Skip to main content

STAR: Unlike Today, Cowboys Were Able To Gamble In 1969 Draft

(For subscription information to Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine, please click here.)

Had enough of NFL Draft talk yet? Of course not. Here in 2015, the annual ritual to select the next generation of professional football players has become a sporting event in and of itself. A buffet of facts, figures and 40 times that continually feed our insatiable appetite.

Of course, the rise of this phenomenon has been well documented, with tales from drafts long ago. Of teams showing up with little information and the proverbial dartboard, gathering behind closed doors in some New York hotel. No ESPN, no Internet, no greenroom cameras in the face of excited, and most likely exhausted, young men. Heck, many players back then didn't find out they'd been drafted until days later.

But not only has the pomp and circumstance of the draft changed throughout the years, so too has the philosophy of those teams drafting. Unrestricted free agency in 1992, followed by the first salary cap in 1994, took care of all that. Whether in last place or first, the Cowboys and their cohorts around the league are now always in some perpetual state of rebuilding. Get younger, get faster, get cheaper.

Makes sense in this day and age, but consider the Cowboys' philosophy when they came together to discuss the draft in 1969.

"You have to take people who have potential future greatness," Cowboys president Tex Schramm was quoted at the time. "If you're going to get great football players, you have to gamble more than under normal conditions. But if they miss, they miss all the way.

"We're among the ones trying to win the Super Bowl, so we're looking for Super Bowl athletes. Under those circumstances, you take greater gambles."

Heading into that 1969 two-day draft, which was held on Jan. 28-29 at the Belmont Plaza Hotel in New York, the Cowboys were coming off a 12-win season, tied for the second-best record in the NFL. Winning its division, the team then lost to Cleveland in the conference championship game, before settling for a 17-13 victory over Minnesota in the consolation Playoff Bowl Game on Jan. 5, otherwise known as the "Peanuts Bowl" by some and even more eloquently, the "Toilet Bowl" by others.

Sound somewhat familiar? As you are well aware, the 2014 version of your Cowboys also won 12 games and captured a division title. The playoffs ended in disappointment, but left everyone from the coaches, fans and the media expecting even greater things this coming season.

Think the Cowboys are ready to "take greater gambles" in the 2015 draft? Not hardly.

But that was indeed the blueprint for the team in 1969. They already had future Hall of Famers Bob Lilly, Mel Renfro and Bob Hayes on the roster, as well as current Cowboys Ring of Honor members Don Meredith, Don Perkins, Chuck Howley and Lee Roy Jordan. Eight players made the Pro Bowl the year before, five were tabbed All-Pros.

And while Meredith and Perkins would unexpectedly retire before the start of the season, at the time of the draft, the Cowboys went in knowing they could afford to gamble. The team was going to be good regardless.

"What you look for here are players who have a chance to become superstars," said head coach Tom Landry. "There are no cinches after the first seven or eight [picks]."

As that 1969 draft approached, there had been some thought among those that did such speculation back then that the Cowboys were favoring USC tight end Bob Klein. But on the day before the draft, the team sent young wide receiver David McDaniels to Philadelphia in exchange for Mike Ditka, another future Hall of Famer.

As it turns out, Klein would be grabbed by the Los Angeles Rams anyway with the 21st pick, just three slots before Dallas went on the clock at 24 in the first round of the 26-team draft. Regardless, just as with so many other positions, tight end was now in good hands on Landry's crew.

In reality, though, the Cowboys were actually keyed in on another player, a selection that most considered a roll of the dice from the get-go. With Schramm, Landry, player personal director Gil Brandt and scouts Dick Mansperger, Bucko Kilroy and Red Hickey gathered around a table in the team's Dallas office, their selection was relayed to business manager Tom Hardin on hand in New York:

Calvin Hill, running back, Yale.

"Of course, he isn't the proven material a guy from the Big Ten would be," admitted Landry after the team passed over more-heralded running backs, "but that's only because he wasn't in any of the all-star games. If he had been in those, he wouldn't have been available to us."

What Hill lacked in gridiron résumé – he wasn't even named an All-American – he made up for in what has today become common fan fodder, his measurables. At 6-3, 240, Hill ran a 4.6 time in the 40-yard dash, and cleared 25 feet in the running broad jump while competing for Yale's track team. By comparison, former Cowboy DeMarco Murray, the league's rushing champion in 2014, entered the 2011 draft at 6-0, 213, having posted a 4.4 time in the 40 with a standing broad jump of just more than 10 feet.

This unusual selection came courtesy of the innovative computer technology the Cowboys were using, as well as the vast network of relationships the team had built throughout the collegiate ranks. It was reported that Dallas had an annual budget of $200,000 for their scouting department at the time, an unfathomable sum for most teams.

Optimum Systems, Inc., a California-based computer company that was owned in part by the Cowboys, Rams and San Francisco 49ers, with Dallas the majority shareholder, provided the technical aspect of it after each team sent in its own set of data. Their IBM computers compiled for the Cowboys a top draft list of O.J. Simpson, Leroy Keys, Ron Sellers, Larry Smith and Calvin Hill. After considering their private scouting reports, the Cowboys then made their personal adjustments to the list with Hill dropping down to eighth.

So a player that few considered a first-round pick was rated among the best in the draft by the Cowboys, a steal to say the least.

The same held true with the team's second selection. Richmond Flowers had enjoyed a standout career while at the University of Tennessee, but was perhaps more widely regarded as a track man, in which he was a three-time All-American. He set an NCAA record in the high hurdles in 1967 and was expected to be a part of the USA team at the 1968 Olympics before a hamstring injury ended his hopes.

With the 49th pick, the Cowboys nabbed Flowers. He was listed 12th on their draft list.

"When you are picking the 49th athlete and a guy with Flower's speed is sitting there, you take him," stated Landry. "I don't care if you already have 100 wide receivers."

Continuing to stay true to their rankings, the Cowboys' grabbed a pair of defensemen in the third round. Michigan linebacker Tom Stincic was taken 68th overall and thanks to an earlier trade with the 49ers, Weber State defensive end Halvor Hagen was picked 74th. The Cowboys had both ranked among their top 30 players.

But again, all were considered gambles.

"We had as good a draft as we could expect to have picking as late as we were," said Schramm afterward. "We had a better draft than we could expect, really. Now we find out how good our scouting system is."

In truth, only Hill made any kind of real impact on the team as he earned Offensive Rookie of the Year honors in 1969, and eventually went on to become the first rusher in Cowboys history to top 1,000 yards, doing so in both 1972 and 1973. During his six-year stint in Dallas, he earned trips to the Pro Bowl four times.

Moved to the defensive side of the ball as a safety, Flowers, only saw action in six games in his first season, serving as a kick returner, before appearing in all 14 games in 1970. But with Cliff Harris and Charlie Waters now in the fold, Flowers was waived midway through the 1971 campaign. Picked up by the Giants, he spent two more seasons in New York.

While Stincic was a serviceable backup to Jordan on the 1971 Super Bowl team, he asked for a trade following that season and was shipped off to New Orleans in exchange for a third-round choice in the 1973 draft. That pick was then used by the Cowboys to select defensive end Harvey Martin, who went on to earn Co-MVP honors in Super Bowl XII and is still second on the team's all-time list for career sacks. Thank you very much.

Hagen spent seven years in the NFL, but only two with Dallas before being included in the infamous Duane Thomas trade to New England that was later rescinded. Thomas was sent back to the Cowboys, but Hagen stayed with the Patriots, playing two years there before adding three more seasons in Buffalo. A geography major in college, who was learning to get his pilot's license at the time of the draft, he once joked, "If I crash land, at least I'll know the terrain."

As for the other 14 rounds in the then-17-round draft? The Cowboys couldn't have gambled more if they'd set up shop at a Las Vegas roulette wheel.

After no selection in the fourth round, they tabbed linebacker Chuck Kyle, a former state high school diving champion, in the fifth. He never played a down in the NFL.

Rick Shaw, the sixth-round choice, had passed up his senior season at Arizona State to play for Calgary in the Canadian Football League. He had one more year left on his contract with the Stampeders at the time of the draft and couldn't report to Dallas until 1970. Shaw wound up spending his entire professional career in the CFL.

The seventh round saw Larry Bales grabbed out of tiny Emory & Henry College. A receiver who still holds the school's record for receiving yards in a season (1,202) and is a member of its Hall of Fame, he was switched to cornerback by the Cowboys. Never quite able to grasp the nuances of defense, and with Dallas already loaded at the position, he was let go, never to play in the league.

And with that, Day 1 of the 1969 draft came to an end. What would Day 2 bring? Entertainment value, if nothing else. Only two players over the final 10 rounds would ever see time on the Cowboys roster.

Running Back Claxton Welch, a ninth-round pick, spent parts of three seasons with the team as a backup and special teamer, his lone highlight coming in the 1970 NFC Championship Game when he contributed 27 yards to a 229-yard rushing day in a 17-10 victory against San Francisco.

Then there was Bob Belden, a 12th-round pick, who was a quarterback for Notre Dame … a third-string quarterback. He made the roster only after the departure of Meredith, but with Craig Morton and rookie quarterback Roger Staubach, a 1964 draft-day surprise, ahead of him, Belden never came close to taking the field, despite spending two years with the club.

Remarkably enough, a third-string quarterback wasn't the strangest of the Cowboys' late-round picks. Stuart "Mad Dog" Gottlieb, a guard also from Weber State (how many teams can lay claim to selecting two players from Weber State in the same draft?) was grabbed in the 10th round. He grew up four blocks from the Sunset Strip in Hollywood and was known for regularly wrestling a bear as part of some publicity stunt.

In the 13th round, Rene Matison's name was called out. He, too, was a track star and only had six games of collegiate football experience, playing for New Mexico. That was later followed in the 15th and 16th rounds when the Cowboys chose basketball players in consecutive turns.

Not only was Bill Justus selected by Dallas, he was also drafted by Philadelphia (NBA) and Denver (ABA) in 1969. Although he first went to Tennessee on a football scholarship, he switched to basketball after his freshman year and was the captain of the Volunteers' hoops squad.

"I just don't know what I'll do about pro football," he told reporters. "I haven't talked with Dallas. All I want to do now is think basketball."

At least he had a leg up on Floyd Kerr, who hadn't played football since high school. An All-America at Colorado State, he was also drafted by Phoenix (NBA) and Utah (ABA) that same year. Not surprisingly, both decided to stick with their chosen sport.

Although strange choices, the team actually had a history of drafting basketball players as Cornell Green, Pete Gent and Rod Widby, who were on the Cowboys' 1968 roster, all primarily played basketball in college. But heading into the 1969 draft, Landry felt they'd go in a different direction this time around.

"I think we're past that stage now," he said. "I think we are going out of the basketball business."

When reporters immediately asked Brandt if Landry had approved of the choices of Justus and Kerr, Brandt admitted that Landry had just left, but was fine with the pick.

"He Okayed it," said Brandt. "We are getting a little desperate."

Apparently. The marathon finally came to a merciful end with the Cowboys' selection of defensive tackle Bill Bailey, who is a member of the Lewis & Clark College Hall of Fame, at pick No. 439. Needless to say, his career in football soon came to an end.

Really the only good to come out of that second day was 11th-round pick Clarence "Sweeny" Williams out of Prairie View A&M. On the team's practice squad in 1969, he was traded on Sept. 1, 1970, along with Malcolm Walker, to the Green Bay Packers in exchange for eventual Hall of Fame cornerback Herb Adderly.

Adderly would perhaps serve as the final piece of the defensive puzzle for the Cowboys' run to a championship, while Williams went on to play eight seasons in Green Bay, leading the team in sacks twice and serving as the Packers' player representative.

As Schramm said, it was a gamble. Sure, they had their hits in other years, finding Pat Toomay in the sixth, Rayfield Wright in the seventh and Larry Cole in the 16th, to name a few, but those were rare. And when they missed, they missed all the way. The Cowboys, though, felt they had the computer advantages and scouting resources to at least tilt the odds in their favor a little.

Today, not so much. Everyone has the same tools, the same access, the same information. Even in 1969, Schramm admitted the draft was changing.

"Every year the order of selection gets a lot more formful," said Schramm. "Technology of rating players is getting better. Everybody is getting smarter."

Indeed. The draft has now become a science, each team looking for the slightest edge, the next player to help in the continuing challenge to rebuild. The days of gambling, and perhaps a little bit of the entertainment, are long since gone.

Kurt Daniels is the editor of Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @DCStarEditor.


This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content