Thursday, October 18, 2012

30 in 30 - Day 17: Tom Landry - A Football Life (Another Audible)

I was hoping to come home tonight and watch Knuckleball.  I was looking forward to it all day.  When I got home, I quickly realized that this would not be happening.

It's a newer movie and so the avenues with which to watch it are just not there.  Added to that.....I didn't get home until around 11pm.  I wasn't going to spend a ton of time hunting and searching.  Instead, I called in one of the guys off the bench.

While I'd still like to watch Knuckleball down the road, it is uncertain whether it will be within the next two weeks to make it into my 30 in 30.  With that, here's the replacement.

Tonight's film - Tom Landry: A Football Life

Tom Landry: A Football Life (2011)
45 mins.
Rated: NR (but it aired on the NFL's suitable for all ages)

"What's the first image of Tom Landry you think of?  It's probably one of NFL Films signature shots - the silhouette of the man and his fedora backlit by the heavenly glow of Texas Stadium.  That's the Landry image.  The stoic, bloodless genius who could as Don Rickles once quipped, win a staring contest with Mount Rushmore.  And that's why the mention of his name, to this day can still send a tingle down your spine."  (source: nflfilms)

Link to the film - I watched it online via youtube.

This (as I quickly learned) is a series of documentaries/biographies put out by NFL Films.  They do ok stuff....I guess, so I'll allow it.

The subject of Tom Landry is one that intrigued me.  When he was coaching, I was still not fully aware of how iconic and legendary the guy was.  I guess I grabbed a hold of the NFL in the days of Jimmy Johnson as coach.  No doubt though, I knew who Tom Landry was in the sense that there was no one else like him.

The doc begins by talking about how much of an icon the guy is.  29 years as the Cowboys head coach.  A symbol of excellence, consistency and very - very high expectation.  One of the ultimate intimidators, things were done his way.

But who is Tom Landry?  How did he come to be?  Those were the questions that this doc answered.

He played for the Giants as both a punter and defensive back.  Definitely the smartest guy on the field, Tom used that to his advantage.  He was so respected that he became a player/coach later in his career.  He then became defensive coach working early on with one Vince Lombardi (as the offensive coach) - how bout that pair?

They won a championship in 1956 and in 1960, Tom was given the reigns of an expansion team called the Dallas Cowboys.  He had some success during the decade but lost both in 1966 and 1967 to Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers in the NFL Championship.

Perfection, precision and a strong level of compete, these were the traits immediately connected to Tom Landry and his coaching style.  But he never could get the team over the hump.  He never connected with them. That was until that 67 defeat.  He went to his players and told them that HE had let them down - and he sat there and cried in front of his players.  That's how much he cared for them.

That was the turning point.  The team responded and started to succeed.  In Super Bowl V, they lost a heartbreaking game to the Colts.  Mistakes cost the Cowboys.  Many on the team felt that the system was too complex.  Landry finally decided to modify his methods and that allowed more flexibility.  The next year, Dallas won Super Bowl VI.  The monkey was off the back of Landry and he in turn was carried off the field on his players backs.

An innovator, Tom Landry at the forefront of developing new ways to line up - to play the game.  He created the (now modern) 4-3 defense.  He created the Flex defense and brought in the Multiple Formation (switch) offense.  He loved to keep the opponents on their toes - or better yet rocking back on their heels.  He loved calling unusual plays like flea flickers and option passes.

It was the long developed and meticulous "System" that was created by Landry that was the calling card of the Cowboys.  Tom felt this system was so flawless, he said that only the players can mess it up.  This was seen as a cold approach - one of "everybody's replaceable" - but it worked.  For 20 straight seasons, the Cowboys had a winning record.

In 1971, the Cowboys went to a two quarterback system - swapping out Roger Staubach on every other play.  This concrete belief in the "System" by Landry ended up seeing Staubach retire as a result of it.  Roger wanted to call the plays himself, but Tom would make each and every call in his system.

The 80's saw the birth of America's Team.  This did not sit so well with Landry.  He felt that the team did not need this extra focus placed on them.  While Tom was an innovator in many ways to the sport, the rest of the league had now caught up with him - and in some ways, the game even surpassed.

The Cowboys began struggling and it got so bad that in 1986, a death threat was on Tom - during a game.  He left the field only to return a little while later with a bulletproof vest on.  Now that's just nuts.

In 1989, A new owner (Jerry Jones) came on board.  He wanted to bring in his own coach (Jimmy Johnson).  Jones made the not-so-wise decision to announce both the purchase of the team and the firing of Tom Landry on the same day - known as the Saturday Night Massacre.  Who in their right mind would fire Tom Landry.

Tom Landry passed away in February 2000, but his legacy clearly carries on.  He is still a major influence on players and coaches to this day and will no doubt go down as the greatest coach in Cowboys history.

I enjoyed this doc.  I learned quite a bit in the 45 minutes.  NFL Films really can do no wrong when it comes to the delivery of their docs.  Slick editing, unbelievable archives to pull from and top notch writing - this had it all.  Where it did come short is that it felt like a "Biography" or "TV documentary".  It ended up feeling templated (which it is since it's a series).  I'd love to see a one-off doc on Tom Landry done - with all the trimmings.

Solid.....but not a jaw dropper.

3 out of 5

Here are some other reviews I found online for the film...

NFL Films

Know Your Dallas Cowboys

(not much else out there)

Up next - The Game Of Their Lives

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