Reaction to Tom Landry: A Football Life

Tom Landry: A Football Life debuted on Thursday night on NFL Network.

NFL Network debuted a one-hour show tonight entitled Tom Landry: A Football Life, which is part of a series that has also featured the likes of Bill Belichick and Mike Ditka. If you knew little about the details of Landry’s 29-year career with the Cowboys, this is a concise biography about the man in the fedora.

However, I was a little bit disappointed that much of it was rehashed from other features that I had already seen.

Here’s part of the description in the Producer’s Notes on the NFL Films blog:

Landry was always a larger than life figure cloaked in mystery. Even his players had a hard time understanding his sphinx-like persona. Halfback Duane Thomas dubbed him a “plastic man” and John Facenda said that Landry, with his gunfighter stare, looked like a regional director of the FBI. So, as we set out to document Landry for A Football Life, we faced two challenges. First, how do you separate the man from the myth? Beneath that stoic façade, who was the real Tom Landry? And second, how did the myth come to be? How did a flesh and blood person wind up being the mythic figure enshrined in football’s pantheon? How, exactly, does the magic of myth work?

The show provides a fairly balanced view of Landry, with a number of those interviewed noting how seemingly distant and detached he appeared to be to his players. Those interviewed included the likes of Roger Staubach, Mel Renfro, Bob Lilly, Drew Pearson, Charlie Waters, Cliff Harris, and Hollywood Henderson. Also included were Brad Sham and other commentators.

Among the other commentators was Skip Bayless, which was a bad choice. I don’t think it was poor judgment to have a critic on the show, but I would have preferred to have heard a comment from someone like Frank Luska two minutes into the show rather than Bayless.

I was also disappointed that the show did not feature any of the Cowboys of the 1980s, such as Danny White, Everson Walls, Tony Dorsett, or even Herschel Walker. These were the players trying to keep the team in contention while the foundations of the franchise were crumbling around Landry’s feet. The commentator noted that the younger players at the end of Landry’s tenure (more so in 1987 and 1988 probably) didn’t look up to Landry as the legend that he was, but it would have been interesting to hear something new from the players who were around at the very end.

Instead, the final several minutes focused on the circumstances surrounding Landry’s firing, with plenty of commentary from Jerry Jones. I had frankly seen and heard nearly all of this before, including several of the interviews and all of the original press conferences from 1989. The only part that was really new were comments from Landry’s wife and son, but neither added much to what others have said.

Overall, the show was worth watching, but it could have been considerably better.

  • Charlie_ginn

    I whiffed on several of those… dang it. I need to put some work in on my history haha

  • Krl97a

    On balance I thought the documentary was great.  Apart from sharing your disdain for the idiot Bayless, my biggest quibble was that in the section where they’re talking about Landry having losing seasons early they failed to to mention how screwed over the Cowboys were in having to start a year early to compete with the AFL and not even getting to participate in the draft.  That one guy says a coach in a later era would have been fired if it had taken that long to win,  but in a later era an expansion team not only would have been allowed to participate in the regular draft, but would have received extra picks and other various perks, lol. The good on the show far outweighed the bad though.

    The original  “Man in the Hat” version with Sam Elliott narrating is much better to watch.    To convert it into a “Football Life” episode they had some other guy read the same script and downgraded the quality of the opening music.  Apart from that I think the two shows were identical, word for word, clip for clip, music for music (after the opening). 

  • Skip Bayless wrote a Tom Landry biography and was a longtime Dallas sportswriter.

  • Flashmannn

    It was a very entertaining show to watch. But putting Clownboy Jones’ mug in it almost ruined it!!