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NFL exec recalls Cowboys-Rams exhibition at rodeo ground

July 26, 2019

Considering that the NFL has played games in small towns and large metropolises, in 10 countries on four continents, it comes as no surprise that a preseason game once was staged at a rodeo ground.

Appropriately, the Cowboys were involved.

Gil Brandt, who ran the Dallas scouting operation — and had a hand in just about everything else when the expansion team was born in 1960 — paints a vivid picture of that exhibition game with the Rams. Perhaps too vivid.

“In 1960, our first year, we played a preseason game in Pendleton, Oregon,” recalls Brandt, who will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August. “We played the Rams on a Sunday, they had the rodeo there the day before, so there was all kinds of stuff all over the field. You can imagine the smell and the footing ...

“We flew from Milwaukee out to Pendleton on a DC-6 and had to stop twice to get fuel to make it out there. We get to the rodeo ground and the officials ask, ‘Where is our dressing room?’

“The guy tells them ‘Stall 28?’

“The referee asks, ‘What do you mean, Stall 28?’

″‘If it’s good enough for the cowboys, it’s good enough for you.’”

Brandt wasn’t through with Pendleton, which is located 200 miles east of Portland, has a population of nearly 17,000 — back then about 14,000. So unlike the NFL, Pendleton hasn’t grown all that much.

It does have some football lore, though.

“And 24 years later, I was told there was this real good prospect at Eastern Oregon, which is in LeGrande,” Brandt says. “Scored 25 touchdowns, runs a 4.4. So I fly to Salt Lake City, change planes to Pendleton, and there’s a Marine sitting behind me. They announce we’re about to land in Pendleton and the Marine says, ‘Oh, good, but this doesn’t look much like San Diego.’

“The flight attendant tells him, ‘That’s Camp Pendleton; we’re landing in Pendleton, Oregon.’ He says he has to be at Camp Pendleton the next morning.

‘You’re not getting out of here until tomorrow,’ the flight attendant tells him.”

Brandt drove 50 or so miles to LeGrande, but the hot prospect turned out to be a dud who ran a 4.7 in the 40.

“On the way back, I stop at the rodeo ground in Pendleton and told a woman there who I am, and asked if they had any memorabilia from that game,” Brandt said. “Two weeks later, I get a letter with some memorabilia enclosed.

“Then I get a (proposal) to hold a 25th anniversary game of there of the 1960 game, Rams vs. Cowboys. They tell us they are prepared to offer $25,000 per team to come and play. I had to tell them that wouldn’t even cover the cost of hotel rooms anymore.”

The Cowboys were true road warriors back then, also playing games in Portland; in Des Moines, Iowa; in Louisville, Kentucky; and in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in what was the Vikings first preseason game of their expansion season.

Sioux Falls got the game when local promoters raised $40,000 to host it after Vikings President Max Winter failed to find another site.

“Tex (Cowboys President Tex Schramm) kept after me, ‘How many tickets we sell? How many tickets we sell?’” Brandt says of that match. “So I call up the promoter and he tells me it will be the biggest thing in South Dakota history, that they had to bring in bleachers from all over the state. Then 4,000 people show up.”

Brandt short-changed the crowd at Howard Wood Field, which nearly reached 5,000. Of course, the Cowboys for decades have drawn more than that to open practices. The promoters lost money on the deal.

There even was a celebrity of sorts at that game.

“The governor of the state (Archie M. Gubbrud) was running the stats crew for the game,” Brandt says. “The media were staying at a hotel and some of them asked about getting to the game. They were told to climb into the back of a flatbed truck to take them to the stadium.”

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