Spagnola: Making a ROH Case for Gil Brandt 


FRISCO, Texas – Let's rattle off a few numbers to kick this off.

From 1966 through 1985, the Dallas Cowboys set a record with 20 consecutive winning seasons. Can you even imagine that these days, and for all of New England's success this century, they still need three more consecutive winning seasons to match the Cowboys' 20 straight? Plus, during that streak the two worst Cowboys seasons were an 8-6 in 1974 and a 9-7 in 1984.

In 16 of those 20 seasons, the Cowboys posted double-digit win totals, and remember two things about that: The NFL was playing just 14-game seasons from 1961 through 1977, and there were only nine regular-season games in the strike-shortened 1982 season.

Pretty impressive, right? Wait, there is more.

During those 20 consecutive winning seasons, the Cowboys qualified for the playoffs 18 times, missing out only in 1974 and 1984. Must have been a 10-year itch or something because they also missed in 1964, their last losing season before the streak began after the 7-7 of 1965.

During those 20 consecutive winning seasons, the Cowboys won Eastern Conference, Capitol Division or NFC East division titles 14 times, and the six times they didn't, they finished no lower than second just once, that being a third-place finish in 1974.

During those 20 consecutive winning seasons, the Cowboys played in five Super Bowls, winning two, and two more NFL Championship Games, losing both to Green Bay.

They also played in an incredible 10 NFC title games and three straight Eastern Conference Championship games, and at one point a combination of the Eastern and NFC title games eight consecutive seasons.

Ah, for those old days.

But you don't have such unprecedented success in the NFL without good players, wait, no, without your share of great players.

Well, seven of those players from that 20-season era are housed in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And get this: Over those 20 seasons the Cowboys had 127 Pro Bowl selections.

What's my points?

Well, here is a clue: Of the 22 members of the Cowboys' mighty exclusive Ring of Honor, 13 were acquired between 1960 and 1989, and two of the seven who weren't were responsible for doing this:

Hiring Gil Brandt, the Cowboys' third wheel of their glory-day triumvirate of Tex Schramm, Tom Landry, along with Brandt, the vice president of player personnel. He was the main man responsible for bringing in all of these plays who eventually turned this team that couldn't get out of its own way from 1960-64 into one of the most successful and most recognizable franchises in the National Football League.

My gosh, the man belongs in the Ring of Honor.

Heck, he belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Should not even be a debate. I mean, did you let those aforementioned numbers sink in? Can you even comprehend such unbridled success over two decades worth of time?

And if you want to argue, well, Gil was the guy who crisscrossed this country all those years finding these heralded players, and in some instances unearthing them. Guys such as Cornell Green and Bob Hayes and Cliff Harris and Rayfield Wright and Drew Pearson and Harvey Martin and Thomas Henderson and Herb Scott and Ed "Too Tall" Jones and Everson Walls and Pettis Norman and Dan Reeves and Mark Tuieni and Bill Bates and Nate Newton and Herschel Walker.

Want me to go on? We can.

Or we can just let those numbers do the talking.

Or how about just listening to Troy Aikman, taken with the first pick in the 1989 draft, the last draft Brandt was involved in with the Cowboys, new owner Jerry Jones and new head coach Jimmy Johnson sweeping the Schramm-Landry-Brandt management team having run the Cowboys for 29 years out the door.

"There're a couple people right now I can't imagine not being in the Ring of Honor, and one is Gil Brandt," Aikman said a few weeks before the Ring of Honor Walk's unveiling out here at The Star. "And I've said this many times: When you think of the Cowboys, for the most part, at least for the '70s, you think of Tom Landry, Tex Schramm and you think of Gil Brandt.

"Those were the architects of this franchise, and then of course, Roger Staubach and what he did. I can't imagine Tex Schramm and Tom Landry being in the Ring of Honor and no Gil Brandt, and he's around. The fact he can be honored and recognized, and he's still here to see it, I think would be terrific and he's very deserving."

In fact, when Aikman was asked during the Ring of Honor celebration at The Star, he even added this about Brandt, saying, "He's still such an ambassador to this organization."

Now, the other guy Aikman is pushing, to no one's surprise, is Jimmy Johnson, his head coach for his first five years with the Cowboys and ultimately responsible for selecting him with the first pick in the 1989 draft.

But what struck me most about what Aikman had to say about Brandt was "and he's still here to see it."

Exactly. Gil turned 85 in March. He's up in years. Still going by the way, writing for and still involved in a weekly Sirius radio show. We can point out all the innovations Gil brought to scouting and the draft league wide because back in the day, as he recanted to me about how that first Cowboys draft in 1961 took place, it was basically in a Philadelphia hotel meeting room with scouts from the 14 NFL teams walking in with their Street & Smith college football preview magazines as research. And how they would have to go out into the hallway after making their pick to call the player they drafted on a pay phone, making sure they had enough quarters to make the long-distance call.

Or we can point out the Cowboys being the first to use computers to compile information on these players, Gil far ahead of his time and unafraid to scout these small-school guys such as Wright from Fort Valley State or Jones from Tennessee State or Harris from Ouachita Baptist or Walls from Grambling State. He would leave no stone unturned.

But to me, it's those numbers, and the fact that he is so deserving at age 85. It's time, and especially reminds me of Hayes having passed away before being inducted into the Hall of Fame. Or Schramm, at age 83, dying three months before his Oct. 12, 2003, induction ceremony into the Ring of Honor.

Even Cowboys owner Jerry Jones leaves no doubt of Brandt's contributions not only to the Cowboys but to the NFL, having said this at the end of April in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram during the NFL Draft week at AT&T Stadium:

"The old adage that familiarity breeds contempt, it's been just the opposite with Gil Brandt. The more over the years that you look back and see what he did and his initial years with the franchise, and then you see how he sustained it and, frankly, evolved later, and the way that his career has matriculated and the fact that he's a respected and very competent personnel guru, it's Hall of Fame stuff.

"And while he hasn't spent these last 29 years with the team, which lends itself to that, the years he did spend with the team and what he's done for the game and with the game since that time, he has a very uniquely notable career."

Worthy of Ring of Honor induction.

Wouldn't you say?