On May 15, 1978, I signed a free agent contract with the World Champion Dallas Cowboys. A few days later, I would graduate from the University of North Alabama and board an airplane to Dallas for rookie orientation. Playing for a small school in northern Alabama did not prepare me for what I would experience on my first visit or my arrival to training camp in Thousand Oaks, California. The day I arrived, I walked into the locker room and viewed the depth chart. I was listed at number 20, right at the bottom. This is not where you want to start and certainly not where you want to end. Yes, it is all about the try.
There were many ups and downs in training camp. I made the first cut, then the second, moving up the depth chart. Making the third and fourth cut allowed me to become the fifth receiver in training camp.
The first four were the starters in Super Bowl XIII; Drew Pearson and Golden Richards. The other two became stars in their own right; Butch Johnson and Tony Hill. The Cowboys had never carried more than four receivers. After speaking with Coach Mike Ditka, he informed me that the Cowboys would not carry more than four this year either.
I could have given up. That would have been the easy thing to do. But, the try was in my blood, in my mind and more importantly, in my heart. A few weeks later, I received a call from Gil Brandt, who told me I had been released to Atlanta and to wait for the phone to ring. I had no idea what that meant, but I knew that I was no longer a Dallas Cowboy. Ten days is a long time to wait by the phone. However, on Tuesday morning, September 9, 1978, my life changed forever. Yes, signing my contract was a life changing event, but flying back to Dallas and walking into the locker room and seeing my name on a locker and a number 81 jersey for the first time was much better. More importantly, that day I became a Dallas Cowboy for life. My world has never been the same. Yes, the try was worth it.
The picture above shows the Cowboys playing against the former St. Louis Cardinals in Busch Stadium. I am wearing number 82. Jay Saldi broke his hand in a game and the Cowboys picked up Jackie Smith, a former St. Louis Cardinal for nineteen seasons. Coach Ditka approached me the week before this game and asked me if I would give up my number to Jackie Smith, a future NFL Hall of Fame inductee. I told him absolutely, because Jackie Smith was a star and he deserved to play in his original number. A few months ago , I received one of the best compliments of my life. Jackie Smith emailed me and ended the email with the salutation, “Number 81… because you let me be.” Tears began to flow because I knew what that meant to him then and now. Forever teammates! Yes, it is all about the try.
I continue to try every day, and I will continue to try until I take my last breath. For many, the last breath is the one you do not want to take. For others, it is the end of a long struggle and a welcome relief. I believe all of us should continue to be “all about the try” until we all take that last breath. Life is worth living.