In 29 years with the Dallas Cowboys, Tex Schramm had vision that was as sweeping as the Texas plains and as forceful as a Texas twister.
He was the man who brought instant replay to the stadium, wireless microphones to referees, helmet radios to quarterbacks, wind-direction flags to goal posts, computers to the draft room and professional dancers to the sidelines.
There is virtually no phase of today's game that doesn't bear his imprint. When the patriarch of the Cowboys' empire died yesterday in his Dallas home at 83, the NFL remembered Schramm's far-reaching contributions and acknowledged its loss.
"Tex will go down as one of the most influential figures in the history of the NFL," said Don Shula, the former Miami Dolphins coach. "I truly believe he had as much or more to do with the success of professional football as anyone who has ever been connected with the league."
As chairman of the league's competition committee, Schramm helped institute numerous rules changes that made pro football the nation's most popular sport.
As president/general manager of the Cowboys, he took a 1960 expansion franchise and guided it to America's Team fame by the late 1970s.
Schramm was a visionary during the league's greatest growth period and the overseer for one of its most widely recognized teams.
"He played a major role in building the NFL into America's passion by developing a glamour franchise with national appeal and by his leadership on so many league issues," NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue said in a statement.
Gil Brandt caught a glimpse of Schramm's vision when he was hired to be the Cowboys' personnel chief in 1959. Before the team had officially been awarded and before the Cowboys could sign any players, Schramm set forth his plan.
"Tex said, 'As soon as the draft is over, come to New York and we'll find a way to get some [player] contracts,' " Brandt said. " 'You bring your list of all the guys you think we should sign. This will be real easy.' "
As promised, when Brandt showed up in New York after the draft, Schramm had a batch of contracts ready to be signed. "I don't know where he got them," said Brandt, who promptly hit the recruiting trail.
Right about the time the Cowboys were starting to emerge as a playoff force under coach Tom Landry in 1966, Schramm made perhaps his greatest contribution to the league. At the behest of then-commissioner Pete Rozelle, he brokered peace with the rival American Football League, holding secret merger talks with Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt.
He also negotiated a contract with the NFL Players Association.
Some 21 years later, in 1987, Schramm's strategy of using replacement players during a players' strike brought hostilities to an end. The union crumbled after three weeks of replacement games and the NFL has not had a strike since.
"I liked him personally and enjoyed his company very much," said New York Giants owner Wellington Mara. "I'll always remember the great quote he had at an NFL meeting, when he said, 'What is in the best interest of the Dallas Cowboys is not necessarily in the best interest of the National Football League.'
"It was the Cowboys first and everything else second. That's why he was so successful."
Under Schramm's stewardship, the Cowboys set a league record of 20 consecutive winning seasons, made 18 playoff appearances and won 13 division titles. They also went to five Super Bowls, winning two.
But the end came in 1989 when Jerry Jones bought the Cowboys and fired Landry. Schramm resigned two months later once the deal became official.
The bitter divorce had its repercussions. Although Schramm was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1991, he has yet to be added to the Ring of Honor he created at Texas Stadium.
Schramm hadn't even returned to the team's training facility until this spring, when Jones invited him for lunch. At that fence-mending session, Jones told Schramm he would become the 12th name on the wall.
"He was excited about it," Brandt said of Schramm's reaction. "That was his legacy in Dallas. He's got his legacy in Canton [at the Hall of Fame]. But this was his legacy in Dallas."
Schramm didn't live long enough to see it happen. But in a later news conference announcing plans for his induction, his feelings were obvious.
"Things that should happen and that people deserve usually do happen," Schramm said. "I love the Cowboys. I've always loved the Cowboys, and however much time I have left, I'll continue to love them."