Tex Schramm, one of the most influential executives in National Football League history and the marketing visionary who put the star on the Dallas Cowboy helmet and transformed the franchise into "America's Team," died Tuesday at his Dallas home. He was 83.
The cause of his death was not immediately known, although Schramm had been in failing health since the death of his wife, Marty, in December. He had recently been under hospice care.
As president of the Cowboys and the team's guiding force for 29 seasons, Schramm focused much of his attention on catering to the paying customer.
He is credited with developing the largest radio network of any sports franchise -- more than 200 stations -- and was perhaps the first in professional football to institute Spanish-language broadcasts. He put the game time on the scoreboard clock, and the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, the first of their kind in pro sports, on the sidelines.
"Mr. Schramm was Barnum and Bailey all rolled into one," former Cowboy player Charlie Waters said. "He was a great salesman."
A onetime $30-a-week sportswriter who was born in Los Angeles and grew up in the San Gabriel Valley, Schramm was named Texas after his father. After graduating from the University of Texas and serving in the Air Force during World War II, Schramm began his football career as publicity director for the Los Angeles Rams. He worked his way up to general manager and gave Pete Rozelle his first job in football, hiring the eventual NFL commissioner to replace him as publicity director.
As president and general manager of the Cowboys from 1960 through 1989, Schramm hired Tom Landry as coach and personally drafted such leading players as Roger Staubach, Bob Hayes, Tony Dorsett and Herschel Walker. Under Schramm's watch, the Cowboys had 20 consecutive winning seasons and appeared in five Super Bowls, winning two.
But his realm of influence extended well beyond the Cowboys.
He played a significant role in the 1966 merger between the NFL and the American Football League, meeting with Kansas City Chief owner Lamar Hunt to meld the rival leagues and create the championship game that would become the Super Bowl.
He was chairman of the league's Competition Committee from 1966 through 1988. He promoted the wild-card playoff system that is still in use. As head of the inaugural competition committee, he led a group composed of NFL legends Vince Lombardi, Paul Brown and Al Davis. Like those three, Schramm is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In 1970, a year before the Cowboys won their first Super Bowl, Schramm helped negotiate the collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and the Players Assn. When NFL players went on strike in 1987, Schramm came up with the idea of hiring replacement players. There has been no player work stoppage in the NFL since the 1987 strike.
"He was a competitor and loved to argue, but he had a lot of class and you always knew he was trying to do what was best for the NFL," Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFL Players Assn., said in a prepared statement Tuesday. "He played a big part in getting us to where we are today."
In a statement Tuesday, Rozell's successor, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, reflected on Schramm's legacy.
"He played a major role in building the NFL into America's passion by developing a glamour franchise with national appeal and by his leadership on so many league issues," Tagliabue said in a prepared statement. "As commissioner, I have benefited greatly from what Tex had a big hand in creating."
Schramm was one of the first proponents of using instant replay to augment officiating. He advocated sudden death overtime for regular season games. He also came up with the idea of putting radio receivers in the helmets of quarterbacks, widening sideline borders, restarting the play clock immediately after a play ended, and putting wind-direction strips atop goal post uprights.
The Cowboys were the first team to wear their white uniforms at home, a decision that could have given them a strategic advantage.
"Tex wanted the home fans to see what the opponent's colors really were, or at least that was the premise he used," longtime Cowboy scouting director Gil Brandt said Tuesday in an article on NFL.com. "He would always deny it, but my feeling was that it was always 90 or 95 degrees on the sidelines, and it's a lot hotter when you wear a dark blue jersey or a black jersey in that heat."
Among the other Schramm innovations:
* Moved goal posts back from the goal line to a safer location on the end line.
* Implemented the in-the-grasp rules to protect quarterbacks from defensive players, and enabled quarterbacks to stop the clock by throwing directly into the ground.
* Further encouraged scoring with stricter pass-defense rules.
* Instituted the idea of giving a referee a microphone to announce penalties.