Shadowbox Featuring Tom Landry

The Dallas Cowboys’ coach, just like his fedora, was an iconic figure

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By Tom Wancho, Exhibit Planner

The fedora was first made popular as head-wear for men in 1924 by Britain’s Prince Edward. Tom Landry began wearing a felt fedora when he was an assistant coach for the New York Giants during the 1950s. It not only kept his head warm and dry, but also gave him a business-like appearance.

If his football coaching career did not pan out, Landry’s career goals included selling insurance. Always planning ahead, he hoped game-watchers would be attracted by his professional appearance and potential business clients would want to purchase insurance policies from him.

When Landry became the Dallas Cowboys' head coach in 1960, he continued the practice of wearing his Sunday best, always conscious of representing on camera and to the crowd a professional attitude and appearance. The color of the fedoras changed over the years, and included a cooler straw fedora for summer wear, but the style remained Landry's signature look throughout his career and philanthropic work with the Texas Special Olympics. On the cenotaph dedicated to Landry in the Texas State Cemetery, Austin, a fedora is engraved in the center of the granite marker.

Tom Landry and Me

On December 12, 1970 my hometown Cleveland Browns lost to the Dallas Cowboys by the unlikely score of 6-2. The day was rainy and cold, the field a sea of mud. Not only was it the first game I had ever seen in person, it was also the first game I had seen in color (we had only a black and white television at home.)

The Cowboys' head coach that day was Tom Landry, then a coaching legend in the making. Given the day’s weather conditions, his iconic fedora did not stand out much at the time. Lots of men in the crowd had the same headwear.

Fast forward 20 years to 1990. I was the director of public awareness and communication for Texas Special Olympics. Tom Landry was our honorary head coach. He agreed to appear at the annual Summer Games competition, the Texas Special Olympics' biggest event of the year. Accompanied by his wife Alicia, the coach handed out awards, posed for photos, and delivered a speech at the opening ceremonies.

Over the next few years, I got to spend time with coach Landry during public service announcement taping sessions and his once-a-year appearance at our Summer Games. Already acknowledged as a great coach, (in 29 seasons he won 270 games, including two Super Bowl titles), I found Landry to be an even greater man. He seemed oblivious to the fact that, in most fans’ eyes, he was larger than life.

I was fortunate enough to get to know him on a personal level. We discussed his golf game, his coaching career (he remembered the 1970 Browns’ game as if it had happened the day before), and his ongoing work with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He had a great sense of humor and was not averse to inserting a dig at my Browns during our talks.

Most importantly, Coach Landry knew his purpose. He was there for the Special Olympics athletes. Because he did not necessarily see himself as a celebrity, he never let his celebrity status interfere with his service to the community.

See this and other artifacts on the Interactive Texas Map

Shadowbox Featuring Tom Landry Artifact from Dallas
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