Thomas Wade Landry; the name brings visions of a fedora-clad, suit-wearing Texas gentleman whose Christian demeanor belied the the brutal attacking manner of the defensive juggernaut that he devised. It brings back memories of the initial struggles to build an expansion franchise into a credible professional football team that Dallas and the state of Texas could be proud of. Time passed and that struggling upstart turned in to one of the most successful sports franchises in America and eventually it cashed in by winning a pair of Super Bowl titles. That is the Tom Landry that Dallas Cowboys fans prefer to remember.
There is more to the story. Coach Landry was a success in professional football long before the Cowboys were a spark in the mind of Clint Murchison. After a collegiate football career that was interrupted by the second world war, Landry found himself with a couple options to continue playing the game that he loved while also earning a living that would allow him to marry his college sweetheart Alicia Wiggs and also continue to pursue his dream of becoming an engineer. Having been drafted by both the New York Giants and the New York Yankees of the All American Football Conference, Landry set off to The Big Apple to play football.
The AAFC folded one season after the Landrys moved to New York, and Tom soon found himself playing across town for the Giants. He entered the professional ranks as a running back and punter before converting to defensive back, which Landry played for most of his career as a player. It was immediately obvious that with his training as an engineer the young player was able to grasp football concepts and think them through. This led to him being asked to instruct his teammates in the nuances of the team's philosophy.
By the time Landry was winding down his short-lived career as a player he was also serving on the Giants coaching staff. He would soon serve as the team's defensive coordinator next to Vince Lombardi as the offensive coordinator on Jim Lee Howell's staff. Coach Landry soon became known for his innovation. Looking for a way to take advantage of the superior athletic ability of Sam Huff, his nose tackle, he soon invented the position of middle linebacker for Huff and created the 4-3 defense that we know today. This defense was destined to be the dominant force in the NFL during the second half of the 1950's and it earned Tom Landry a highly regarded position among NFL assistant coaches.
Landry and the Giants of that era experienced great success. Soon both Landry and his offensive counterpart Lombardi were being sought to run franchises of their own. Although Vince Lombardi would rise to his pinnacle first, it was Landry who would go on to have the longer run of success with the franchise he helped to build from the ground up.
We are proud to call Tom Landry one of the legends of Dallas Cowboys football, but it is only fitting that with the team opening the 2016 season against the New York Giants that we should take a few moments and remember that Landry was a success in New York as well. He is one of us, but Tom Landry is one of them as well.