A Look Back at the 1962 Dallas Cowboys: Tom Landry’s “IBM-Machine Mind”

Tom Landry, Eddie LeBaron

On November 4, 1962, the Dallas Cowboys improved their record to 4-3-1 after a huge 38-10 win over the Washington Redskins. Don Meredith and Eddie LeBaron each threw touchdown passes, though the order in which they threw those touchdown passes was rather odd– Meredith in the second quarter, LeBaron in the third quarter, another by Meredith in the third, and then LeBaron in the fourth.

The quarterbacks alternated not only on the final boxscore in terms of touchdowns, but also on the field. Tom Landry’s practice of shuttling quarterbacks in and out did not begin with Roger Staubach and Craig Morton, but rather much earlier in his career. And Sports Illustrated at the time thought that the plan was a great idea, saying that Landry made a “virtue out of a weakness”:

What Landry discovered was that if he alternated his quarterbacks on every play he was not only using the best offensive brain available—his—but he was also giving his quarterbacks, Eddie LeBaron and Don Meredith, some very subtle and unexpected tactical advantages. This shuttle has worked so well that the NFL’s highest-scoring offense now belongs to the Cowboys.

The talent on the 1962 Cowboys was certainly better than it had been in the previous two seasons, and at the time that Dallas beat Washington in week 8, the Cowboys had the highest-scoring offense in the league. Dallas trailed the Giants and Redskins in the Eastern Conference standings, but only by a game and a half and a half-game, respectively.

Meredith was credited with saying that Landry had the mind of an IBM machine (computer, of course, but one that probably occupied an entire room), but it is easier to imagine that Meredith was saying some of this tongue-in-cheek. Nevertheless, Landry’s reputation as an offensive genius was building even as the team struggled.

All of this would indicate that Landry has reduced football as near to an exact science as possible; when Meredith says that Tom has a mind like an IBM machine, he is almost right. Landry not only is a fine tactician, he is a good judge of football talent and a precise organizer.

The practice of alternating quarterbacks, however, did not have staying power. The 1962 Cowboys lost five of their last six games to finish the season at 5-8-1.

Google’s Life Pictures

Google bought the rights to the photo archive of LIFE magazine and now provides access to those pictures. A search for “Dallas Cowboys” did not turn up much, but among the results were shots taken from the December 16, 1962 matchup between the Cowboys and Giants in a game played at Yankee Stadium.

Bob Fry, Dallas Cowboys

Note: This shot shows tackle Bob Fry blocking #81 Andy Robustelli.

Note: Bob Lilly tries to knock down a pass thrown by Y.A. Tittle.

Note: Robustelli after tackling LeBaron. As you can see from the scoreboard in the background, this play took place in the third quarter of that game, with the Giants leading then 28-24.

The game was a barn-burner. Tittle threw for 341 yards and six touchdowns against a weak Dallas secondary. LeBaron and Meredith combined to throw for three touchdowns, including a 53-yarder from LeBaron to Frank Clarke and a 69-yarder from Meredith to Billy Howton. Both receivers finished with more than 100 yards receiving.

The shuttling system ended for the most part after the 1962 season, when both Meredith and LeBaron threw for more than 1,400 yards. In 1963, Meredith started all but one game, and LeBaron was out of the league by 1964.