NFC East: Mel Renfro

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IRVING, Texas -- Roger Staubach found out he was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the 10th round of the 1964 NFL draft by reading the Washington Post.

“I was in my room at the Naval Academy,” Staubach said. “No one called me. They had this little story, ‘Staubach drafted in Round 10.’ … To me, it wasn’t a big deal. I had five years to go before I could go play.”

Staubach is the greatest 10th-round pick in NFL history. He surely is part of one of the best draft classes ever. The 1964 NFL draft produced a record 11 Hall of Famers, and three were drafted by the Cowboys: Mel Renfro (second round), Bob Hayes (seventh round) and Staubach.

“You know why it was special?” said Gil Brandt, the Cowboys' vice president of player personnel at the time. “Because basically Tex [Schramm] and I did it by ourselves. We didn’t have nine scouts and all that stuff.”

The only team to produce more Hall of Famers from the same draft class in NFL history is the Pittsburgh Steelers, who drafted Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth and Mike Webster in 1974.

The Cowboys had 19 picks in 1964, and Brandt can recite scouting reports on all of them to this day. Only seven played for the club, but the Hall of Fame trio makes it Brandt’s favorite draft.

[+] EnlargeRoger Staubach
AP Photo/Tony DejakRoger Staubach led the Dallas Cowboys to five Super Bowl appearances in his Hall of Fame career.
The Cowboys’ 1975 draft became known as the "Dirty Dozen" with 12 picks making the team, led by Hall of Famer Randy White. From 1988 to 1990, the Cowboys' first-round picks were Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith. All three call the Pro Football Hall of Fame home.

Drafting Renfro, Hayes and Staubach spoke to the Cowboys’ advantages over other teams in that day -- and a little bit of good fortune.

Had they not held training camp in Forest Grove, Ore., it is doubtful Brandt ever meets Renfro as a high school senior. Air Force assistant coach Pepper Rodgers was recruiting Renfro and brought him to Cowboys camp, where he met Brandt.

Brandt remained in contact through Renfro’s time at Oregon. When it came time to pick in the second round in 1964, the Cowboys held up the draft for six hours so a doctor could examine Renfro’s injured wrist. After getting the news they wanted, they picked Renfro, and Brandt was on a flight from Chicago to Portland the next day.

“I called Mel. ‘Mel, I’m coming in on United flight so and so, and I get in at 1,’ or whatever time it was, and he said, ‘OK, I’ll meet you at the airport,’” Brandt said. “I get off the plane, go down three or four steps and there’s Mel. We signed right there in the airport.

“Now the coup de grace is you had to get the contract witnessed at the time because this was during the war between the two leagues. So we’re in Portland and we’ve got to get down to Eugene, but we’ve got to get this contract witnessed, so we stop at Oregon State to get a contract for an Oregon kid witnessed.”

Renfro made the Pro Bowl in each of his first 10 seasons, six at safety and the final four at cornerback. His 52 career interceptions remain a team record, and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1996.

Like Staubach, Hayes was a future pick, but not many teams knew he was eligible. Brandt went to Florida A&M to visit with the coaches.

“I saw him in person, but he was like a third-team running back,” Brandt said. “He wasn’t a typical sprinter. He was well-defined. I mean he was a strong guy.”

He also visited Hayes’ mother in Jacksonville, Fla., at the restaurant where she worked.

“The big thing then was Pepsi Cola, 12 full ounces for a nickel too,” Brandt said, recalling the soda’s jingle at the time. “When you ate those chitlins, you drank one of those big 12-ounce Pepsis.”

With Hayes’ speed, Brandt saw a game-changing wide receiver. Hayes went on to win two gold medals in the Tokyo Summer Olympics, earning the “fastest man in the world” title, and joined the Cowboys in 1965.

[+] EnlargeHayes/Renfro
AP Photo/NFL PhotosThe Cowboys selected three future Hall of Famers in the 1964 draft, including Bob Hayes (20) and Mel Renfro.
The Cowboys took Hayes with the 88th pick in the draft, one spot before the Detroit Lions took a future Cowboys head coach in Bill Parcells. Hayes caught 46 passes for 1,003 yards and 12 touchdowns in 1965 and was named to the Pro Bowl three times in his career. Because of his speed, Hayes changed the game, forcing defenses to use zone coverages.

In 2009, Hayes was inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Staubach wasn’t even sure he was eligible for the draft. Because he spent a year at the New Mexico Military Institute in 1960 before going to Annapolis, the Cowboys were able to use a future pick on Staubach.

“It was about 2 o’clock in the morning when we drafted Roger,” Brandt said. “At that part of the draft, it’s all about taking risks.”

The summer before Staubach’s Heisman Trophy season, Brandt visited the quarterback’s parents in Cincinnati. Brandt wanted to see if Staubach could get out of his five-year commitment to the Navy after graduation.

“Gil likes to tell the story about talking to my mother and she threw him out of the house. ‘Roger has an obligation to the Naval Academy,’” Staubach said. “And that was that.”

The AFL’s Kansas City Chiefs also drafted Staubach, but he chose the Cowboys because he was an NFL guy, growing up as a Cleveland Browns fan. It also helped that they agreed to pay him $500 a month and a $10,000 signing bonus in his years with the Navy.

After returning from Vietnam, Staubach was stationed in Pensacola, Fla., and took two weeks leave to go to Cowboys training camp in Thousand Oaks, Calif., in 1967.

“That’s what made the difference, changed my life, really,” Staubach said. “I had a really good camp, and I think Coach [Tom] Landry thought I was mature enough so they possibly wouldn’t have to get a veteran quarterback.”

In 1969, Don Meredith retired unexpectedly. Craig Morton, the Cowboys’ first-round pick in 1965, would take over. Jerry Rhome, who was picked in the 13th round in 1964, was traded to Cleveland.

“We’re getting ready to leave Pensacola and then go to Thousand Oaks, and I told [his wife], ‘I’m second team and I haven’t done anything. Don’t worry,’” Staubach joked. “But if not for that year before, I think Coach Landry would’ve traded for a veteran quarterback behind Craig.”

By 1971, Staubach delivered the Cowboys their first title, winning Super Bowl VI and earning Most Valuable Player honors. The Cowboys won Super Bowl XII and appeared in five Super Bowls with Staubach, who earned the Captain Comeback nickname for his 23 late-game wins.

He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1985.

Like fishing stories, scouts have famous stories about the ones that got away. As good as the ’64 draft was, Brandt knows it would have been better if they were able to get Paul Warfield and Dave Wilcox, who went on to Hall of Fame careers.

The Cowboys would have drafted Warfield in the first round but made a wink-wink trade with the Steelers for wide receiver Buddy Dial. The Steelers received the Cowboys’ pick in return, Scott Appleton, who signed with the Houston Oilers instead of the Steelers.

Dallas did not have a third-round pick in 1964 but were so confident they would land Wilcox that Brandt had scout Red Hickey with the defensive end. Instead, the San Francisco 49ers took Wilcox with the first pick of the third round.

“We could’ve had five [Hall of Famers] if it would’ve gone right for us,” Brandt said. “We could’ve had four, but we had three. And I thought that was pretty good.”

More than pretty good.

Jason Witten added to Pro Bowl

January, 19, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- With the Denver Broncos earning their way to Super Bowl XLVIII, Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten has earned a trip to the Pro Bowl.

Witten
Witten will replace Broncos tight end Julius Thomas and become the fourth Cowboy to head to Hawaii, joining left tackle Tyron Smith, wide receiver Dez Bryant and defensive end Jason Hatcher, who was added as a replacement for Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.

While it will be the first Pro Bowl trips for Smith, Bryant and Hatcher, it will be Witten’s ninth in 11 seasons. The only years he did not make it to the Pro Bowl came as a rookie in 2003 and in 2011.

Witten ties Randy White for the fourth most Pro Bowl appearances in team history. Only Bob Lilly (11), Larry Allen and Mel Renfro, who appeared in 10 each, have been selected to more than Witten.

Witten caught 73 passes for 851 yards and had eight touchdown passes in 2013.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- One of the reasons why Jason Garrett likes to have a training camp practice at AT&T Stadium is for the current players to mix and mingle with the former players and learn the history of the Dallas Cowboys franchise.

Cliff Harris spoke at the dinner following the two-hour practice and was one of six members of the Ring of Honor in attendance, along with Roger Staubach, Lee Roy Jordan, Rayfield Wright, Mel Renfro and Charles Haley.

Players representing every era of Cowboys’ football were on hand, as well, including Butch Johnson, Jay Novacek, Billy Joe DuPree, John Fitzgerald and Ken Hamlin.

“I want to get my helmet and go through some of these exercises with some of these guys,” said Wright, a Hall-of-Fame offensive tackle who played for the Cowboys from 1967-80.

Wright was looking forward to talking to some of the offensive lineman at the dinner.

“There’s just little techniques that you could communicate with some of the young guys,” Wright said. “We have the talent, skills and ability. These guys have great talent. They’re a lot bigger than we were when I played the game. But they have great talent and if I had the opportunity to sit down and just talk to some of these guys on a personal, one-on-one level, it would be fantastic for me.”

Most athletic Cowboys

June, 13, 2011
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It is, to be sure, The Season of the List. The absence of actual NFL news during the lockout has led many of us to turn to rankings and list-making as a source of conversation-stirring content. We've done more than our share of it here, but we're not alone. Cowboys.com today offers a ranking of the Top 10 all-around athletes ever to suit up for the Cowboys.

This is not, they make it clear, a list of the best players ever to play for the Cowboys. You won't find Troy Aikman or Emmitt Smith or Michael Irvin here. But you will find Walt Garrison, who was an actual rodeo cowboy in addition to being a football one. You'll find Terrell Owens, as pure an athletic specimen as we've seen in spite of his...well, drawbacks. The list reminds us of Ed "Too Tall" Jones' boxing career, Herschel Walker's turn as an Olympic bobsledder and Deion Sanders multi-sport exploits as an NFL star and Major League Baseball player.

T0ny Romo makes the list because of his skills on the golf course. And DeMarcus Ware, Mel Renfro and Larry Allen didn't even have to go the two-sport route to crack the top 10, so impressive were they as pure athletes on the football field. The man in the No. 1 spot? Well, as the writer, Nick Eatman, points out, Bob Hayes was not only know as "The Fastest Man in the World," but he's also the only guy with a Super Bowl ring and an Olympic gold medal. Pretty good credentials for a list like this. Pretty fun list.

Greatest Cowboys of the first 50 years

November, 30, 2009
11/30/09
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The Dallas Morning News asked 20 current and former staffers to come up with the top 50 Cowboys in the organization's first 50 years. Coaches, players, owners and administrators were all considered. Here's the list. And it should come as no surprise that the late Tom Landry finished No. 1 overall. I don't know how it could be any other way.

Here's the breakdown of the top 10:

1. Tom Landry

2. Roger Staubach

3. Emmitt Smith

4. Bob Lilly

5. Troy Aikman

6. Tony Dorsett

7. Randy White

8. Michael Irvin

9. Mel Renfro

10. Tex Schramm

Owner/general manager Jerry Jones checks in at No. 17, one spot ahead of safety Cliff Harris. Jason Witten is the highest-ranked current Cowboys player at No. 29 -- and I have no problem with that. He's been one of the top tight ends in the league since his 2003 rookie season.

DeMarcus Ware is No. 36, but he'll probably end up much higher -- when the DMN does its 75-year list. Quarterback Tony Romo checks in at No. 47 and left tackle Flozell Adams rounds out the list at 50. I like the fact that Danny White cracked the top 30. He took a lot of abuse, but if he wins one of those three NFC title games, his legacy is completely different. His reputation also took a hit during the strike, but that doesn't change what he accomplished on the field.

I think Charles Haley ended up at No. 31 because he was only with the Cowboys from '92-'96, but the fact that he was a big part of three Super Bowl titles should've put him higher on the list. His behavior off the field is well-documented, but he was a brilliant pass-rusher who deserves to be about five spots higher.

I also think Cornell Green's too low at No. 25. I've had a lot of former players tell me that Green was one of the best defensive backs in league history. He got his hands on everything, but he dropped a lot of potential interceptions. I'm shocked that the late Mark Tuinei, the left tackle on those 90s Super Bowl teams, didn't receive a single vote. That makes no sense to me. Kicker Rafael Septien received a few votes, but a man who played 15 seasons at offensive tackle was shut out?

The selection panel came up with only a single vote for the great defensive coordinator, Ernie Stautner. Linebacker Ken Norton and defensive tackle Leon Lett didn't show up on the list, but both are worthy. Some people will argue that Terrell Owens should've been on the list. I'm not buying that one because he was only with the Cowboys for three seasons and the team didn't win a playoff game during that time.

It's pretty remarkable that two Hall of Famers -- Bob Hayes and Rayfield Wright -- didn't even crack the DMN's top 10. The only thing I'd change about the top 10 is that I'd probably put Bob Lilly in front of Emmitt Smith. I know that sounds crazy to some of you, but this list was about "greatest Cowboys," not the greatest NFL players. When I think about the players that have defined this franchise, Lilly comes before Smith in my opinion. They don't call him "Mr. Cowboy" for nothing.

What did you guys make of the list?

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