State Your Case: Clint Murchison

The Godfather of the modern NFL stadiums

“Contributor” is an elusive category for induction in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

As a member of the Hall’s selection committee, my first question in this category is always, “What did this candidate contribute?”

Bobby Beathard, Bill Polian and Ron Wolf were all NFL general managers elected as contributors. Their drafts transformed franchises into champions. The Sabols, Ed and Steve, also were inducted. Their work at NFL Films allowed a nation to fall in love with both the teams and players of professional football.

There are also a handful of owners enshrined. When I viewed their candidacies, I wanted to know what they did outside of their own buildings to make the league better? You can’t just induct every rich guy who could afford an NFL team and won a championship. I needed something more.

George Preston Marshall owned the Washington Redskins. He was the proponent in the 1930s of a balanced schedule, divisional alignments and an end-of-season championship game. Wellington Mara owned the New York Giants. He agreed to revenue sharing by the NFL back in the 1960s, which allowed small-city teams like the Packers to compete with the big-city teams like the Giants. Lamar Hunt owned the Kansas City Chiefs. He founded the AFL. Al Davis was the managing general partner of the Oakland Raiders. He was an AFL Coach of the Year and the AFL commissioner who ramrodded the merger between the two leagues. Hall of Famers, one and all.

So when I study owners, I want to see some sort of a contribution to the game outside of their own building.

Which is why the candidacy of Clint Murchison has always intrigued me. He was the original owner of the Dallas Cowboys in 1960 and his contribution to the NFL came in 1971. He took the league out of stadiums built for baseball into fan- and player-friendly stadiums built strictly for football.

Murchison did this when he built Texas Stadium, the first modern-era football palace. And he did it with his own money. He wasn’t a rich guy who asked the public to pay his bills. Not a dime of taxpayer money was spent on this project.

Back in 1970, 16 of the 26 NFL teams were playing in baseball stadiums with their dirt infields and terrible sight lines. The Giants were playing in Yankee Stadium, the Bears in Wrigley Field, the Lions in Tiger Stadium, the Colts in Memorial Stadium, the Browns in Municipal Stadium, the Steelers at Three Rivers Stadium, the Jets at Shea and the Vikings at the Met. Of the 10 that did not, six of the cities didn’t even have a Major League Baseball team. Dallas was playing in the Cotton Bowl, Miami the Orange Bowl, New Orleans the Sugar Bowl and Green Bay in Lambeau Field.

Murchison moved the Cowboys from a functional, 75,000-seat Cotton Bowl into his 65,000-seat Texas Stadium, which turned attendance at football games into an event. He was hands on with the stadium’s blueprints. There was a roof that could protect spectators from the oppressive early-season Texas heat — and a hole in the roof so, “God can watch his favorite team play,” quipped Cowboys linebacker D.D. Lewis. There was ample and privileged parking, personal seat licenses to guarantee years of select seating and also sky boxes – hundreds of them – stocked with food and drink. Every seat was a good one.

Texas Stadium became the template for NFL stadiums of the 1970s and 1980s as more and more football teams left their baseball homes behind. The Chiefs moved into Arrowhead, the Bears into Soldier’s Field, the Giants into the Meadowlands, the Lions into the Silverdome, the Bills into Rich Stadium and Patriots into Foxboro, all in the 1970s.

Murchison was also the first owner to build a separate practice facility for his football team. In the 1960s, 1970s and into the 1980s, NFL teams were housed and practiced at their stadiums. But in 1985, Murchison moved the Cowboys into their Valley Ranch facility, which became home to the team, coaches, executives, cheerleaders and the franchise’s business operations. Such practice facilities are now standard fare in the NFL.

Murchison earned degrees in both engineering and mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). His schooling taught him the value of computers and Murchison was a driving force in the Cowboys becoming the first NFL franchise to incorporate that technology into scouting and talent evaluation.

And by the way, the Cowboys became one of the NFL’s most successful franchises during Murchison’s ownership. He sold the team in 1984 because of ill health. The Cowboys went to the playoffs a record 20 consecutive seasons during the Murchison era with 17 playoff berths. His Cowboys appeared in 12 NFC title games and five Super Bowls, winning two Lombardi Trophies.

His calling card was his patience – Murchison hired good people and let them do their jobs. He hired Tex Schramm as president, Gil Brandt as personnel director and Tom Landry as coach in 1960. In 1984, when Murchison finally left the building, all three were still in those same capacities. All three are now in the Hal of Fame.

Their boss belongs in Canton with them for his contributions inside and outside of his own building.

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