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Landry Is Fondly Recalled

TIMES STAFF WRITER

When the Dallas Cowboys first considered training at Cal Lutheran in the summer of 1963, Bob Shoup and others had one tough assignment.

They had to convince Tom Landry the place was suitable for an NFL team, even a relatively new and struggling one.

“We started bragging about the weather,” said Shoup, a former longtime football coach at Cal Lutheran. “We literally had no locker rooms, no place to put equipment, no offices for the coaches.

“We were going to bring some sod from Camarillo because we had no grass on the field.”

Shoup remembered Landry and those early days with the Cowboys during a Cal Lutheran tribute to the former Dallas coach Thursday night at the Hyatt Westlake Plaza.

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The event was attended by about 300 people, including Landry’s widow, Alicia, and several members of their family.

Landry, who died of myelogenous leukemia in February at age 75, coached the Cowboys from their first season in 1960 through 1988. The stoic Hall of Fame coach guided the Cowboys to five Super Bowls, winning titles in 1972 and ’78.

He helped establish a 26-year relationship with Cal Lutheran through the training camps and his Christian beliefs. The Cowboys last trained at the university in 1989, but Landry and the team are not forgotten.

The coach was so esteemed that the university established in 1980 the Landry Medal, a yearly award given in his honor. Past recipients of the medal, which was not awarded this year, include Bob Hope, Nancy Reagan, Jim Murray, John Wooden and Sparky Anderson.

As Landry told The Times in 1987, the facilities at Cal Lutheran became one of the best in the NFL.

“It’s just ideal,” Landry said. “It’s hot enough to get the group in shape but cool enough at night to sleep. And with that breeze during the day, it makes it ideal.”

Fans flocked to the camps to watch the Cowboys practice, and kids would carry the helmets and pads for players after workouts. The place was paradise for autograph seekers.

"[Landry] would walk to the cafeteria and pretty soon kids were coming out of everywhere asking for autographs,” said Don Garrison, former summer program director at Cal Lutheran. “I never saw Tom Landry in my entire life turn down an autograph.”

Training camp photos of Landry, wearing baseball caps instead of his trademark fedora, were part of a short video shown at the tribute. The video featured testimonials about Landry from former Cowboys Charlie Waters, Drew Pearson and Bob Lilly.

The common theme Thursday night was Landry’s uncompromising values and strong character, along with his determination to make champions of the Cowboys on and off the field.

“He taught us how to be men,” said Carey Casey, senior vice president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and a former player at North Carolina.

“It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice. Coach Landry was very important, but brother, he was nice.”

Danny Villanueva, a former punter and kicker, said he was privileged to have played for Landry for three seasons in the 1960s after being traded by the Los Angeles Rams.

“It wasn’t long when it came to me that this was a special team that reflected its leadership,” Villanueva said.

Former wide receiver Otto Stowe was not among the speakers, but he reflected on playing for Landry in the 1970s, when the Cowboys were among the dominant teams in the NFL and became known as “America’s Team.”

“He would tell you the truth,” Stowe said. “He wouldn’t tell you a bunch of things just to stimulate your ego.”

Many of the stories at the tribute focused on the first few years the Cowboys spent at Cal Lutheran, when Thousand Oaks had a population of only a few thousand and Alicia Landry stayed at a motel by the Ventura Freeway that seemed remote from the campus.

“To get to Cal Lutheran, we drove way into the country, turned at the gas station and stopped when we saw people,” she said. “Sometimes, it feels like we are still at camp and I’ll be joining him soon.”

Many in the room seemed to feel the same way.

“Tom Landry was a tremendous individual,” Shoup said. “He and the Dallas Cowboys are in many ways still with us.”


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