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Ten-Gallon War: The NFL’s Cowboys, the AFL’s Texans, and the Feud for Dallas’s Pro Football Future Hardcover – October 2, 2012

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (October 2, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547435509
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547435503
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #468,044 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

JOHN EISENBERG was an award-winning sports columnist for the Baltimore Sun for two decades and is the author of seven books, most recently My Guy Barbaro, cowritten with jockey Edgar Prado, and The Great Match Race. He has written for Smithsonian, Sports Illustrated, and Details, among other publications.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.


The sellout crowd crammed into Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri, on October 11, 2009, was taken aback when the Dallas Cowboys and Kansas City Chiefs took the field wearing “throwback” uniforms from a half-century earlier, when they represented the same city, played in rival leagues, and fought bitterly for the hearts and minds of the same fans.
   What was this? Putting aside their famous metallic-blue colors for a day, the Cowboys wore dark blue jerseys with white numerals, white pants, and white helmets with dark blue stars on the sides—their uniform from the early sixties, when they were a pitiful expansion team rather than one of the most popular sports franchises on the planet. The Chiefs wore white pants, bright red jerseys, and bright red helmets with the state of Texas outlined on either side—their attire from when they were known as the Dallas Texans of the American Football League.
   Their surprising apparel was part of the National Football League’s yearlong celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the AFL’s birth—an ironic commemoration in a way, considering the AFL had been the NFL’s fierce adversary at first, an upstart seeking to muscle in on the established league’s turf. The two had stabbed each other in the back, told lies, fought over players, gone to court, and practically pushed each other to bankruptcy before agreeing to merge. But all that was ancient history now. They had long ago joined hands to become America’s preeminent sports league.
   A half-century later, the NFL readily admitted that the AFL had contributed enthusiasm, bright ideas, and some damn good football teams to the merger and willingly commemorated its birth. During the 2009 season, former AFL teams such as the Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers, and Buffalo Bills were donning replicas of their old uniforms to play each other in what were being called “AFL Legacy Games.” The Cowboys, now an iconic franchise known as “America’s Team,” were the only pre-merger NFL team playing in such a game, the league having decided it simply couldn’t pass up an opportunity to pit the franchises that had once fought over Dallas.
   The Cowboys and Texans had shared a home stadium for three years in the early sixties, playing on alternate Sundays at the Cotton Bowl, the concrete colossus then known as one of college football’s grandest stages. Both teams drew meager crowds, sometimes giving away as many tickets as they sold. They never faced each other on the field, but they battled in every other way, resorting to trickery and lawsuits to try to gain an edge, fighting over players, and stealing each other’s ideas as they sought to elbow the other out of town. Both franchises were owned by young men from oil-rich families unaccustomed to failure.
   Spotting the AFL Legacy Game on their 2009 schedule, the Chiefs had run with the idea, selling it as “The Game That Never Was,” a reprise of the Cowboys-Texans battle. Sadly, most of the frontline warriors from those rollicking days were gone. Lamar Hunt, the sports pioneer who founded the AFL and owned the Texans, had died, as had Clint Murchison Jr., the Cowboys’ original owner. Both coaches, the Cowboys’ Tom Landry and the Texans’ Hank Stram, were gone. So was Tex Schramm, the Cowboys’ general manager, who had battled as fiercely as anyone.
   Much of the bitterness from those days was gone too. The franchises had operated in different cities for more than four decades, dulling the distrust and dislike that boiled over back in the day. When Lamar Hunt was alive, he lived near Cowboys owner Jerry Jones on Preston Road in Dallas, and when their teams played, they lightheartedly competed for the “Preston Road Trophy.” Their teams had played a handful of regular-season games against each other over the years as part of the NFL’s regular schedule rotation.
   But while games between the Cowboys and Chiefs had become routine to most people, there were exceptions—old lions from the early sixties who, like southerners who still pledged allegiance to Dixie, swore they would “never forget.”
   Sitting in his den in Dallas on that October afternoon in 2009, a seventy-two-year-old car salesman named Jack Spikes watched on television as his former team took on the Cowboys in the uniform he had worn when he was a hard-hitting fullback for the Texans in the early sixties. He worked at a BMW dealership now, occasionally selling expensive cars to Cowboy players, some of whom he liked. But his dislike for their high-and-mighty franchise, which dated to when he played for the other team in town, had never abated. He didn’t like the Cowboys one bit.
   I hope to hell the Chiefs beat the crap out of them, Spikes thought, just like we would have back then.
   The sight of the teams in their old uniforms startled Mike Rhyner, a well-known sports radio talk-show host in Dallas, who was ten years old when the Cowboys and Texans started up a half-century earlier. Rhyner had sided with the Texans at first, mostly because his father demanded it, but later switched to the Cowboys. Having lived through those days, he knew this wasn’t just any game from a historical standpoint.
   Wow. Too bad they never played like this, in those uniforms, all those years ago, he thought. That would have been some war.
   Watching the game in person, from a private box at Arrowhead, Chris Burford had the same thought. Like Spikes, he had played for the Texans and continued with the franchise when it moved to Kansas City. He had been a pass-catching fiend in those days, a wily receiver whose meticulous routes and sure hands befuddled opponents. Now seventy, a spry and sharp Bay Area lawyer, he had put football behind him, but he enjoyed coming back and mingling with other former Chiefs at the franchise’s annual alumni weekend. That occasion had brought him to Arrowhead on this Sunday.
   To most of the other former Kansas City players in the box, a game against the Cowboys carried no extra significance. But Burford felt a tingling in his stomach. The smug preeminence of the Cowboys and their fans irritated him, as it did Spikes and the other former Texans who had fought the Cowboys long ago.
   The game that never was? Sheee-it.
   This one, in 2009, wasn’t a fair fight, Burford thought. The struggling Chiefs were 0-4. The Cowboys were perennial playoff contenders.
   But that wasn’t the case when they shared Dallas in the early sixties and everyone had wanted them to settle their differences on the field.
   “‘The game that never was’ . . . what a bunch of horse crap,” Burford snorted later when asked about sitting at Arrowhead that day. “We would have kicked the shit out of the Cowboys back then. I would have loved to have played them every week. We were the better team. No one thought so, but we would have whipped them.”
   Hell, yeah, he remembered those days.


“Would you be interested in starting
up a new league?”

LAMAR HUNT WAS AT 30,000 feet, his head literally in the clouds, when the idea of starting a new professional football league came to him. “The lightbulb just came on,” he would say later. That it did so in the sky, on an American Airlines flight, seemed entirely appropriate, for the idea was, if anything, a flight of fancy.
   As Hunt flew from Miami to his hometown of Dallas on a February evening in 1959, the National Football League had never been more popular. After grinding along for almost four decades in the shadow of Major League Baseball, the NFL was suddenly taking off like a Russian rocket. Six weeks earlier, a television audience of 40 million had watched NBC’s broadcast of the league’s championship game, a thriller between the Baltimore Colts and New York Giants decided in sudden-death overtime.
   Even though Hunt, as the son of one of the world’s wealthiest men, oilman Haroldson Lafayette “H.L.” Hunt, had been brought up to think Texas big, he understood it was a long-odds proposition to take on the NFL and survive. Three leagues had tried and failed over the years, most recently the All-American Football Conference, a late-forties start-up that folded after spewing red ink for four years. The NFL’s feisty old guard, led by the Chicago Bears’ George Halas, had fended off that challenge and celebrated by annexing the dying league’s best teams.
   Less than a decade later, as Lamar sat in his seat in the plane’s first-class cabin and contemplated what he thought was a bright idea, he quickly concocted a list of major questions a new league would face. Why would anyone buy in as the owner of a franchise knowing that he would probably lose millions in the early years? Why would any decent players bypass the NFL to play in the league? Why would any fans care about teams with no history or tradition?
   Lamar was just twenty-six, barely removed from his callow days as a fun-loving Kappa Sigma fraternity brother at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. His idea was easily dismissed as a fantasy, the idle stirring of a young man with more money than sense. In the coming years, many people in the NFL would view his new league as just that, a folly.
   But they would discover that it was a mistake to underestimate Lamar Hunt.
   Yes, he was young, but he had a realistic vision for his new league from the moment he conceived it. His enthusiasm for football, and sports in general, was unmatched. A...

More About the Author

John Eisenberg grew up with books in his hands - his first summer job was at his mother's bookstore in his hometown of Dallas, Texas. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, he wrote for newspapers for almost three decades, mostly as a sports columnist at The Baltimore Sun covering major events such as the Super Bowl, Final Four, World Series, Kentucky Derby, and soccer's World Cup while also paying attention to his hometown teams - the Baltimore Ravens, Baltimore Orioles, and Maryland Terrapins. Along the way he wrote 3,000 columns and won more than 20 awards, including several first-places in the prestigious Associated Press Sports Editors contest.

He also has written for Sports Illustrated, Smithsonian Magazine, and Details, and before working in Baltimore. spent five years with the Dallas Times Herald.

No matter if he is writing about a famous football coach, a heartbroken jockey, or a pitcher who wins 20 games, John is known for unearthing original stories and bringing them to life with his clear-eyed analysis and lively narrative style. His book topics have included the start of Vince Lombardi's dynasty in Green Bay, the history of the Baltimore Orioles, his experience as a young fan of the Dallas Cowboys in the 1960s, the tragic breakdown of the horse Barbaro, and an outrageous North-South horse race that captivated the nation in 1823.

John lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

Customer Reviews

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Football fans should read this book.
The convergence of Tom Landry, Hank Stram, Tex Schramm, Lamar Hunt, Don Meredith, Len Dawson and Clint Murchison Jr. makes for good storytelling.
Jim Considine
I can only say that it was a chore for me to finish it and I'm glad I've read it and I'm glad I'm done with it.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Craig VINE VOICE on September 19, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
It's always a great feeling when your lofty expectations are exceeded, and that's what happened with this book. I was hoping for an interesting look at the battle for Dallas's pro football hearts and wallets, and I instead got one of the best sports books I've read this year.

Eisenberg takes us back to Dallas before they had a team in either the AFL or NFL, providing some excellent history not only of the importance of college football to the area, but also of the city of Dallas itself. Instead of looking at the city and its teams in a vaccuum, he provides excellent context of how things were when the two teams came along.

The personalities involved with the teams - names like Hunt, Murchison, Landry, Dawson, Meredith, Schramm - have become larger than life given their historical importance, but the author is very restrained in his portrayal of them. Instead of trying to impress upon the reader his thoughts, Eisenberg just presents the story and lets us make our own decisions. He doesn't seem to take the side of either team, again letting the facts speak for themselves.

One thing I really liked is that, while there is some discussion of particular games, the focus of the book is the off-field jockeying and the battle to win over the city. My guess is that a fair chunk of those who decide to give this book a go are probably very well-aware of the AFL/NFL war that took place in the heart of Texas fifty years ago, but that won't make this book any less enjoyable.

I probably read 25-30 sports title each year, and there are always a few that stand out. I would still list Pinstripe Empire as my top sports read of 2012, but this one is going to be in my top-3. Highly recommended for any serious sports fan.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By moolane VINE VOICE on October 23, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is the first sports history book I have ever read and I was somewhat unsure if it would be at all interesting. However, having lived in Dallas and knowing what the Cowboys mean to the people of Dallas (and the State of Texas) I was curious enough to take a chance and read the book.

The book is filled with interesting facts about how professional football came to Texas, as well as the fascinating story of the twists and turns of the battle between the AFL and NFL. The very fact that the AFL came about because of one man's desire to bring pro football to Dallas and how hard he worked at this detailed in the book. There are also many anecdotal stories about the Cowboys and Texans players, staff, fans, and initial games. One of the most interesting parts of the book are the details about the lengths each team went to in order to get people to game, as well as the information about how Tom Landry worked as a coach and how hard he pushed his players and coaching staff. Finally, the details as to how the NFL tried to crush the AFL and when ultimately not successful agreed to a merger were all unknown to me and made for excellent reading.

In summary this is an interesting and fun book to read if you are a fan of any pro football team!
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Larry VanDeSande VINE VOICE on September 7, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
When the Dallas Cowboys and Kansas City Chiefs of the NFL played a legacy game in 2009 wearing throwback uniforms, some of my friends wondered why the Chiefs - whose colors are red, yellow and white - wore red helmets with logo being an outline of Texas and a spot in the north part of the state identified with a yellow star. That, I told them, is because the Chiefs started life in the American Football League circa 1960 as the Dallas Texans and moved to Kansas City after the 1962 season.

National Football League fans may know Dallas had a pro team by the same name in 1952 that folded after one season. Then the NFL installed the Cowboys as Dallas's league franchise in 1960, essentially setting off a new competition in the Texas city between the two teams.

John Eisenberg's book, The Ten-Gallon War, traces the years of this competition and outlines the reasons why the Cowboys survived in Dallas while the Chiefs, who won the AFL championship in 1962 in a nationally-televised overtime game, could no longer compete and had to leave town. Eisenberg weaves a rich tapestry around two oil-rich young men - Clint Murchison Jr., who owned the Cowboys, and 20-something Lamar Hunt, who founded the AFL and owned the Texans in Dallas - and the machinations the two men took to outdo each other to attract pro football fans during the rivalry.

Not only was Dallas not big enough for two pro football teams five decades ago, there was sizable question whether it would support any team. For NFL fans used to 12-month, 24/7 national coverage of every league development, an annual Super Bowl that attracts almost two-thirds of people watching TV at the time, and the likes of Jerry Jones' 100,000-seat palace the Cowboys play in today, this must seem like heresy.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By J. Brandt VINE VOICE on August 29, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Today, the NFL is a huge business with teams with rich histories. However, in the late 1950s, Dallas was a growing city with no professional football team. Suddenly, two professional teams are born and the competition for the fan base of Dallas, Texas begins. Clint Murchinson and Lamar Hunt, two wealthy young businessmen, both want to become the favorite of fans and this book by John Eisenberg is a fascinating look behind the scenes of how both teams were created from scratch and how both teams scrambled for players, for stadium time and for fan loyalty.

Until I read this book I never knew how the Washington Redskins fight song and the Dallas Cowboys were connected nor did I realize (and I should have since I'm a Cowboys fan) that the Cowboys were not actually called the Cowboys when the team was first put together. The behind the scenes politics of both organizations is a great part of this book with comments from former players and people in the organizations. Two very rich men will change the NFL forever and those changes were due to people like Murchinson, Schramm, Landry, Hunt, Halas and others and this book was just a great read from page one until the last page.

I will give this book five stars as it is a must read for NFL fans and for fans of "America's Team" as the book shows that it took some time to sort out who would dominate pro football in Dallas.
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