The morning after his Cowboys had lost Super Bowl 13 to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Tom Landry was asked how he felt he and the team would be remembered in the '70s.

He considered it briefly and said: "I suppose . . . as the runner-up."

That was the boldest stroke of his public portrait. Emotionless but, of course, remarkably accurate. It is one way of looking at nearly his entire athletic life, for no one has been second so often in so many significiant games.

Or had a greater impact on football.

Landry is a genuine innovator, yet the defense he concoted for the New York Giants ultimately lost to the Colts in the game NFL devotees recall most -- the 1958 championship battle in Yankee Stadium.

In 1966, he lost an agonizingly close game to Vince Lombardi's Packers for the NFL title -- and the honor of an appearance in the first Super Bowl. He suffered an even more depressing defeat to Lombardi a year later, in the infamous Ice Bowl.

Calls that league and game officials later admitted were wrong helped greatly to influence Landry's fate, to test his diamond-hard faith and confidence. What other coach has come so close to dominating so many legends -- Lombardi, Weeb Ewbank and Chuck Noll?

The one certainty about Landry is that he is the best coach about whom the least is known.But Dallas columnist Bob St. John has managed to penetrate some of the icy exterior, to fit together about as many pieces of the Landry puzzle as possible. In his book, "The Man Inside . . . Landry," we find:

Humor.

Once, rookie Steve Kiner parked in Landry's space during a rainy morning at the team's practice facility and the coach, dripping wet, walked into the dressing room, looked at the young linebacker and said:

"I admire a man with courage."

Compassion.

After his highly unflattering portrait of Landry in "North Dallas Forty," Pete Gent had been assigned to do a major Landry piece for Sport magazine.

"Most people would have felt that he wouldn't talk to me," Gent said, "and I'm sure a lot of the club's officials wouldn't have.

But, I knew, in the final analysis, Landry would be fair. I felt he'd talk to me because it was the fair thing to do.

"And he did."

After the 1972 season, assistant coach Dan Reeves quit Landry for private business, saying: He's a genius as far as football is concerned. But I don't think he handles people the way they should have been handled the last couple of years. He just never has people's feelings in mind. . . ."

Wrote Pat Toomay at the time: "The last thing Landry wants on his staff is a young, bright coach with ideas. Reeves is benefiting accordingly."

A year later, Landry rehired Reeves -- and later recommended him for head-coaching vacancies in Atlanta, Los Angeles and New York, with the Giants.

Genius.

Ernie Stautner, the Bob Lilly of his generation, said upon becoming an assistant under Landry in 1966: "I almost fainted when I saw Tom's playbook. It was all there, things that had taken me 16 years to figure out for myself in the NFL.

"I mean things that just weren't taught in most places, such as keys. All the keys for the defensive linemen are down in black and white. There's no guesswork to it. Maybe I'm dumb but I didn't realize anyone taught keys to defensive linemen."

Competitive fire.

In 1952, Stautner and the Steelers knocked both the Giant's regular quarterback, Charlie Conerly, and their backup, Fred Benners, out of the game. Landry moved from cornerback to quarterback.

". . . I broke through (on a pass play)," Stautner said, "doubled up my fist and smashed him in the face, right through his face mask. The blow broke his nose, bloodied him up, knocked him over.

"I just casually started walking back to the defensive side when Tom jumped up and pounded me on the back. I kept going. I knew I'd done a bad thing but I hated the Giants so bad because they'd told me I was too little to play.

"After I went to work for him (14 years later), he just looked at me one day and said: 'Ernie, I remember you breaking my nose that day in Pittsburgh.'"

Few ever have seen Landry when his head was not erect, his air almost imperious. Yet he will tolerate more questions, return more phone calls than any coach at his level. Cameras have caught a glint of emotion now and then, but the sideline attitude for which he so often is maligned seems perfectly reasonable here.

"When my concentration isn't broken," he said."I'm never on the defensive. When you start thinking defensively, you think such things as, 'Gee, this field's bad, and we're behind and we're not gonna be in the championship game." It's difficult to recover then . . .

"I don't look back on what I've done. I know this sounds foolish to many people, perhaps ridiculous to non-Christians, but I believe it was God's will that I be what I am -- a coach . . . With this in mind, I have no hangups at all about what I might have done or been."