Spagnola: Gil’s A Long Way From Forest Grove

Spagnola-Gils-A-Long-Way-From-Forest-Grove-hero

OXNARD, Calif. – Hang around Gil Brandt long enough and amazing takes place.

Take Monday here at Cowboys training camp, Gil’s last stop on his tour of NFL training camps that will be interrupted by, oh, the little trip to Canton, Ohio, for his long-overdue induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday.

First amazing: This is Brandt’s, the Cowboys’ former vice president of scouting and player personnel since the franchise’s inception in 1960, 60th consecutive Cowboys training camp to attend. That’s right, every single one of them. That’s 29 straight working for the Cowboys and still the next 31 in some capacity, even if just for a couple of days, while gainfully employed by the NFL, either dot-com or network, and while doing his Sirius radio show.

Then this: While talking with Gil after the Cowboys’ morning walk-through practice, and after he spent a good 15 minutes doing a group interview about his Hall of Fame weekend and many of those Cowboys memories, linebacker Sean Lee, and why wouldn’t you have expected this, walks up to “Mr. Brandt,” and basically says, “Hey, Mr. Hall of Fame,” to shake hands and congratulate him on the Hall of Fame induction. That’s Sean Lee to a T, right? Wonder how many other Cowboys players even know who Gil is or that he’s going into the Hall of Fame. Not a knock. Heck, the Cowboys only have four players at least 30 years of age (Lee 32, Jamize Olawale 30, L.P. Ladouceur 38 and Jason Witten 37). That’s it.

And most appreciatively this: The incredible memories from an 85-year-old guy about the Dallas Cowboys first training camp in 1960, at Pacific University in Forest Gove, Ore., starting on July 9 of that year. (Uh, Gil remembered the date exactly.)

“Well, I remember this, Forest Grove, Ore.,” Gil begins, “Pacific University, and I was the hero in finding that training camp because every afternoon it rained, and consequently, instead of practicing, two, two-and-a-half hours, we cut it short because of rain and lightning. My duties were to check the waiver wire to see if there was anyone worthwhile to bring in. My duties during practice were to take the film of the practice. I had a little camera , and then sent them in to Portland to get them developed – film in that day. On occasion, I was asked to drive guys to the airport we were cutting, and that wasn’t a pleasant job.”

A little different from today here at the River Ridge Sports Complex. Back then, it was head coach Tom Landry and four assistant coaches. Now it’s Jason Garrett and 24 assistants, including the strength and conditioning staff. Then there is a specific video staff of four; four trainers and two grad assistants; a 21-member player personnel department that includes college and pro scouts; and an eight-member football operations staff with six more in player development.

Back then, Gil remembers maybe – \maybe\ – 20 to 25 people coming out to watch practice. The Cowboys had like 4,000 people here on Saturday for the opening ceremony and first practice. Back then, Gil says probably five writers made the trip from Dallas-Fort Worth to cover camp, along with a couple of local writers from Portland and the area. Now more than 300 media credentials have been approved, and so far on the third day of practice 125 have checked in.

“We probably had more visits by college coaches than fans watching,” Gil says.

Back in those days, high school athletes didn’t have to sign for a college scholarship until the start of school in September. So college coaches would try to impress recruits by bringing them to an NFL workout to show how many NFL contacts they had.

And a little know fact from that first year in franchise history is the Cowboys had a “second training camp site,” splitting the camp up long before the Cowboys did so in 1990, spending camp in Austin, Texas, and a week in La Jolla, Calif., practicing against the Chargers. Or splitting camp between San Antonio and here in Oxnard. Or like now, between here and back at The Star in Frisco, Texas.

In those days, the season didn’t start until late September – Sept. 24 in 1960.

“The second camp we had to find was somewhere close to the Midwest because we were going to play (a preseason game) in Louisville, Ky.,” says Brandt, along with playing preseason games after the first one in Seattle and then in San Antonio and then back in Pendleton, Ore.

“So what happened is, I’m 26 years old, I’m gullible, I find St. John’s Military Academy, which was a prestigious place in Delafield, Wis.,” Brandt says. “When I went there to make arrangements in the spring of the year, there was a dormitory with bats flying around, they were dark, and the Colonel assured me I wouldn’t recognize anything when we got back there because they were going to refurbish everything. No more bats, and so forth.”

So when the Cowboys left Oregon, they played a preseason game in San Antonio, and then took a DC-6 “six-hour” flight to Milwaukee and had to take a two-hour bus ride to Delafield, a whole day trip.

“And when we got there, the dorms were the same, the (dim) light bulbs were the same, the bats were still flying around the dormitory,” Gil says with a laugh. “I got up the next morning, and they had this nice military statue there, and the military statue there had a dummy of me hanging in effigy.”

Gil Brandt, the one-time baby photographer from Milwaukee, sure has come a long way in 60 years. From being hung in effigy to being enshrined in perpetuity in the rotunda of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Rather amazing for sure.

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