Tex Schramm, an innovative force in pro football who directed the rise of the Dallas Cowboys and was a major figure in bringing about the merger between the rival American and National Football Leagues, died yesterday at his home in Dallas. He was 83.
He had been in ill health for some time, his family said.
Schramm was general manager of the Cowboys from their creation in 1960 until 1989, the span in which they became known as America's Team while producing a winning stretch that reached 20 straight seasons.
His coach in all those years was Tom Landry. When Jerry Jones bought the Cowboys in February 1989, he fired Landry and brought in his college friend Jimmy Johnson as coach. Schramm resigned two months later to become the first president of the N.F.L's overseas offshoot, now called NFL Europe.
Schramm was a pioneer in seeking instant replay. Often he was a solitary voice on the league's powerful competition committee, which he led from 1966 to 1988, in trying to fuse the technology of tape with the referee's call, which historically was never overruled. His side won, although the concept of instant replay for officiating remains debated.
Schramm thought it would be a good idea for fans and players to see which way the wind was blowing, so he started the practice of putting brightly colored strips on the goal-post uprights. He also advocated the use of a referee's microphone so that everyone in the stadium heard the decision. He helped bring in the 30-second clock between plays.
While heading the league in Europe, he produced one innovation that carried over to the N.F.L.: headsets in the quarterback's helmet so that he could hear plays from the sideline.
He was inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1991.
As chairman of the N.F.L.'s competition committee, Schramm prodded a reluctant, fat-cat league into merging with the upstart A.F.L. His alter ego in the A.F.L. was Lamar Hunt, owner of the Kansas City Chiefs. They proved persuasive in debates with the leagues' other owners. Eventually, the leagues merged at the start of the 1970 season after having agreed to play a championship game the three previous years, the game that came to be known as the Super Bowl.
To enhance interest late in the season, when some winning teams were out of the race, Schramm suggested that the merged leagues create three divisions in each conference and wild cards, teams that gained the playoffs without winning a division title.
''I love innovation, new ideas,'' he once said. ''That's why I try to keep young people around me. You have to be aware of what's happening. But once I become convinced, then I'm prepared to take it as far as you can take it.''
George Young, the longtime general manager of the Giants, once described Schramm's advocacy style as ''just a locomotive.''
Texas Earnest Schramm was born on June 2, 1920, in San Gabriel, Calif., the son of transplanted Texans, and played football in high school. He received a journalism degree from the University of Texas and became a sportswriter for The Austin American-Statesman.
He joined the Los Angeles Rams as publicity director in 1947 and later became general manager. In 1949, he signed running back-linebacker Tank Younger from Grambling, the first player from a historically black college. A year later, Schramm's Rams became the first team to draft a black player when they chose Dan Towler, a running back from Washington & Jefferson.
Schramm left the Rams for a position with CBS Sports in 1957. He turned over his job to the Rams' public relations director, Pete Rozelle, whom he had hired and trained, giving a start to the man who became the N.F.L. commissioner and led pro football to huge popularity.