Dandy Don’ Meredith is dead at 72
Don Meredith, both an original Dallas Cowboy and an original member of the “Monday Night Football” cast, died Sunday at 72 after suffering a brain hemorrhage.
“He was the best there was,” his wife, Susan, told The Associated Press. “We lost a good one.”
Many fans of the old Monday night telecast would agree. Meredith was the funny, folksy counterpoint to brash New Yorker Howard Cosell on a show that became a pop culture phenomenon.
The two began with play-by-play man Keith Jackson in 1970, then were joined by Frank Gifford from 1971-73. Meredith left for three years but returned from 1977-84, retiring one year after Cosell did.
In the quarter century since, Meredith had maintained a low public profile, rarely granting interviews and living in Santa Fe, N.M.
But he never was forgotten by football fans who grew up with a telecast that was unlike anything that had been seen before on sports television.
As ESPN’s Chris Berman put it in a statement issued by the network Monday: “Don Meredith was a television pioneer who made pro football real, even for non-football fans.”
Steve Hirdt, executive vice president of Elias Sports Bureau, worked with Meredith in the early 1980s and said: “I had enjoyed him as a viewer for years, but it wasn’t until I started working on the show that I learned that he was a whole lot smarter than he liked to portray himself on television.”
Meredith, widely known as “Dandy Don,” was a key figure in the development of two iconic brands of his era, because he was an early star of the Cowboys, even though he never led them to a championship and was booed at times.
Meredith abruptly retired before the 1969 season despite being only 31 and coming off three straight Pro Bowl seasons. (He was the losing quarterback in the 1967 “Ice Bowl” NFL Championship Game against the Packers.) Frank Gifford suggested he speak to ABC Sports’ Roone Arledge about a new prime-time football series set to debut in 1970.
By 1971, Meredith and Gifford were in the booth together, helping remake sports TV history.
“He occasionally would try his hand as an actor,” Gifford said in a statement issued by the Giants, “but it wasn’t long before he realized that for
millions of football fans, he would always be the one who ‘topped’ Howard Cosell with one-liners or a simple, ‘Come on, Howard.’ ”
Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote on his Twitter page, “Don Meredith was one of the most colorful characters in NFL history.”