The special looks at the Dallas team in the wake of Kennedy's assassination in Dallas, and its game two days after the assassination -- against the Browns in Cleveland.
The official word: Fifty years after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Bob Costas looks back at the time leading up to and following the Nov. 22, 1963 tragedy through the eyes of the 1963 Dallas Cowboys and 1963 U.S. Naval Academy quarterback Roger Staubach on the one-hour Costas Tonight Special – No Day For Games: The Cowboys and JFK. The show debuts Wednesday, November 20 at 11 p.m. ET on NBCSN.
Ten former Cowboys players and personnel, including Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive tackle Bob Lilly, Hall of Fame quarterback Staubach, linebacker Lee Roy Jordan, tight end Pettis Norman and three-decade player personnel chief Gil Brandt, were interviewed for Costas Tonight, as well as Pittsburgh Steelers chairman Dan Rooney and presidential historian Michael Beschloss. This edition of Costas Tonight, which combines present-day interviews, archival footage, and NBC News coverage from November 1963, was produced by NBC Sports Group and co-produced and written Andy Greenspan.
“For a league that has no presence in Los Angeles, the Dallas Cowboys are as close to Hollywood as it gets,” Costas says in the opening of the show. “But half a century ago for the Cowboys of 1963, it was fear – not football – that was on their minds.
“As symbols of the city where the President was murdered,” he continued, “the Cowboys soon found some of the nation’s anger directed towards them.”
Following are highlights from the special edition of Costas Tonight:
THE NEXT GAME – TWO DAYS LATER
Dallas Cowboys at Cleveland Browns, Nov. 24, 1963
Lee Roy Jordan: “We were the team from Dallas, Texas. We were connected with killing the President of the United States.”
Dan Rooney on NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle’s decision to play games as scheduled: “He said that [White House Press Secretary] Pierre [Salinger] felt that Jack would have thought we should play. He would have wanted it that way for the nation.”
Bob Costas on the team 24 hours after the assassination: “The Cowboys were headed to Cleveland where they discovered that, to many people around the country, the city of Dallas and anything that represented it was being held liable for the tragedy.”
Gil Brandt (Cowboys executive from 1960-89) on the team’s trip to Cleveland: “Everybody was told, ‘Go out and have dinner if you want, but don’t say you are from Dallas.’”
Pettis Norman: “I felt totally lethargic on how I would approach this game.”
Bob Lilly: “You’ve got your game face on by Sunday. That means a chip on your shoulder. And I didn’t have a chip on my shoulder that day. And I didn’t have my game face on.”
Browns owner Art Modell told public address announcer Johnny Holliday not to use the word “Dallas” throughout the game. He was to use “Cowboys” instead.
There were no player introductions prior to the game.
Cowboys players were told to wear their helmets and parkas at all times.
The teams combined for nine turnovers in the Browns’ 27-17 victory.
Bob Lilly (postgame): “We could have quit our season then, it would have been fine with me.”
FUTURE COWBOYS QB ROGER STAUBACH – AT U.S. NAVAL ACADEMY
In 1962, Navy sophomore Roger Staubach threw two touchdown passes and ran for two scores in a 34-14 victory in the annual Army-Navy game – earning the Midshipmen a locker room visit from President Kennedy.
The following season, Staubach and Navy were 8-1 heading into the Nov. 30, 1963 Army-Navy game. Staubach, who would win the 1963 Heisman Trophy, was slated for the cover of the Nov. 29 issue of Life Magazine with the photo caption “The Greatest College Quarterback.” After the assassination, the cover was changed to a JFK portrait. Staubach shows Costas his early copy of the magazine with Staubach’s photo on the cover.
The Army-Navy game was postponed and played on Dec. 7, 1963.
Roger Staubach: “We thought the game could be postponed forever or cancelled. But then it came back that the Kennedy family really wanted it to be played…The game was played a week later than it was scheduled. It was so emotional. No pep rallies, no bonfires. But everybody kind of let their emotions out in that game…It was eerie. You didn’t know what to expect.”
Navy, the second-ranked team in the country, won 21-15 after stopping Army on the four-yard line as time expired.
THE TURNAROUND – BECOMING “AMERICA’S TEAM”
The Cowboys drafted Roger Staubach in the 10thround in 1964. After serving his Navy commitment, Staubach joined the team for the 1969 season at age 27.
The Cowboys franchise had its first winning season in 1966.
Bob Lilly on Cowboys prior to 1966: “Everywhere we went for the next couple of years, people booed us when we ran out on the field.”
Beginning in 1966, Dallas posted an NFL-record 20 consecutive winning seasons (through 1985), playing in five Super Bowls and winning two over the span.
Staubach won 85 of 114 starts for the Cowboys in an 11-year career. In the postseason, he led Dallas to two Super Bowl victories and was named MVP of Super Bowl VI.
Pettis Norman: “When Dallas starting winning, that was a transitional thing for this whole city. And it began to wipe away a lot of the negative things that people felt about Dallas.”
Roger Staubach on Cowboys’ winning helping rehabilitate Dallas’ image: “I think it had a lot to do with how people felt about Dallas. They learned more about Dallas.”
Bob Costas: “After bearing a measure of the nation’s anger for a crime that took place in their city, the Dallas Cowboys had become a phenomenon: America’s Team.”