If you are lucky, you’ve known a very small group of people who make you feel better every time you’re around them. Not worse, not neutral, but better. From everything I’ve read over the years, Don Meredith was a member of that select group. If there is a story about Meredith whining, blaming, conniving or back-stabbing, I’ve never heard it.
I didn’t know Meredith, but I was privileged to spend a day with him in and around his home in Santa Fe about 20 years ago. At the time my wife was working for a Dallas insurance company and Meredith was its radio spokesman, dishing out folksy Texana about towns like Bug Tussle and Gun Barrel City (real places) between pitches for the company’s products. Ann was in charge of wrangling Meredith’s witticisms into shape for broadcast.
The company has since expired of self-inflicted wounds, but while living they did have the bright idea of sending a few staffers out to New Mexico to tape Meredith on his home field. I got to play tag-along spouse, and all my memories of the day involve laughing at one Meredith story or another, from early-morning coffee at his beautiful home in the hills through lunch at one of his fave spots.
Hanging around him, you would not have known how much pain he suffered as a Dallas Cowboy. And I don’t just mean the multiple injuries he sustained thanks to the Cowboys’ porous offensive line. Meredith was also the whipping boy for the fickle Dallas fans of the Sixties, who started demanding championships after the team had existed for about ten minutes. After his early and unexpected retirement at 31, he also had his share of personal grief with a drug-tormented son and his bouts with heavy drinking.
But none of that pain was on his face the day we visited, nor during the years he lit up Monday Night Football on ABC. The guy always left us smiling, which may be an even more valuable gift than finding an open receiver while several frenzied attackers try to tear off your arms.
That’s why Dan Reeves, Meredith’s teammate, said this about him:
“If you don’t like Don Meredith, you don’t like anybody.”
I can’t think of a better epitaph, can you? They should put it on his gravestone.