The Dallas Cowboys are one of the most successful franchises in the history of professional football because of their attention to detail. When the Cowboys need a fullback, they don't get a tackle. When the Cowboys need a punter, they don't get a defensive safety.
So, when the Cowboys were being formed as an expansion team and needed someone to help build the squad, they went to a baby photographer.
That's right, the guy who built the Cowboy teams, the scourges of the Super Bowls, the toasts of Texas, the terrors of the 10-yard-lines, was a guy who used to put on a paper hat, stick his fingers in his ears, and make faces at moppets in Milwaukee so he could coax something out of them besides gas-pain gurgles for the camera.
It was a job that hardly called for a Rembrandt, and Gil Brandt took to shiling away the hours -- when he wasn't making like Laurel and Hardy for frumpy, sunbonneted infants -- poring through football yearbooks on the spoor of All-America players.
Brandt took to augmenting his literary research with trips to Big Ten campuses and weekend games. He became a friend, among others, of Elroy Hirsch and, when Hirsch later joined the Rams, he remembered his scholarly friend who made a lifetime study of football players.
The then-general manager of the Rams, Tex Schramm, in the process of putting together the first really efficient new talent scouting system, asked Brandt to mine the Chicago-Wisconsin territory for him.
When Schramm left the Rams, in one of the periodic front-office upheavals there during the days of the owner's feud, he went to CBS. But when the call came to form an expansion franchise in Dallas, and Schramm was tapped, he never forgot his shrewd bird dog from Wisconsin. Brandt had a line on every able-bodied player in the nation.
In those days the league, in its wisdom, didn't see fit to award the expansion franchies high draft choices. For one thing, when the Cowboys were formed, the draft was long over. They had to be content with a makeshift lineup. It included the subsequent great all-pro Bob Lilly, and not much else.
Brandt moved to Dallas, rolled up his sleeves and began calling his sources. "You see, the state of the art was not very advanced in those days," he recalled. "Someone would call up a friend and he would say, 'Yes, we have a great football player down here. Garbage Pail Murphy. Runs the 100 in 9.7, runs the 40 in 4.6. He's 6-4. And then, Garbage Pail would show up in camp, and he'd be not 6-4, but more like 5-11, and he couldn't run the 40 in 4.6, but something more nearly approximating 5.6. It was a hit-and-miss proposition, and more miss than hit."
The league rocked with laughter at the spectacle of a baby photographer and a television official evaluating the talent avaiable to the NFL. Particularly when the Cowboys went winless in their first season, lost 11 and barely managed to tie one. But Brandt, one of history's earliest "draftniks," was not intimated. "The league then thought the Collier's magazine All-America comprised the best 11 players in the country. We knew better," observes Brandt.
"You see, the Rams were light years ahead of the rest of the league. The Rams were drafting players from Grambling, the New York Giants were still trying to get players out of Princeton and Carnegie Tech. We didn't overlook the Ivy League, we got Calvin Hill from there, but we didn't overestimate it, either."
The laughter died in the league's throat when the Cowboys began to come up with the outstanding studs of the game. And they didn't get them out of Big Ten press brochures or from a study of the Rose Bowl films, they got them from places like Fort Valley State, Elizabeth City State, N.C., Langston, Okla., Henderson J.C., J.C. Smith College, wherever that is, and Heidelberg (the new one in Pennsylvania, not Old Heidelberg). Some of the players even had "N.C." after their names, not for North Carolina, but for "No College." Gil Brandt found the players under mesquite bushes in the panhandle.
"Today we have a 200-page scouting manual that tells you everything, what to look for in a player, how to rate him. It takes the guesswork out of it. Then, in 1962, he went to the computers. First, we went to 50 different experts to find out what a football player is made of. We were able to construct a profile of the ideal player at every position.
"We came up with five characteristics present in every football player. Character was one. Mental alertness was another. Quickness, agility, and balance was another. Strength and explosion was another. And competitiveness was the other. We followed that with what we call position specifics. In other words, in a wide receiver, we had a category for hands. For an offensive lineman, we had pass-blocking. For defensive lineman we had speed and mobility. Then, we drew up a size-speed chart, in which we plused players who were big and fast; and we minused players who were short and slow."
They let the computers in on their secrets. It depersonalized the scouting chore. It became more like a department store buyer shopping for the best merchandise. But the Cowboy teams that came out of the computer were models of deadpan efficiency. Like their coach, they functioned without apparent emotion. It was the team from "Star Wars." An 11-man R-2D-2. The Cowboys ran over their opposition with the impersonal effectiveness of stampeding buffalo. This machine-made team, the late Dan Reeves used to say, "has three of everything. And all three look the same and are the same."
"We knew we had to build from the draft," Brandt said. "There were teams who tried to trade up to a championship like the New York Giants and the Washington Redskins. But you'll notice they always come up a nickel short."