30 Years Ago: Tom Landry Names Gary Hogeboom as the Starter

Ah, the legend of Gary Hogeboom, whom Tom Landry named as the team’s starting QB 30 years ago this week.

During various times in the 1960s and early 1970s, Tom Landry was rather notorious for swapping starting quarterbacks. Whether it was Eddie LeBaron vs. Don Meredith, Don Meredith vs. Craig Morton, or Craig Morton vs. Roger Staubach, Landry did not seem to shy from quarterback controversies.

Of course, once Staubach led the team to the promised land in 1971, those controversies ended. And when Staubach retired after the 1979 season, Danny White took over without any real competition.

By 1984, the Cowboys had lost in the playoffs during four consecutive seasons. The focus of the news during training camp in 1984 was on the QB position, where Gary Hogeboom was trying to unseat White as the starter.

Landry made a decision 30 years ago to move Hogeboom into the starting position. Landry hardly gave Hogeboom a full vote of confidence.

Landry said the Cowboys’ quarterback position, like all others on the team, would be evaluated on a game- by-game basis as part of what he called a ”reshaping” process. That process begins at Anaheim, Calif., Monday night, when the Cowboys open against the Los Angeles Rams.

”This is not like quarterback decisions I’ve made in the past,” said Landry, who was visibly nervous during the Dallas news conference at which he announced the change. ”If we were going to rebuild this team, we would not be thinking about making the playoffs. But we are going to be reshaping this team. We still have the players to make it to the playoffs. We can be in contention this year. But it is going to take a lot of hard work.”

Landry would give no specific reasons for switching from the 32-year- old White, a starter in the last four seasons, to the 26-year-old Hogeboom, who has never started a regular-season game in the N.F.L. but who said earlier this summer that he would seek a trade if he were not given the starter’s role.

”For my own reasons,” the coach said, ”I have a feeling that Gary is right for this game. My feeling is the same about Danny White. He is an excellent quarterback and will continue to be an excellent quarterback. I have coached this game. I have played this game. I have to go on my feelings.”

Of course, White was angry, while Hogeboom had to look over his shoulder. Both players saw action throughout the first half of the season, during which the Cowboys went 5-3. White eventually returned to the starting role. The team was 9-5 heading into the final two weeks of the season, and the Cowboys could have made the playoffs with wins in either week. But Dallas lost both games and missed the playoffs for the first time since 1974.

* * *

Something that really caught my attention in the N.Y. Times article was this blurb about Franco Harris:

The Dallas Morning News reported that Bart Beier, the agent for Franco Harris, had called the Cowboys and told them that the accomplished running back was available to play for them at an annual salary of as little as $330,000. That is about $50,000 less than what Harris would have earned this season with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who waived him last week because of a contract impasse. According to the Dallas newspaper account, Gil Brandt, the Cowboys’ vice president for personnel development, rejected the offer out of hand, without even discussing it with Landry.

Hmmm…

The Most Infamous Nickname You’ve Never Heard

The year was 1961. The Dallas Cowboys were preparing for their second year in the league after going 0-11-1 in 1960.

The Cowboys had their training camp at St. Olaf College in Minnesota. The team was looking for some talent.

Found it did they (Yoda speak) in a little receiver from Oregon. ¬†Standing at just 5’4″ and weighing only 147 pounds, this player looked¬†“like a loose helmet on the ground until he starts moving,” according to Dallas Morning News writer Charles Burton.

Moreover, Tom Landry called him a key to the Cowboys’ chances that year. More on that below.

The player caught everyone’s attention in camp with a 71-yard touchdown reception from Don Meredith during a scrimmage.

The player? Cleveland “Pussyfoot” Jones.

Cleveland "Pussyfoot" Jones. A career that just wasn't meant to be.

Cleveland “Pussyfoot” Jones. A career that just wasn’t meant to be.

The DMN later noted that Pussyfoot’s legend grew “rather large” during training camp. But alas, the team cut him on August 28, 1961. He played in two preseason games but never touched the ball.

Apparently, news of Pussyfoot’s release travelled quite slowly. On September 6, 1961, more than a week after the Cowboys cut Pussyfoot, the Miami News published a piece entitled “‘Pussyfoot’ Key to Dallas Hopes.” The author of the piece was, of course, head coach Tom Landry.

An excerpt:

Two of our biggest weaknesses last season were an inexperienced defensive secondary and lack of speed on offense.

We traded for veteran Dick Moegle during the off-season. Dicky has been a big help to us through training camp, although he was out of action for neary a month with an injured leg.

He has given our young defensive halfbacks and safeties some valuable pointers and has helped get them in a keen competitive frame of mind.

Offensively, we’ve found some pleasant surprises. Two of them are free agents we signed from Oregon State. [MC: Marsh played at Oregon State, but Jones played at the University of Oregon]

One is Amos Marsh, who was an end and sprint champion in college. We put him at fullback the first day of camp and nobody’s been able to get him out of that position yet.

The other is Cleveland (Pussyfoot) Jones, who towers 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighs 147 pounds. He’s a quick, clever pass receiver as a wingback and he’s willing to take on any big man his blocking assignment calls for. He’s a real key to our chances.

Perhaps needless to say, Pussyfoot never played in the NFL.

The other players did have decent careers. Marsh played in Dallas from 1961 to 1964, plus another three years in Detroit. Moegle started 14 games in Dallas in 1961, but that was his final season in the NFL.

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