ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Don Meredith, the former Dallas Cowboys quarterback who served as a folksy foil for Howard Cosell on ABC's "Monday Night Football" and helped carve out the niche for colorful ex-athlete broadcasters, has died. "Dandy Don," as he was known, was 72.
Meredith's wife, Susan, told the Associated Press her husband died Sunday in Santa Fe after suffering a brain hemorrhage and lapsing into a coma. She and her daughter were at Meredith's side when he died.
"He was the best there was," she said yesterday, describing him as kind, warm and funny. "We lost a good one."
Meredith played for the Cowboys from 1960 to '68, becoming the starting quarterback in 1965.
While he never took the Cowboys to the Super Bowl, Meredith was one of the franchise's first stars. He led the Cowboys to three straight division titles and to consecutive NFL championship games in 1966 and 1967, where they lost both games to eventual champion Green Bay.
"Don Meredith was one of the most colorful characters in NFL history. He was a star on the field who became an even bigger star on television," commissioner Roger Goodell said. "He brought joy to football fans, from his play in historic NFL games like the Ice Bowl [at Green Bay in 1967] to his great personality that helped launch the success of 'Monday Night Football.' "
Over his 9-year career, Meredith threw for 17,199 yards and 111 touchdowns. He retired unexpectedly before the 1969 season and just 2 years later joined Keith Jackson and Cosell in the broadcast booth as part of the "Monday Night Football" crew.
He quickly became one of the most popular broadcasters in sports with a homespun humor that played off Cosell in particular. Meredith's signature call was singing the famous Willie Nelson song "Turn Out the Lights" when it appeared a game's outcome had been determined.
Meredith left ABC after the 1973 season for a 3-year stint at NBC. He returned to the "MNF" crew in 1977 before retiring in 1984, a year after Cosell left the team.
Meredith was one of the first athletes to make the transition from the field to color analyst and the move to "Monday Night Football" was an easy one for him. He was part of many memorable moments on ABC's landmark hit.
In 1970, Meredith was in the booth for the St. Louis Cardinals' 38-0 whitewashing of his former team. The Cotton Bowl crowd late in the game began chanting "We want Meredith!"
Meredith quipped, "No way you're getting me down there."
Another famous Meredith moment occurred in 1972 at the Houston Astrodome. The Oakland Raiders were in the process of beating the Houston Oilers, 34-0. A cameraman had a shot of a disgruntled Oilers fan, who then made an obscene gesture.
Said Meredith: "He thinks they're No. 1 in the nation."
"Don Meredith was a Dallas Cowboys original. His wit, charm, and strength of personality were matched only by his wonderful leadership, toughness and athletic skill," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said in a statement. "Throughout 50 years of history, the Cowboys legacy has been built by dynamic and colorful personalities who could also compete at the highest level. No one fit that description better than Don Meredith."
Born April 10, 1938, Meredith was raised in Mount Vernon, Texas, about 100 miles east of Dallas. He never played a home game outside of North Texas.