Don Meredith: Tough American footballer who became a much-loved commentator
Wednesday 12 January 2011
When he felt a Monday Night Football game was decided, Don Meredith would sing "turn out the lights, the party's over". For Meredith it sometimes seemed the party was never over. He enjoyed two glamorous careers, first as a star quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys and then as an announcer-cum-actor, and quit each when he stopped enjoying them.
As a player, Meredith was the model for the Seth Maxwell character played by Mac Davis in North Dallas 40, based on a novel by another ex-Cowboy, Pete Gent. Meredith didn't necessarily like the comparison. Referring to the Gent character played by Nick Nolte he said, "if I'd known he was that good I'd have thrown to Gent more often."
In his second career Meredith was a pioneer. The first prime-time sports programme needed an appeal beyond its football audience, and the byplay between Meredith's good ol' boy act and the verbal pomposity of New Yorker Howard Cosell provided the entertainment while a third announcer played moderator. On their first show Cosell referenced the Cleveland player Fair Hooker. Meredith said dryly, "I haven't met one yet."
Joseph Donald Meredith was born in 1938 in Mount Vernon, Texas. In high school he starred in football, basketball, and the school play, and was second in his class. He attended Southern Methodist University and played in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, where he spent his whole career. Twice All-American, "Dandy Don" was the home-town hero the brand-new Cowboys needed.
The Cowboys coach Tom Landry was conservative, and for three seasons Meredith understudied and then alternated with the 5ft 5in Eddie LeBaron on some awful teams. Taking over as starter in 1963, he endured punishment as the Cowboys improved. By 1966 the Cowboys lost to Green Bay in the NFL championship game. Meredith was voted the league's most valuable player but Landry thought him undisciplined, and Meredith bristled against Landry's perfectionism, saying, "if he were married to Raquel Welch, he'd expect her to cook." Dallas lost to the Packers again in 1967's famous "Ice Bowl", and in 1968 lost a play-off game in Cleveland. Meredith returned with broken ribs, a punctured lung, and pneumonia, only to find himself booed in a local restaurant. He retired before the next season.
Monday Night Football began in 1970. ABC's Roone Arledge recalled the amazing reaction to an interview with a bloodied Meredith after the Ice Bowl game and targeted him. But he left ABC in 1974 when NBC promised to give him acting work and never call him "Dandy Don". He had a recurring role in Police Story as an LA cop partnered with Tony Lo Bianco, and guested on shows like Angie Dickinson's Police Woman and McCloud. He returned to ABC in 1977, continuing with Cosell and Frank Gifford until Cosell retired in 1983. It stopped being fun, and Meredith quit.
He had continued acting, making a number of forgettable TV movies, the best being Undercover With The KKK (1979) in which he played an FBI agent. In retirement he painted, did adverts and occasionally acted. In 1987 he teamed up again with Lo Bianco and Dickinson in the Police Story TV movie.
Joseph Donald Meredith, American footballer and broadcaster: born Mount Vernon, Texas 10 April 1938; married firstly (one daughter), secondly (one daughter, one son), thirdly Susan Dullea; died Santa Fe 5 December 2010.
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