FRISCO, Texas – His was a life of stories. Good stories. Dadgum funny stories. Some too good to believe.
A good old fashioned, Texan storybook right to the end, Walt Garrison, a Cowboys Cowboy, the final chapter as all ours are written passing away on Tuesday at the age of 79.
This passing became somewhat personal, coming to know Walter Benton Garrison more than a decade or two after his nine-year Cowboys career (1966-74) came to an end. Did numerous Cowboys Legends radio shows with him as my guest. Did a meet and greet appearance with him at his new restaurant in Flower Mound many years back. Another at a charity event when he was one of the honored guests.
In fact, and don't have a timer on this, but spent what felt like three hours at his custom-built luxury log cabin in Argyle, not to be confused with anything Abraham Lincoln grew up in, digesting his life story for one of our Cowboys Legends Show documentaries in 2014.
It's been a few years since last seeing Walt, having spent the final couple of years of his life in a memory care facility. Playing football from high school through his NFL career for 17 years takes a toll on a man's life. Took a toll on Walt's, but not until the very end. Had been sharp as a tack.
Walt would be a guest on our Cowboys Legends radio show back in 2017, up here at Cowboys Club at The Star. Had never been to The Star and was worried he might not be able to find it out here in Frisco, which by the way had been an old, rural country town when he bought his first house many years ago. So, since he lived like maybe two miles from my house, told him I would pick him up.
On the drive here he regaled me in the story of where he built his first house on a patch of land out in the country back then, now with thoroughfares surrounding the street here in Frisco. During the hour radio show, he remembered the old days, the old stories like the time his rookie year Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith took him out to dinner as he did many of the rookie draft choices the night before a road game. Walt said he did what the vets did that night, had him a few drinks, knowing he would be no more than a special teams player rarely getting offensive snaps behind then starting fullback Don Perkins.
Well, the Cowboys were blowing out the Steelers 52-21 that game, and head coach Tom Landry called upon the somewhat hungover Garrison to get in there to run the ball, probably the last thing the rookie wanted to do after that night out with the vets. Tells me thought he was about to pass out, getting the handoff time and time again to kill the clock. Remembers coming back to the huddle huffing and puffing, Meredith taking one look at him and saying, "Well rookie if you would quit getting first downs, we could get the hell off the field."
The stories about yesteryear were vivid. Remembered them like they were yesterday but was having problems like remembering todays. On the way back, we got to the security gate off the road at his ranch. Said he forgot his remote to open the gate but that he could punch in the code. Great.
One problem. Walt's memory failed him on the code. Couldn't get in. And it was a high, metal gate to the fence around his acreage. I offered to climb the fence, hoping the motion detector on the other side would open from recognizing me. Said not big enough. What to do, what to do.
Walt says I'll just climb the fence, and remember he was probably in his early to mid-70s by then, then said he'd just walk at least the quarter-mile to the house. And I'm like, no you aren't, and if you do, I'm going with you to make sure you get there. Walt would have nothing doing. Climbed the fence successfully the stubborn bulldog of a man he was and began the trek to the house that included crossing the railroad tracks running through his property. As if one of my children, told him to "call when you get home." I got a yeah, yeah from him and off he went. I drove home, and not having heard from him like in five minutes, called him myself.
And I get, yeah, what do you want, I'm about ready to walk in the house.
That's my story.
His were of wonderment. Born in nearby Denton, Texas, and grew up in nearby Lewisville, Texas, the house he says still there about a block or two off Main Street in what now is the downtown area. In high school was a Fighting Farmer, a linebacker. Had a parttime job at the Clement Nut Company where they made Commodity Peanut Butter at the time. Said he never got to go to the dances after games on Friday night because from midnight to 8 in the morning he was slinging 120-pound bags of peanuts off the train cars into the facility.
From their thanks to knowing somebody who knew somebody gets a scholarship to Oklahoma State, the Cowboys mind you, and thanks to a change in head coaches and having to play both ways back then, the linebacker was used as a fullback, too, on his way to becoming a fifth-round pick of the Cowboys in 1966 and an two-time All-big 8 fullback, his junior year leading the league in rushing – ahead of even KU's Gale Sayers.
A Cowboy still. Maybe should say again because he had begun a rodeo career, first as a bull rider, then buckin' broncos and on to roping. In fact, he's in more rodeo-related Hall of Fames than football, which spurred him on to becoming a pitchman for U.S. Tobacco's _Skoal_. You know, _just a pinch between your teeth_.
Swears he made more money doing rodeo and working of U.S. Tobacco than playing nine seasons with the Cowboys.
Certainly you have heard Walt talk about being befriend by "Joe Don" as he still referred to Meredith, about part of his signing bonus with the Cowboys was asking for a two-horse inline trailer that still was on his property last time I was there, along with a $300 hitch for his new car that Tex Schramm one day came out to the parking lot, got down on his hands and knees to see what he had spent $300 on.
Oh, and then there is the whittlin' shop he had at the house, how he would take pieces of wood and a collection of knives and whittle down into decorative pieces. Have one to this day at the house on a counter he insisted I take, a wooden base with three miniature cow milking stools he labeled "Stool Samples." Or the Texas Yoyo on my desk here at The Star made with two Copenhagen Wintergreen cans, top and bottom on a pole with a rope I used to be able to pull to spin the top can.
That's Walt. And can still hear him tell me over and over, "Now you come over anytime you want. No need to call. Come on over."
Wish I had come over more often. At least one more time.