Any seasoned football fan is generally familiar with the resumé of Lee Roy Jordan, the Alabama All-American who became a Dallas Cowboy hero in the Tom Landry era — initially a hard-luck period that segued into rejoicing when America’s team finally won a championship in 1971.
Lee Roy Jordan looks like a football player ought to look. Rugged features with a chiseled visage, which would resonate if he joined the granite foursome at Mt. Rushmore. If you were casting for someone to fit the image of the Marlboro Man, you couldn’t do better than Lee Roy.
Some people have credentials that are worthy of ongoing review. Nothing wrong with restating the facts when there is such overwhelming credibility, as the case is with Jordan—the Excel, Alabama, farm boy whom Paul “Bear” Bryant idolized as much as the farm boy idolized his coach. It was the Bear who said that if the runners stayed between the sidelines, Lee Roy would “get ’em.” Take the 1963 Orange Bowl, for example: Alabama versus Oklahoma in the pre-advanced technology days. They didn’t keep statistics on such things as tackles for loss, assisted tackles, tackles while standing on your head, or any of the other media-spawned superlatives of today.
Somebody, however, went back and checked the Orange Bowl film and discovered that Jordan made 31 tackles when players played both offense and defense. If you consider that, in that game, Oklahoma ran 60 offensive plays, Lee Roy made over half the tackles.
Weights were not fashionable in Lee Roy’s day. If they had been part of the training regimen, no doubt he would have weighed more than 220 pounds when he became an All-Pro Middle Linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys. In his day, there were MLB’s with heft — Ray Nitchke (6-3, 235) of Green Bay, Tommy Nobis (6-2, 240) of the Falcons, and the stud of the lot, Dick Butkus (6-3, 245) of Chicago. Sam Huff, the guy who glamorized the position with the New York Giants when Landry coached the Giant defense, was 6-1, 230.
This begs the question: How accomplished would Lee Roy have been if he had been bigger? Never been a middle linebacker his size to perform with greater success than Jordan.
“The way he went all out,” says former Cowboy vice president of personnel Gil Brandt, “he probably weighed 200 pounds by the end of the game.”
Jordan’s achievements in the golden era of the old Cowboys, those who established the Dallas dynasty, are as noteworthy as those of his Alabama career. He made 21 tackles in a game as a professional. Against the Cincinnati Bengals, he once intercepted three passes, one which went for a touchdown, in the space of five minutes.
For 14 years, he was not only a performer, he was a leader for the Cowboys. He was the player who showed up for practice with the attitude that he was going to practice as hard as he played. You never had to worry about him sloughing off or missing curfew. In fact, Landry asked him to room with the free-wheeling Don Meredith to make sure the Cowboy quarterback made bed check the night before a game. Lee Roy learned discipline from his parents down on the farm and from his coach at Alabama. He has the highest regard for disciplinary concepts, which he applies today in his very successful business, Lee Roy Jordan Lumber Co.
There is something extraordinary about Jordan. He loves his alma mater. Most former players who go on to success in the NFL are not drawn back to the campus very often. Lee Roy is. When there is a big game in Tuscaloosa, he and his wife, Biddie, pack up and make the nine-hour drive back “home.” Archie Manning goes back to Ole Miss, Roger Staubach returns to Annapolis, but few former players have that passion for alma mater like Lee Roy has for Alabama.
As tough as he was on the field, he remains the consummate gentleman away from competition. He is polite and engaging. On a two-day swing to speak in Atlanta, Athens, and LaGrange, he took time with people. Even those who saw him play a certain game and recalled details with which he was not familiar. He was pleased to visit former Georgia safetyman Pat Hunnicutt, who is stricken with Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Alabama obviously appreciates him. However, despite the ever-lessening importance of being a goodwill ambassador in this bottom-line era, he remains one for the Cowboys — even though it is probably not sufficiently appreciated by the Dallas ownership. He is a kind-hearted and generous person whose hallmark is loyalty.
A university and a pro franchise become champions when they build their teams around the leadership of players like Lee Roy Jordan. On the field, it was an eye-for-an-eye and a tooth-for-a-tooth. Away from the demands of competition, the shirt on his back was yours if you needed it.