1965 because of knee surgery. After a long recovery and rehab, he moved to guard for the Cowboys' first winning season in 1966 and earned Second Team All-Pro honors.

In the NFL title game at the Cotton Bowl, they battled the defending champion Packers down to the wire before losing, 34-27, on New Year's Day 1967. On New Year's Eve 1967, they lost the heartbreaking Ice Bowl at Green Bay in the final seconds and the Packers kept their NFL title and rolled on to a second Super Bowl championship.

Tony played in the Cowboys' wacky loss to the Colts in the Blooper Bowl (SB V), then decided to retire and expand his business career and spend more time with Annette, sons Tony II and Michael and daughter Michele.

Then in mid-November, he suddenly found himself heading back to the Cowboys.

"My friend Joel Walenta and our wives were driving back from Homecoming at Tulsa, listening to the Cowboys' game with the Eagles," Tony said. "Ralph Neely had broken his ankle in a motorcycle accident, then Don Talbert broke a bone in his foot. Forrest Gregg had a pulled leg muscle and they had only one offensive tackle left. Joel Walenta said, 'They are going to call you back.' I said, 'No, I can't play.' Then Coach Landry called the next day.

"I went back and played and we won eight straight games, including Super Bowl VI in New Orleans  (24-3 over the Dolphins)."

Tony returned to the Cowboys with an upgraded contract for the remainder of that season and received a full share of the Super Bowl purse. Then he retired from football and moved on to another memorable game – the rest of his life.        

*Sam Blair, a writer and columnist for The Dallas Morning News for 41 years, was the paper's original pro football writer. *

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