"Dandy" Don Meredith, who supplied the cornpone counterpoint to Howard Cosell's polysyllabic patter and helped make ABC's Monday Night Football a TV phenomenon in the 1970s, has died. He was 72.
He also did Lipton tea commercials for years (in which he called himself "Jeff and Hazel's baby boy") and forged a creditable career as an actor, particularly with a recurring role in the NBC anthology series Police Story, which ran from 1973 to 1977. Among other roles, he also lent his voice to a 1999 King of the Hill episode in which Hank competes for big money in a beer promotion at a football game.
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His wife of 38 years, Susan, told The Associated Press on Monday that her husband died in Santa Fe, N.M., after suffering a brain hemorrhage and lapsing into a coma.
Meredith brought humor into the broadcast booth that he shared with Cosell and play-by-play men Keith Jackson and then Frank Gifford. One of his best lines came when a camera caught a glimpse of a fan who was so disgusted by watching his team get shellacked that he flashed a middle finger — Meredith joked the guy simply meant his team was No. 1. Another of his lines: "If 'ifs' and 'buts' were candy and nuts, wouldn't it be a Merry Christmas?"
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He was honest too, as he never tried to bamboozle viewers into sticking around once the game was out of hand. He would sing Willie Nelson's lyrics, "Turn out the lights, the party's over ..." whenever the outcome was a fait accompli.
Before his TV career, Meredith was a star quarterback — first with Southern Methodist University, where he became a two-time All-American, then with the Dallas Cowboys from 1960 to 1968. He became the Cowboys starter in 1965 and led them to their first winning season in 1966.
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Unfortunately, he's also remembered for losing back-to-back NFL championship games to Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers — most famously, the 1967 Ice Bowl. He retired — in his prime — at 31.
By 1970, he was on MNF, helping to make pro football's historic move to prime time a hit. Meredith left ABC after the 1973 season for his gig at NBC, returning in 1977 before retiring in 1984, one year after Cosell (who died in 1995) left the booth.