When I heard that former pro football player and broadcaster Don Meredith had died in Santa Fe, New Mexico, at the age of 72, I was a bit taken aback. Thinking of this icon of the NFL and sports broadcasting brought back fond memories of my deceased dad and the times we shared together watching football on Monday nights.
Football and Texas are synonymous, so it was only natural that Meredith, born April 10, 1938, in Mt. Vernon, Texas, would take up the game.
According to the New York Times, Meredith played college ball for Southern Methodist University in Dallas, where he became a star athlete. Named as an All-American in 1958 and 1959, Meredith was originally drafted by the Chicago Bears in 1960. He was then traded to the Cowboys, where he was named to the Pro Bowl three times and was the NFL Player of the Year in 1966. Many of Meredith’s passing records, set with the Cowboys in the 1960s, still stand.
Meredith Finds Success on ‘Monday Night Football’
According to CNN, Meredith, nicknamed “Dandy Don,” was part of the original 1970 lineup of “Monday Night Football.” Right from the get-go, Meredith’s off-color, risqué humor made him a hit with fans and added a spice to ABC’s primetime football gamble.
He once referred to himself during a broadcast as being high and, in referring to Cleveland Browns receiver Fair Hooker during a game, commented, “Fair Hooker, I haven’t met one yet.” Meredith was especially popular with female viewers, an important aspect of making primetime football a hit.
Watching Football with Dad…and Meredith
My dad passed away almost three years ago, and even now I can picture him sitting on the couch watching as Meredith, Howard Cosell and Frank Gifford traded barbs. Oh yeah, and also commented on the football game.
The New York Times reports that Meredith’s nine-year football career paled in comparison to his fun-loving, witty “Monday Night Football” broadcasts. I can see why. Meredith was an electric presence in the broadcast booth. His sparring matches with Cosell were the stuff of sports broadcasting legend. Perhaps it was the soap-opera-like atmosphere in the broadcasting booth that endeared Meredith to female fans.
I can remember my dad watching Meredith and Cosell on “Monday Night Football” and laughing hysterically. Although I didn’t quite get the nuances of the jokes, I liked Meredith. He seemed like he was having the most fun of the three in the booth. And he made my dad laugh, especially when he sang a line from a Willie Nelson song, “turn out the lights, the party’s over,” when the game was all but decided in his mind.
Meredith and Super Bowl XIX
Another fond memory I have of Meredith is his broadcast of Super Bowl XIX. Played on Jan. 20, 1985, the game was spectacular. The Miami Dolphins, led by Dan Marino, and the San Francisco 49ers, led by Joe Montana, played outstanding football. Meredith, in his final broadcast, did not disappoint, delivering perhaps his finest performance and most insightful commentary on the game.
Meredith on TV
I will also remember Meredith for his TV appearances. His commercials for Lipton Tea were a main reason I started drinking tea. I remember begging my mom to make Lipton sun tea because I saw Meredith drinking it on TV.
In later years, Meredith voiced a character on one of my favorite guilty pleasure TV shows, “King of the Hill.” In the hilarious episode, Meredith misses a football throw and loses $100,000 for perpetual loser Hank Hill. I didn’t realize how much I missed laughing at Meredith’s antics until his “King of the Hill” appearance. I will miss Meredith’s wit and humor forever.
Squadron, Michael, “Monday Night Football legend ‘Dandy Don’ Meredith dies,” CNN.
Martin, Douglas and Bill Carter, “Don Meredith, Cowboys Quarterback and Cosell’s Broadcast Foil, Dies at 72,” New York Times.