Tex Schramm

Visionary of American sport
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Texas Earnest Schramm, sports administrator: born San Gabriel, California 2 June 1920; president and general manager, Dallas Cowboys 1960-89; married (two daughters); died Dallas, Texas 15 July 2003.

A nation, legend has it, fell in love with the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders during Superbowl X on 18 January 1976, when a luscious young woman in a skimpy white outfit decorated with white and blue stars winked and smiled into the television camera during a break in play.

The Cowboys were already "America's Team" - even though they lost the marquee game of the gridiron season that year, to the Pittsburgh Steelers by 21 points to 17. From then on, however, their cheerleaders were "America's sweethearts", the most talented, the most gorgeous and most recognisable group of their kind. Both team and troupe were the work of Tex Schramm.

Schramm, a man with almost messianic faith in his ideas, was one of the supreme visionaries of American sport. When he joined the Dallas Cowboys in 1960, the team was an unknown National Football League expansion franchise, which had not played a single game. When he left in 1989, forced out by the club's new owner Jerry Jones, the Cowboys were the most famous and most valuable sports franchise in the United States. Under Schramm and his great coach Tom Landry, the franchise reeled off 20 consecutive winning seasons, 13 division titles, and five Superbowl appearances, in two of which they triumphed.

But his legacy is not limited to a single team. If pro football has to all intents and purposes replaced baseball as America's national sport, much of the credit is due to Schramm. He instinctively grasped the vast potential - financial and otherwise - offered by television as sports broadcasting took off in the 1960s.

Schramm led the campaign for the instant video replay to help referees and boost the involvement of fans. He pushed such innovations as microphones for referees, sideline radios in the helmets of playmaking quarterbacks, extra-wide sideline borders, and wind-direction strips on the goalposts. Schramm helped secure the crucial merger of the NFL and the upstart American Football League in 1970, and devised the expanded league's six-division format, complete with wildcards for the playoffs, which baseball later imitated. His promoting skills turned the traditional NFL game on Thanksgiving Day into a national institution.

And then there are the cheerleaders. These days the Cowboys are no longer the force of old, but the cheerleaders still reign supreme. When Schramm arrived, Cowboys cheerleaders were girls and boys from local high schools. In 1972, the year after the team won their first Superbowl, Schramm decided to change all that. With the aid of the famous choreographer Texie Waterman, he put together a troupe of wholesome and beautiful young women who had physical stamina and who knew how to dance.

The all-professional Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders were a sensation, and strict rules ensured they remained so. The girls perform with the brio and precision of a Broadway chorus line. They are still not allowed to drink, smoke or chew gum while in costume, and all public appearances must be in groups of at least two, accompanied by an official club chaperone. They have toured the world (often for the Pentagon), boast a string of corporate sponsors, and have done more than anyone to make cheerleading central to the culture of perhaps the most macho sport of all.

During his career, Schramm was often likened to a "locomotive", for the vigour with which he pressed his many causes. By the end he was simply a legend - as the NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue put it, "a giant of the NFL. . . a thinker, doer, innovator and winner with few equals".

Rupert Cornwell