Melting the Plastic Man

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Here's a classic for you—Gary Cartwright's 1973 Texas Monthly piece on Tom Landry:

What was the old world coming to? I asked Tom Landry. Landry was at his desk, his back to an autographed picture of Billy Graham, facing the big, silver Super Bowl VI trophy, impassive as a museum director, fielding questions with technical, theological, thermo-regular certainty, impervious to the demons that my senses told me were present in staggering numbers.

I mean where is it leading us? This obsession with being first, being best, being No.1. Tampered transcripts at Ball High in Galveston, rigged Soap Box Derbies in Akron, highly-subsidized 11-year-old Chinamen making a shambles of the LittleLeague World Series, bribes, kickbacks, burglary, perjury, Watergate. Had the monster of our pioneering escaped in the rose garden? It seemed to me that this preoccupation with being No.1 was rushing us toward the Temple of False Idols, and from there to the paranoiac's ward.

"I don't mean football or even sports in particular," I said, "I'm talking about this country, across the board. This thing, this passion…this belief that in the search for success the means justify the end…"

Yeah, Landry knew what I meant. He had been challenged before, and I had heard him expound his beliefs many times—in interviews, press conferences, damp locker rooms, and Fellowship of Christian Athletes banquets. "Take away winning," he had said, "and you take away everything that is strong about America." But I wanted to hear him say it again.