STAR: Dependable LB Edwards Was An Unsung Player For Doomsday Defense

Dave Edwards later would start 135 games at strong-side linebacker for the Cowboys, but as a rookie in 1962 he didn’t know if he would have a job the next day. Football ability wasn’t the problem for head coach Tom Landry. The partying Edwards and fellow rookie roommates George Andrie and Mike Gaechter enjoyed at their apartment house was.

Bob Lilly remembers it well.

“They got a little wild at a party one night and the manager complained to Coach Landry about them throwing bottles in the swimming pool,” Lilly said. “Tom was so hot he was ready to kick them all off, but some of us talked to him and he decided to put them on probation and fine them.”      

That put Edwards in the worst place of all. The former Auburn star was on the taxi squad and not the active roster like his pals.

“He was probably making less pay than he was in training camp,” Lilly said. “But once he survived the punishment, he became one of the mainstays on our defense. He wasn’t fast but he was so strong he just chucked those tight ends so they could hardly get off the ball. He never had much publicity, but he was highly respected by opponents. They just couldn’t run against him.”

Memories are glowing brightly now for Edwards, who died in his sleep at his Central Texas home in Laguna Park near Lake Whitney on Dec. 6 at the age 76, just eight days before he would have turned 77 on Dec. 14.  Brother Tim Edwards said Dave was due to have heart surgery on Dec. 8.

“I talked to him the morning before he died and he was in a good mood,” Tim told the Dothan, Ala., *Eagle, *a newspaper near the Edwards family’s hometown of Abbeville. “He wasn’t really that worried about it.

“His heart just gave out on him, I guess.”

As an Auburn senior, Dave Edwards played tight end and defensive end and made All-SEC. He was drafted by Denver in the AFL, but chose to sign with the Cowboys as a free agent after a very quick meeting with personnel director Gil Brandt.    

“I flew into that little Dothan airport on a twin-engine DC-3 for a three-minute stop,” Brandt said. “Dave and his Dad were waiting behind a chain-link fence. I signed him, handed him a $500 bonus and got back on the plane just before it took off.”

In 1967, Edwards said in The Dallas Morning News, “I wanted to make the Dallas club because all I’d heard about was how many pretty girls there were in Dallas. What I heard was right.”

“He was probably the best free agent we ever signed,” Brandt said. “He started 135 games and missed only one game in 12 years. Dave was one of the best unsung players we ever had, a steady player who made plays that never got you beat.

[embeddedad0]“In 1970, if not for Dave’s play at Cleveland (Dec. 22) in a freezing rain, we wouldn’t have gone to the Super Bowl. We led, 6-2, late in the game, but the Browns were trying to score a touchdown to win. They were getting close but Dave ended it on fourth down when he stopped Leroy Kelly coming around left end near our bench.”

The Cowboys’ whooping and hollering echoed throughout big old Cleveland Stadium.

D.D. Lewis, a younger teammate and also a linebacker, marveled at Edwards’ play in the freezing muck that day.

   “One of my favorite pictures of Dave was taken in that game,” Lewis said. “It shows him sliding through the mud, recovering a fumble, his chinstrap in his mouth.”     

   Edwards was a starter, but he also played on all the special teams.

   “When it came to football, he was all in,” Lewis said. “A lot of coaches used Dave’s play on the edge to teach their linebackers how to play it.”

   All in. That applied to his life in general, too.

   “Dave was an adventurer,” Lewis said. “He liked fast cars and fast motorcycles. He got a lot of us into dirt bikes until Ralph Neely broke his ankle riding one. That ended that for our team.”

   He had plenty of other things he enjoyed. Typically, he didn’t do anything halfway. Like music, golf and painting.

“In music, he taught me who was good and who wasn’t,” said Lewis. “But he took his boom box when he played golf. He liked his music loud. The other golfers didn’t, though.”

Dave also was a talented painter whose canvases were displayed in several shows. “I have a couple of them hanging in my home,” Brandt said.

“Painting was his passion,” middle linebacker Lee Roy Jordan said. “When he had paint, a brush and a canvas in front of him, he was an artist. On the field, he was a hard-working, hard-playing football player. I just loved his work ethic. He was so committed to team play. I just knew he’d be good in any defense I called. It was a pleasure to have him on the team.”

Edwards was so committed to the Cowboys’ success that in his later years he did a good job teaching Thomas Henderson to play linebacker. So good that Henderson eventually replaced him in the starting lineup.     

Lewis called Edwards several days before he died and knew his pal was in poor condition.

“He had just been in the hospital for 10 days with pneumonia. He’d had a heart valve replacement, had fluid in his lungs and couldn’t get his breath,” said Lewis. “This wasn’t like anything he’d ever known. Dave always had been in good shape.”

Walt Garrison once was asked which Cowboy he believed should be in the club’s Ring of Honor.

“Dave Edwards,” he said, “for a lot of reasons. Such a good guy, such a funny guy, but he was a terrific strong-side linebacker. He had the strongest hands. Those tight ends never got away from him. Cornell Green knows. Those tight ends never got to the strong safety.

“He was one of a kind – tough athlete, funny guy and generous. He was a great linebacker, but he was a better guy.”

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