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Ring of Honor Wait Finally Ends For Gil Brandt

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Gil Brandt, you better believe, belongs in the exclusive Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor.

Gil Brandt, you had better believe, too, truly deserves selection into the Pro Football Hall of Fame the day before Super Bowl LIII when the voting takes place in Atlanta on Feb. 2.

This all has been a long time coming.

And when his Ring of Honor induction ceremony takes place at halftime of this Dallas Cowboys-New Orleans Saints game at AT&T Stadium, that will complete the rightful honor of the triumvirate responsible for not only the birth of the Cowboys but raising that first NFL expansion team in 1960 to the world-wide recognition earned and the unparalleled success achieved over their 29-year association with the franchise.

The coach for the organization’s first 29 years, Tom Landry, entered the Ring of Honor in 1993, three years following his induction into the Hall of Fame.

The president and general manager for those same 29 years, Tex Schramm, followed Landry one year later into the Hall, 1991, and then finally in 2003, mere months after he passed away at age 83, into his brainchild, the Ring of Honor.

Now the storied franchise’s original player personnel guy, head of the scouting department, the man who helped scour the country for untapped gems all those 29 years will have his name unveiled right up there along the Ring of Honor level façade at AT&T Stadium with his other two compadres. And if the Hall of Fame voting committee does the right thing, the 85-year-old will join Schramm and Landry in Canton on Aug. 3, 2019 as a rightful contributor.

“We’ve said the Ring of Honor represents the men who are cornerstones of the franchise, men who built the organization. And my visit with Tex Schramm about the Ring of Honor, the institution of the Ring of Honor, what was critical for him was the people who were in the Ring of Honor were part of building the Dallas Cowboys,” said owner Jerry Jones during a press conference on Nov. 2. “The men who are a part of the Ring of Honor, and the announcement of Gil Brandt going into the Ring of Honor, spent more than 30 years of their lives building the Dallas Cowboys. And in doing so and in doing innovative things, they built the NFL, frankly.

“We are inducting a man in the Ring of Honor who has been responsible for these cornerstones.”

Say no more than that about how deserving Brandt is to finally receive this honor. He went from a baby photographer who began dabbling in scouting in his hometown of Milwaukee, to at first working for the Los Angeles Rams sort of as a part-time scout, to getting the call to join the Cowboys from Schramm, who had worked for the Rams but moved on to CBS, where he organized the first live telecast of the Winter Olympics from Squaw Valley.

That means Brandt played a huge role in the Cowboys appearing in those back-to-back NFL Championship Games against the Packers in 1966-67, that being the start of their record 20 consecutive winning seasons. He, of course, was here for the five Super Bowls during the 1970s, including winning Super Bowls VI and XII. The three losses came in close calls to Baltimore in Super Bowl V and to Pittsburgh in Super Bowls X and XIII.

“I hope my heart and legs will be strong enough to survive that moment,” Brandt said when Jones made the Ring of Honor announcement at The Star. “To see my name up there with guys like Roger Staubach, Bob Lilly, Drew Pearson, Lee Roy Jordan – these all-time greats not only with the Cowboys franchise but in the history of our great game – it overwhelms me.”

But that right there, those very names, are the reasons Brandt deserves not only this honor but Hall of Fame status as well. It was he who played a hand in finding these eventually decorated players and having the foresight to bring them to Dallas, a team of humble beginnings with scrap-heap cast outs other teams did not want in 1960 since the Cowboys were awarded their franchise after that season’s draft. No wonder they floundered to 0-11-1 in that inaugural campaign

Think about this: Brandt is responsible for unearthing 15 of the current 19 players in the Ring of Honor: two of those undrafted free agents (defensive back Cliff Harris and the wide receiver Pearson); two of those mere seventh-round draft choices (eventual offensive tackle Rayfield Wright and wide receiver Bob Hayes); and a 10th-round draft gamble on Staubach, who had a four-year military commitment to serve before becoming eligible to play for the Cowboys.

Not only that, nine of those Ring of Honor players Brandt had a big hand in acquiring also reside in the Hall of Fame. And this stat: 53 players brought to the Cowboys during Brandt’s 29-year tenure totaled 178 Pro Bowl appearances.

“He set the standard of excellence in player personnel,” Jones said.

Maybe no one in the organization understands Brandt’s contributions better than Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett. His father, the late Jim Garrett, worked for Brandt and the team in their scouting department from 1987-2004, and was an NFL assistant coach for 15 seasons in the NFL while Jason was growing up. He learned of the latitude Brandt gave his scouts and the ability to think outside the box concerning player acquisition.

That guy’s a basketball player, but you think he might be a better football player? That guy is a lieutenant in the Navy, but you think he might still want to play football when his military commitment is up? That guy there might have played at some obscure college like Ouachita Baptist in the backwoods of Arkansas, but might his defensive-back skills translate into the NFL.

Gil and his scouts left no stone unturned.

“He’s one of the revolutionary figures in our league and anybody who’s followed football closely understands that. How the Cowboys were built, the trio of Tom Landry, Tex Schramm and Gil Brandt is legendary. An incredible model for how you do things,” Garrett said. “If you look at the talent that the team acquired through the years, it just seemed like they were ahead of everybody else, and there’s a lot of specific detail about the technology they used and how they went about scouting players. But his impact was significant on this team and was significant throughout the league in terms of how teams evaluate players, put teams together.

“His impact on stuff like the Scouting Combine and so many other things that are just a part of what the NFL does now has been significant. So he’s been a great friend to me, to this organization and one of the most impactful guys in this franchise’s history.”

And as Garrett said, the league’s history. Even after he was let go by Jones following the 1989 draft, which netted the Cowboys the likes of Troy Aikman with the very first pick that year, Daryl Johnston, Mark Stepnoski and Tony Tolbert, he continued his trailblazing, working for the league at NFL.com as a writer, analyst and radio personality, which he still does to this day.

Yes, Brandt became known as the “Godfather,” and rightfully so, the Cowboys and the league owing him so much for their respective growth.

Look, this is the guy who figured out how to sign Bob Lilly, the Cowboys first-ever draft choice in the first round of 1961 before the rival American Football League Dallas Texans could ink him to a contract, the defensive lineman who became Schramm’s first inductee into the Ring of Honor. This is the guy who found a guy like Rayfield Wright in the tiny town of Griffin, Ga., having played for Fort Valley State back in the late 1960s, then convinced Wright he could be a better football player than basketball player, of which he was good enough to be drafted by the NBA’s Cincinnati Royals of Oscar Robertson fame at the time.

Yes, Gil and Tex rolled the dice on long-shot draft picks, gambling with a 10th-round selection in 1964 that Heisman Trophy winner Roger Staubach would be an NFL-quality quarterback after his Navy commitment was met; that when the upstart USFL predictably went out of business in 1986 that gambling a fifth-round pick in 1985 on Herschel Walker would be worth it. He was the architect of trades landing the Cowboys the first pick in the 1974 draft that netted Ed “Too” Tall Jones; then Randy White with the second pick in the 1975 draft, he the top dog of what became the “Dirty Dozen,” 12 rookies making the Cowboys that season; and not least of which the trade up in the 1977 draft claiming Tony Dorsett with the second pick.

On and on.

Gil will tell you the story of the time he was going to deliver linebacker Lee Roy Jordan’s signing-bonus, a brand-new swanky car, to him in Alabama, driving there from Dallas. And just outside Starkville, Miss., he basically demolishes the car hitting a stray cow that wandered onto the road. Or having to go buy an inline horse trailer for Walt Garrison as part of his signing bonus. Or how they hid the fact that “Too Tall” was eligible for the NFL Draft in 1974 when no one else in the league figured that out. Or of the first few times he took part in the NFL Draft, when basically a bunch of personnel guys gathered in a hotel meeting room, making the picks, then going out into the hallway and dropping quarters into the pay phone so they could tell the player they had drafted him.

The history is amazing, and now it will be preserved with his name in the Ring of Honor and hopefully in the Hall of Fame come next summer. Maybe being inducted into his franchise’s Ring of Honor will give his potential Canton selection some impetus.

“Gil doesn’t need any help relative to the Hall of Fame,” Jones maintained. “The contributions he’s made to the Hall of Fame … that was a wonderful team of people that Gil was a part of – him, Tex, Tom, Clint (Murchison, the Cowboys original owner) – and they were in sync. Those were different times there.

“But make no mistake about it, two of them today are in the Hall of Fame and it will be completed or really moved toward completion when Gil gets in. He deserves it not only because of his innovativeness, his contribution to success. He deserves it because of his tenure.

“Gil gets there, period, without the Ring of Honor. Gil deserves to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”

Jones should get no argument there, and again at Brandt’s age, it’s about time. About time to get in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and about time he received his Cowboys’ due, entering the Ring of Honor, so special to him.

“It means everything to me,” Brandt said. “It’s like watching a child grow up. That first year we were 0-11-1, and quite honestly, hardly anyone was coming to the games. At the time, I didn’t know if we would have a team two years later. What I went from in the beginning to now is just unbelievable.”

He’s right, “unbelievable. ”Definitely the stuff of legend, worthy of safekeeping in the Ring and the Hall.

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