SMITH COLUMN: The interesting stories of the great Verne Lundquist

Published 10:30 am Saturday, February 4, 2023

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DALLAS – When you arrive at Dallas–Ft. Worth Airport, you always notice the sprightly atmosphere that prevails. There may be a recession, elsewhere in the country but not in this sprawling metroplex.

Like all big cities, Dallas has problems. Homelessness, traffic and other issues, but when it comes to commerce and industry, Dallas seems to move along favorably and with consistent alacrity. 

One of the city’s greatest assets is its all-encompassing sports scene with all major sports leagues represented from the Cowboys (NFL) to the Mavericks (NBA) to the Rangers (MLB) to the Stars (NHL). There is a soccer team (Toros) and the Byron Nelson Classic has been a fixture on the PGA golf tour since 1968. Before that, it was the Dallas Open.

No team has held sway like the Cowboys who were an expansion team in 1960. Their first coach was Tom Landry who would bring the city consequential success.

Not many likely remember that the name of the team in the beginning was the “Steers.” They were the Rangers next before they became the Cowboys.

While the Cowboys are rolling in money, the richest franchise in all of sports, they haven’t won a Super Bowl since 1995. In the most unusual twist in all of sports, the owner, Jerry Jones, is also the team’s general manager, making him forever the talk of the town.

Said one NFL former head coach last year: “Jerry has a radio show on Monday, Steve (Jones’s oldest son) has a show on Tuesday and the head coach has a show on Wednesday to address what Jerry and Steve said on Monday and Tuesday.”

Chan Gailey, retired from the league and living in his grandparents’ home in Clarkesville, was head coach of the Cowboys in 1998-89 and made the playoffs both seasons. It was tough, he said, coaching for Jones in that the owner/GM had a relationship with many of the players. “That certainly was not good for a head coach.  While I recognized that Jerry was the owner and could do whatever he wanted, it made it difficult for the coaching staff.”

I thought of the history of the Cowboys and friendships within the organization over the years on a recent trip here when Verne Lundquist, the CBS announcer who made countless friends across the Southeastern Conference for 16 years as the voice of SEC football.

Lundquist, who makes his home in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, with a second home in Austin, Tex., returned to Dallas last week to speak to the employees of NAI Robert Lynn, a successful real estate agency. Mark Miller, a former Texas football letterman, invited Lundquist to share some of his Cowboy moments with the group at the company’s annual luncheon.

As you might expect, if you know Lundquist, his presentation was a big hit with the group. He regaled him with his colorful stories for over 50 minutes, which were followed by a Q and A session that could have continued past suppertime if Verne had been up for it.

He told a lot of Cowboys stories, dating back to those days when he was the radio voice of the team’s network, as Tom Landry developed an NFL powerhouse, winning two Super Bowls.

Observing Verne’s natural ability to connect with his audience was a reminder that CBS probably never fully appreciated Verne’s being one of the greatest ambassadors that the network has ever had.

Most announcers tend to be private, but Verne, who never went anywhere without his lovely wife, Nancy, was very “social.”  He never met a dinner party he didn’t like.  Being the grand raconteur that he is, he “made” the party wherever he went.

He made friends with the athletic staff of the schools which hosted CBS from week to week. He was always making the local folk feel good. He never flew off the handle. He never had a brush with controversy, and he never found fault with anything, and he always left the guests laughing.

During his remarks to Mark Miller’s real estate group, nobody whispered to a neighbor. Nobody took a break, and nobody asked an insulting question.

Said one long time salesman, who grew up in Athens, one of Verne’s favorite places, “We have had many interesting speakers, but Verne is the only one who made us laugh for an hour.”