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A Look Back At The Original Cowboys Training Camp

The pickings were slim for players, and just as thin for facilities.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The summer of 1960 saw Tom Landry attempting to put together something that resembled a football team by digging through the scrap heaps of the NFL. The first chapter of actual Dallas Cowboys football, ever, had its beginnings with a split training camp. The initial part of camp began at Pacific University in Oregon and concluded with the final two weeks in Delafield, Wisconsin. The Oregon half of training camp was a natural fit. During the era most teams traveled to the west coast to get away from the distractions of home as they prepared for the upcoming season. Tom Landry fell in love with the Oregon coast as a member of the New York Giants, who held their annual camp in the area. He considered the climate to be ideal for conditioning players for the rigors of the upcoming season.  It was also relatively close to the site of the Cowboys first ever preseason game in Seattle.

The remote location of the Forest Grove, Oregon campus provided the strict task master with the opportunity to run the nearly 200 athletes who would make up his first camp roster through their paces without a lot of onlookers. It allowed Landry to run his operation as if it were a boot camp. The rural location, a town with one movie theater and little else, also served to keep both veterans and rookies out of trouble and focused on the task at hand. The most remembered portion of the Oregon phase of the 1960 camp was something that was destined to become a fixture in Cowboys lore. The fabled Landry Mile is one of those things that pops up in discussions among the old-timers every now and then. According to legend, the Cowboys two prized rookies, Ring of Honor members Don Perkins and Don Meredith, both failed the test in stellar fashion.

The six minute standard survived the stubborn assault of the Dallas Cowboys Monday in the Tom Landry Mile.

The race which will become a fixture in the annual training camps of the National Football League club was run and sometimes staggered over a grass course laid out around the Pacific University gridiron. Landry had warned his athletes by mail that he would expect backs and ends to gallop the distance in a flat six minutes with linemen granted an additional thirty seconds for a satisfactory rating. None met the goal.

Don Meredith, the stork-legged first-year quarterback from Southern Methodist, finished with a weak spurt and a strong smile at 7:43….Don Perkins, the highly regarded halfback from the University of New Mexico, a reputed 10 second man in the 100-yard dash, was the only player who was given no time. He collapsed just after starting the fifth lap of the six lap endurance grind but after resting for a few minutes he regained his wind and walked and trotted to the finish.

"If they had been in better condition I believe they could have made it in six minutes," commented Coach Landry.

That introduction to life under Landry should have served as a wake up call that he intended to run his program like a boot camp. If it did not, then life in phase two certainly would. When the team moved eastward to Wisconsin they were lodged in the barracks of St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy.

The conditions in the barracks were even more spartan than what one would assume. Gil Brandt has been assured by the officers running the academy that the facilities would be renovated prior to the team's arrival and that they would be fit for human occupation. Instead the team found conditions that resulted in unnamed members of the squad hanging Brandt in effigy. According to the long time Cowboys executive, they hung the wrong man.

The plan was to spend the last two weeks of camp at this military academy in Wisconsin," Brandt said. "I was a young guy, and I took some colonel, or whatever the hell he was, at his word."

When we got there, the same 40-watt lightbulbs were in the dormitories. There were bats flying around the hallways, no screens on the windows, and mosquitos galore. It was a disaster!" - Gil Brandt

It was extreme even by the standards of a former military man. Quarterback Eddie LeBaron recalled his experiences at St, Johns Northwestern with more than a little disdain.

"I remember it being cold and decrepit. It looked like an old castle ... [and it was] leaking."

In spite of it all, the Dallas Cowboys somehow managed to put together something that resembled a football team and laid the foundation for one of the most storied franchises in the league. Success may have had humble beginnings, but better things were on the horizon. That process eventually transformed itself into the annual pilgrimage to Oxnard, California that now marks the return of real football to Cowboys Universe.

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