Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Turn out the Lights

Before Don Meredith's cowboy boots stepped into them, the broadcast booths in NFL cities were the equivalent of libraries. You were to be courteous, staid, and peer at the game over your eyeglasses.

Then along came former NFL quarterback Meredith, and before long, sometimes what went on inside the booth sounded a lot more fun than what was happening on the field.

Dandy Don is gone. He died Monday, at age 72 from complications brought on by a brain hemorrhage.

Turn out the lights, for the party is truly over now.

Dandy Don is what Howard Cosell called him when Meredith, Cosell and Frank Gifford teamed to form what is STILL the best "Monday Night Football" broadcast team in the franchise's 41-year history.

Meredith was just two years ago a player when he joined the team in 1970, the show's first season. He was the battered and bruised leader of the Dallas Cowboys, the first QB to lead the franchise to a championship game.

But Meredith's fun take on life and his country wit---he went to Southern Methodist University---was known mostly to only his teammates and coaches before donning the TV headsets.

Then we all knew.

Meredith (right) in a photo that perfectly captures his personality in the MNF booth


Meredith would sing ("Turn out the lights, the party's over"); Meredith would relentlessly tease Cosell; Meredith would describe plays in ways never before heard.

The three of them were the perfect team, because they were three totally different people. Cosell was arrogant and used big words. Gifford was Hollywood handsome and smooth.

And Meredith was goofy and care-free.

Cosell left in 1983, Meredith a year later. With apologies to Gifford, he languished when Howard and Dandy Don vamoosed. The MNF booth was never the same.

Meredith hasn't been on our airwaves for about a quarter century, with few exceptions. But in a way, it seems like we just heard him last Monday night. That's how indelible his mark was.

Perhaps Meredith's best line with MNF was in Houston, when the cameras caught a disgruntled Oilers fan giving the finger.

"He's saying they're Number One in the nation!" Dandy Don said.

Rest in peace, Cowboy.

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