The Difficult Side of Being Don Meredith

Posted on January 9, 2018 by Martin Oaks under Community, Memorial
Leave a comment

In a piece we wrote earlier this week, we noted that owning Martin Oaks Cemetery and Crematory taught us about the relevance of final disposition. Those choices people make about the methods of disposition, the selection of grave markers, and the general approach they have to leaving some commemorative property all help define their character.

The Difficult Side of Being Don Meredith

The specific person we wrote about was the late sports figure, Don Meredith, a man who had more than his share of well-deserved fame, but also a humble man who decided to be laid to rest in the shadow of his boyhood home in Mount Vernon, Texas. His cemetery family plot is the picture of understatement.

Martin Oaks appreciates the comments on the Don Meredith blog — in fact, they stimulated a few addition thoughts we would like to pass along. One correspondent noted that while “Dandy Don” projected an ease about life, a happy-go-lucky demeanor, he did struggle with adversity.

Don Meredith

Few remember that when Don was born in 1938, he had polio.  It wasn’t the most virulent form of the disease, but it did leave him with thin limbs and a proneness to injury.

You can read about Meredith’s high school athletic accomplishments both in football and basketball — a quarterback, middle linebacker and left footed punter in the former, a star who once scored 52 points in a tournament game in the latter.

But, if you look closely, there are remnants of the disease that are evident. For example, in basketball photos where he is wearing a uniform, you’ll also notice two knee pads — not worn on the knees, but lower on the leg where Don was camouflaging what he called his “bird legs.”

In addition to childhood polio, Meredith was married three times (in itself, stressful), one marriage offering perhaps the greatest challenge any parent could face — in 1969, he and his second wife had a special needs daughter, Heather, who would require care her entire life.

A glimpse of that personal challenge is contained in broadcaster Howard Cosell’s book, “Cosell.”

The Monday Night ABC telecast crew was meeting in New York following a test-run telecast prior to the show’s 1970 debut season.  Apparently Meredith had been ill-at-ease during that maiden voyage, anything but the “Dandy” personality he would eventually become.

According to Cosell, what was really dragging Don down was the plight of Heather — he was “struggling with a tremendous personal depression and concern because she was about to be institutionalized.”

Those circumstances, incidentally, have followed Don to the grave.  Within the last month, his second and third wife have taken legal action that involves ongoing provisions for Heather.  Sad circumstances.

A final ongoing problem that Meredith struggled with, according to his son Michael, was that he died with a lingering sense that he never was able to complete his athletic career the way he wanted to — i.e., for all his success, the ultimate world championship eluded him.

“He died of a broken heart,” Michael Meredith said, “because he never took his team the whole way. You have to understand. My father is a Texan. He went to high school in Texas, he went to college in Texas, and he played in the NFL in Texas. He felt he let down his city and his team.”

Michael recently finished a documentary on the Ice Bowl game in which his dad figured prominently — it was recently aired twice on an NFL network program called “The Timeline.”

Meredith retired at the age of 31, too early to be part of the Cowboy team which became “America’s

Team,” a proven Super Bowl winner.

Noted sportswriter Jimmy Murray said this about what the Cowboys experienced as they transitioned from Meredith’s team to that led by Roger Staubauch: the Cowboys were “more of traveling stag movie than a team, orgiastic, ribald prototypes of the cast in such works as “Semi Tough” and “North Dallas Forty.”  Murray added that QB’s like Meredith bought drinks and partied with their teammates, while later Cowboys more closely reflected the image of their studious coach, Tom Landry.

In summary, Don Meredith lived like all of us live — he wasn’t able to leave this life without the pain all of us face. But, in spite of the pain and the glory, he held on to the values he learned in Mount Vernon, Texas. “I am thankful about where I am from and who I am,” he once said.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *