Thomas Wade “Tom” Landry was born on September 11, 1924.
For those readers under the age of 50, you may not know this great national football legend. And for those of you that follow professional football, I will bet that you do not know all of the great innovations that he brought to the game.
As most coaches in the NFL, Landry played high school and college football. Tom started playing football for Mission High School in Mission, Texas. He played quarterback and started every game. His was a great runner, passer and also punted for the team.
Enrolling at the University of Texas, he excelled in football. However, his playing time was limited as he interrupted his education by joining the U.S. Air Force following the attack on Pearl Harbor. In the Air Force, he flew B-17s as a co-pilot.
Following the war, he returned to the University of Texas in 1946. On the football team, he played fullback and defensive back. It was not unusual for a player to play both offense and defense in the early days of college football.
Landry’s professional football career started with the New York Yankees. Today, there is no Yankees football team as the team folded in 1949 as the NFL did not accept the Yankees team.
The New York Giants accepted Landry to its team. With the Giants, Landry was able to move to a coaching position as a player and coach. Landry played defensive back and intercepted 32 passes in only 80 games.
For the 1954 football season, Landry became the defensive coach for the Giants. Vince Lombardi was the offensive coach.
The two coaches built a fanatical loyalty within the units they coached.
In 1960, Landry became the first coach of the Dallas Cowboys and stayed for 29 seasons from 1960 through 1988. Landry suffered a number of losses, but in 1966, the Cowboys surprised the NFL by posting wins and making it to the NFL championship game. Dallas lost the game to Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers.
Landry was a great defensive coach and invented the now often used 4-3 defense. This defense used four down linemen and three linebackers. Landry also invented and popularized the use of keys, which meant analyzing offensive tendencies to determine what the offense might do on each play.
Adversity for Landry began in 1988 when the Cowboys finished the season with a record of three wins and thirteen losses. Shortly after the team was sold to Jerry Jones. Jones then hired Jimmy Johnson as head coach.
Landry’s success during nearly three decades of coaching more than qualified him for his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990. Landry was also inducted into the “Ring of Honor” at Texas Stadium in 1993.
Landry died on February 18, 2000, after battling leukemia. As a devoted member of the Highland Park United Methodist Church for 43 years, he is buried in Dallas.