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Jerry Rhome, Dallas Sunset, SMU and Dallas Cowboy Quarterback

June 27, 2024

Jerry Rhome, Dallas Sunset, SMU, Tulsa and Dallas Cowboy QB

by Memories Inc Executive Director Paul Heckmann

Edited by Mike Farris

Paul Heckmann: Thanks for spending some time with Memories Inc. Can you tell me a little bit about growing up in Oak Cliff in the ‘40s and ‘50s.

Jerry Rhome: Well, I was born in ‘42, when I got to 12 or 13 years old, I was always hanging around the football field. Right up the street from me was a field that Sunset High School used, where my father coached. They’d walk over from the high school, which was about eight blocks, to use that field because the high school didn’t have a field. They had a baseball field but it was small and they had to build a big screen wall over there on the right side of the field for anybody to hit a home run over the fence, into the street, and into the houses. So, they made arrangements, and one of them was that they would all walk from the high school to this reservoir full of water and there was a football field up there.

It was right up the street from me and I’d just walk up there and I’d watch him1 practice and then I’d catch passes from the quarterbacks. They were running a single wing offense and so it wasn’t like they were quarterbacks; they were like tailbacks and that’s what I wanted to be. I wanted to be Dick Kazmaier. You remember him? He was the Heisman Trophy winner from Princeton University in 1951.

Paul Heckmann: I do. Now tell me about the coach, Byron Rhome. Tell me a little bit about your dad.

Jerry and his dad Byron at Dallas Sunset. Courtesy Texas Sports Hall of Fame

Jerry Rhome: He was born in Cleburne, Texas, and he raised horses and rode them. They talked him into going out for the football team. He was an end. Of course, that’s football back in 1930 or ‘28 or ’27, and you know how that was. The coach of Cleburne says, “Would you mind helping me?” Dad says, “Well, I’m going off to college.” And the coach says, “Will you help me when you’re not gone to college? You seem to have a lot of good skills.”

So, he started helping the high school. Then he went off to college and, in college, he played and started helping the coaches there. He was just a born coach and a really good player, good football mind. Then he goes into the Army and he starts teaching parachuting. They said, “We think we’re wasting your talents. Will you coach our Army football team?” This was at Hondo Air base. They had these different parts of the military in this league. There was the Air Force team, the Army, the Navy, they had several Marine teams. And then everybody played everybody twice. And he went nine and one in that league.

When he came back to high school, they had him as a track coach—the high school coach had left for SMU. And so they said, “Coach Rhome, we want to make you the head coach here at Sunset High School.” Two years later, he went to the state championship with the high school team and the next year he won it.

Paul Heckmann: Now your dad, from what I read, was kind of a daunting figure on the field.

Jerry Rhome: He was just strong. He was his own man. He told you what the rules were and he lived by them. But hey, he had two state championship teams in a row. And they all loved him. I was around him. I was a kid watching everything. You know how high school kids are. He’d be off down at the other end. And he only had two assistant coaches. He’s got all these players, he’s got like 50 of them. Well, that’s not very many coaches. So sure, they screwed off when somebody wasn’t around. They’d be pouring water on each other or tripping each other, shit like that.

But he’d line them all up and he said, “You guys think that you’re getting away with all of this.

You’re not. I’ve been in the Army. I know how to shoot machine guns. I’m going to come out here and I’m going to just level all of you.” They all laughed and that kind of won them over with him. Anyway, he took them to the state championship.

Paul Heckmann: I read a story about Joe Boring2 that said that on one 100-degree day in August, the water boy—Rhome’s eight year old son, you, Jerry—slipped him a tiny cup of water. When your dad saw it, he had him start running around the field.

Jerry Rhome: I went to my father and said, “Dad, I’m the one who slipped him the water. He didn’t ask for it.” And he said, “Well, I’ll let him run. He needs the exercise anyway. I’ll let him get around the field and then stop him.” (apparently Coach Rhome forgot that Boring was running and he was still running late into the night)

Paul Heckmann: We talked about your dad. Let’s talk about you a little bit. You were born at Methodist Hospital.

Jerry Rhome: Yes.

Paul Heckmann: All right, and then your elementary school was called Lida Hooe?

Jerry Rhome: Yeah, the woman’s name was Lida. And her last name was Hooe.3

Paul Heckmann: Your mom was a teacher there?

Jerry Rhome: In the [Dallas] Independent School District at that time, they would not let two people from the same family teach, so she became a substitute teacher. And Dad was a regular teacher plus a coach. But she was a substitute teacher for the whole time. Fifteen or twenty years.

Paul Heckmann: Of course, you were probably shopping at Wynnewood Village, I would imagine.

Jerry Rhome: Oh, that wasn’t even there then.

Paul Heckmann: How about Polar Bear Ice Cream?

Jerry Rhome: Oh yeah, it was there. It was kind of by itself down there on the corner. We’d ride our bikes there. They had a little pharmacy—I can’t remember what the name of that pharmacy was. That’s where I used to buy a lot of my football and baseball cards. I got a heck of a card collection. I’d ride my bicycle down there, and then we’d get out in front of the store and we’d start flipping cards. You had to be careful because everybody’s trying to cheat, you know. But I got my collection going. Then I got past all the flipping and I would mow lawns, anywhere I could make money.

I’d do it and then I’d go down to Ed Armands, and I’d say, “Mr. Armands, when are you getting your next set of cards in?” And he says, “Let me go back and look,” and he’d tell me, “Wednesday.” And I said, “Well, when will you have them on the shelf?” He says, “I’ll have them there by noon Wednesday, and I won’t tell anybody.”

Paul Heckmann: Oh, my God, so you got the first pick.

Jerry Rhome: I’d be there waiting on him and then he’d get ’em out and I’d spend every penny I had.

Paul Heckmann: Do you still have those cards?

Jerry Rhome: Oh, you bet. Oh, my goodness. They gotta be worth some money now. I’ve got ’em in a special vault. I go down there and I get ’em out every once in a while. I have ’em in books and plastic sheets. I don’t have any in my house because I don’t want somebody breaking in. I bet I’ve got a quarter of a million dollars in them.

Paul Heckmann: Oh, wow. That’s amazing.

Jerry Rhome: Name me the name of a great player and I guarantee I got him. I got three Babe Ruths and two Lou Gehrigs. They were 1939. They had cards of those guys back when they were playing but nobody saved them or anything like that. A card group that came out in the late 1930s went back and got all those cards to sell them.

Paul Heckmann: I think I used most of my cards up. Put them in the spokes of my bicycle and made it sound like a motorcycle.

Jerry Rhome: Oh, I know. I remember everybody used to do that. They’d say, “Why don’t you do it like we do?” And I’d say, “I don’t know. I just don’t. I like these cards. I don’t want to do anything with them.” I remember my mom would play bridge and, of course, there’d be like two or three cards missing from all of her decks. You know she knew where they went. That’s for sure.

Paul Heckmann: All right, so now you’ve kind of graduated from your start of that collection of cards and you became a daredevil. And you’re flying down the road. Tell me about the bicycle accident.

Jerry Rhome: Oh, there were three of us racing on a bicycle. And my grade school was right there, four blocks from Sunset High School. And, so we were racing. We took off on our bicycles. We went around the corner and one was a little bit ahead of me and I decided to pass him. And I did. Unfortunately, I forgot that these people had just gotten through building a new driveway all the way to the curb of the street. All the other driveways went to the sidewalk and then they stopped. So I hit the curb, went over—there hadn’t been a curb there before. I hit it and over the top I went. There was a little old tree that they had planted, about an inch and a half in diameter and BAM!

Well, I knew right then I had a problem, and I said to my friend, “My father’s up there at the park. Get him and tell him I need his help.” He went up there and told my father, who came down. We had the type of car that opened in the back, so he just picked me up and he laid me in the back and took me right straight to the hospital.

Paul Heckmann: I understand he used bats to hold your legs together?

Jerry Rhome: Yeah, he took a couple bats and he had tape—he always had white tape. He wrapped it around my leg. He actually took one bat and put it behind my leg (and taped them together). And he headed to Methodist Hospital. When he got there, he went straight to the phone, and he called this friend of his, a doctor who had been in the Army with him. He’d been the doctor for the Army team. And he told him what happened, and that dude got in his car and, from San Antonio, drove straight to Dallas.

In the meantime, they put me in the hospital and, of course, they were trying to settle me down with the pain and all that. They gave me a couple of KO pills and tried to put me to sleep. But then [the doctor] got there and they woke me up and they said, “We’re going to operate on your leg.” Six hours later, they brought me back into the room. I mean, it was an unbelievable operation.

Paul Heckmann: I can imagine. I understand you had a screw in your knee.

Jerry Rhome: Yeah, right above my knee, they put a pin through there. I guess it was a screw because they screwed it out. If it had been an inch lower, I would have never walked again because then it would have been my knee joint.

Paul Heckmann: That’s where it was broken, right there above your knee?

Jerry Rhome: Above my knee at my thigh bone. The cast had to be up all the way up to my chest to keep everything settled, so that I wouldn’t move anything. And then on the other leg, it went all the way down past my knee, about halfway down. And then they had a big thing between my two legs, that kept my legs spread. I woke up in the hospital. They had done all this stuff, and I didn’t even know where I was. They took me home two weeks later, put me in the bed upstairs, away from all the commotion, noise, and everything.

I was in a little room and there was a TV there. They rigged a deal over my head, where I could pull this bar and I could raise up off the bed, enough where my mother could change the sheets. After I got a little better, I started doing curls. Or, actually, chin-ups with it above my bed, so that it would give me something to do. And she had that TV set with the 13-inch screen as close to the bed as possible. And that’s it, man. I spent the summer. It happened in June, like the 2nd, and on September the 4th, they took me to the hospital again and they cut the cast off of me.

Paul Heckmann: Kind of ruined your summer there, didn’t it?

Jerry Rhome: Are you kidding? I was on crutches, so I crutched myself around the school. It was the eighth grade, going into the ninth. Everybody said, “Oh, that guy’s lame.” They came up with all these stories, like a train ran over him. It was just, you know, everybody saw me going down the hall on crutches. When I finally got off them, of course, I had no leg. It was like a beanpole.

Paul Heckmann: Then you started that next semester in basketball, correct?

Jerry Rhome: I went out for Spring basketball, and I did all right. I was good.

Charles Marshall, John Beall and Jerry Rhome, the All City bunch. Courtesy The Advocate

Then (the next year) I played football my ninth grade year in junior high, and I was trying to play quarterback, but I wasn’t very good. I didn’t have any quickness and I needed to get stronger. So I came around to baseball and basketball (that spring). I got it back. I was on my feet and I gained a whole lot of my flexibility and quickness back. I ended up leading the city of Dallas in the ninth grade junior high in basketball scoring. I averaged 14 points a game. They were seven-minute quarters. And I always could shoot the basketball. I didn’t even need my leg to shoot the basketball. I could just sit out there and shoot.

Paul Heckmann: So, you are now kind of moving on to Sunset High School, which is a whole different ball game. Tell me a little bit about that. I know you played football, basketball, and baseball.

Jerry Rhome: (jumping back a year) I played baseball during the summer, every summer, for the park leagues. And the baseball coach on our team was the baseball coach at Sunset, Abe Barnett. He came to me and said, “I’ve been watching you in basketball. You’re getting around pretty good. Come on out for the baseball team and we’ll see what happens.” Anyway, I ended up making the baseball team as an 8th grader and I got to play. That’s where it all started rolling.

Jerry at Dallas Sunset, photo courtesy Jerry Rhome

My junior year in Dallas, I made All-City as a quarterback. It was funny because I remember hearing my uncle, his name was Otto and he was an assistant coach over at Crozier Tech High School in Dallas, and he kept saying, “Byron, play your son.” Because my father was saying, “Well, I don’t know if I should play him ahead of these other two. They’re seniors, and I don’t want to show favoritism.” My uncle said, “Your son is a lot better than they are. Play your son.” And so he played me in the first game. I did pretty well in the second game. I threw, like, three touchdowns and away we went.

Paul Heckmann: So, you go through your years at Sunset, I know you got about a hundred college scholarship offers, correct?


Jerry Rhome: Yes. I really had a choice going (forward). I played baseball, basketball, and football, and I did real well in all the sports. I got (a lot of) scholarship offers, and SMU was right there over the top of it. They offered me a baseball scholarship or a football scholarship, either one. Texas Tech offered me a football scholarship. Baylor offered me a scholarship. At that time, Texas A&M was all male, and I wasn’t interested in that. I chose SMU because of Don Meredith. He was the quarterback at SMU. When I was in the 11th grade, SMU was always supplying tickets to the coaching staff at some of the high schools so they’d go to the games and see SMU playing. When SMU felt like they had a guy there in one of those high schools, they’d go recruit them.

Jerry at Sunset. Played a lot of sports. Photo courtesy Jerry Rhome

Paul Heckmann: And they had the advantage of the coach already having been given tickets.

Jerry Rhome: Oh, yeah. And now they say, “You gotta go to SMU. Dude, that’s the greatest school in the Southwest Conference.” I didn’t w we went. That guy ended up making all-Southwest Conference as a nose guard. ant to go to Texas because they’re just too many. I mean, they had 100 guys on football scholarships. It was ridiculous. There was no limit at that time. I told the coach at SMU, “If you’ll take my friend here, who’s a really good lineman, with me, we’ll come to SMU.” And he said, “Okay,”

Paul Heckmann: Who’s that?

Jerry Rhome: His name was Martin Cude. He did really well.

I did real well (in football). I was starting and I led the conference in passing and total offense. In the last game (TCU), you’ll laugh at this. Bill Meek was the head coach, I was a sophomore, and we were down 28 to 21. There was only about a minute left in the game and we were on our own 40-yard line. He put the senior quarterback in. He said he was going to graduate. I stood there, and the guy threw two passes and they were incomplete. Then I just ran onto the field.

Jerry at the next level, college ball. Photo courtesy Jerry Rhome

Paul Heckmann: You did what?

Jerry Rhome: I just ran onto the field, into the huddle. I said, “You’re out,” and I called a play. We didn’t have any timeouts, so he couldn’t call one. And of course we had third and long. I threw a pass and completed it. I drove the team all the way down to the 10-yard line. I’ll be damned if he (Meek) didn’t take me out of the game.

Paul Heckmann: Oh, goodness.

Jerry Rhome: Then the other guy took a short pass and then they ran around and he scored. (we kicked the extra point and tied them 28-28. At that point I knew Meek was gonna get fired).

Paul Heckmann: Don Meredith was probably a senior when you were a freshman, is that correct?

Jerry Rhome: Oh, he was like five years ahead of me. I didn’t ever have to compete against him.

Paul Heckmann: You had a pretty good year as a sophomore. You led the Southwest Conference in completions and attempts.

Jerry Rhome: I wasn’t all that good. I mean, I needed to get a lot better. I needed the strength of my arm. In high school, it was just different. You know, I could run and do all this. I just holly-gollied a lot of stuff.

So (SMU) they fired Bill Meek and in came Hayden Fry, who had been an assistant coach at Arkansas. Three yards and a cloud of dust. And they go 10 and 0. The Southwest Conference couldn’t stand up to them. Look at their record. Nobody could stand up to them. And so Fry he comes in there, and the very first thing in the Spring—and I’m playing baseball, too, for SMU—he got all the athletes in this huge room. And he said, “Things are going to change around here. We’re going to work during the off-season, you’re going to go on the weight program, you guys are going to go and this, this, this.”

Afterwards, I walked up to him and I said, “Coach Fry, in my scholarship offer SMU agreed that I could play baseball.” He said, “You’re not going to be playing baseball.” And I said, “I’m going to go to the athletic director and say something because that was not what we agreed on.”

He said, “Well, you’re ruining your chances to play football for me.” And I said, “I don’t care. I’m a man of my word and you need to be a man of your word.”

Paul Heckmann: I met Coach Fry. I imagine it was confrontational.

Jerry Rhome: So I said, “I’ll practice. Then I’m going to walk over there and get my baseball cleats on.” He said, “Well, you go ahead and play baseball, then you better be looking for another team.” And I said, “That’s fine with me.”

I was all that time talking to my father, and he was advising me. I said, “I told Fry, ‘A deal is a deal. I know you weren’t here, but a deal is a deal.’ He said, ‘Well, where is it signed?’

I said, ‘Well, I don’t have a piece of paper that says it, but you can ask Coach B.’ He said, ‘Alright, alright, alright, alright, alright. You go ahead and play baseball.’”

Then, when the season was over, about a week before school was out, they called me into this big room. All the coaches in SMU were in the room—baseball, football, basketball, track, whatever. They all took their turns around the big table telling me how they heard rumors that I was thinking about going somewhere. And they made this little speech about how this is going to be better for me.

I just stood up and I said, “I appreciate you guys going to the trouble to tell me all this. But, if we play the kind of football that Coach Fry has come here to play, like Arkansas, I don’t want to play. I’d rather just play baseball.” And I walked out of the room. And that was that. (SMU was over)

So, I got a summer job and then I had a couple coaches come around and talk to me at my house. They started working on my father. One day, I get a knock at the door and there’s this coach there named Ken Shipp. He said, “I’m here to talk to Jerry Rhome. I’m a coach from the University of Tulsa.” He tells us, “We throw the football, and we need somebody that can do .We got the best receivers around and we got big offensive linemen. Coach Dobbs is an ex-pro quarterback,” which he was, “and we’re in the process of trying to hire Sammy Baugh to come in and coach our quarterbacks.” It turned out they did. Took him another year and a half to do it, though, ‘cause he went to the Jets.

Long story short, when I told my father, he said, “Go to Tulsa. Go play your game.” So, I went to Tulsa and, sure enough, Sammy Baugh ended up there, and Glenn Dobbs, who had been a pro quarterback, was there. It was just right up my alley. And a little old kid that didn’t get any offers from college, from Galena Park, right outside Houston—undersized, they said; slow; 5’10”; can’t outrun anybody—comes to Tulsa as a freshman, Howard Twilley

Paul Heckmann: Oh, yeah. I remember him.

Jerry taking a breather during his Tulsa days. Photo courtesy The Advocate

Jerry Rhome: I worked with him. He proceeds to break the NCAA record for most catches and all that. If you threw the ball anywhere around him, he was gonna come down with it. He had hands of glue. Then they used one player after another to climb the pole, because the next thing they did, they got this guy that had been at the Naval Academy. He was out of there and he was looking for a place to play. They talked him into coming to Tulsa. His name was Bob Daugherty, six-foot-two-inches. He ended up being my tailback. So, all of a sudden I’ve got this great wide receiver and this tailback. We were running a spread offense, and we had guys spread out on it.

Then we had this other guy that was tougher than nails as my fullback. Basically, we were running an NFL football spread offense, the big fullback to block, the tailback that you can put in motion and run passes and run the draw and all that.

Paul Heckmann: Let’s talk about that one game, against Louisville. It was actually, in that game against Louisville, you were 35 of 43 for 488 yards and you set four more national records.

Jerry Rhome: Yeah, that sounds like it.

Paul Heckmann: As a senior at Tulsa, y’all led the nation in total offense, which was quite impressive. And then you had a victory over Mississippi in the Bluebonnet Bowl.

Jerry Rhome: I’m sure you’ll love this one. When I was growing up, I played ball in the parks in the summertime. And my old man was the one that supplied all of the sports equipment. There was this guy in one park, a park director whose name was George Owen or something—I can’t think of his last name. But he ended up going from a high school coach to the Cowboys as one of their run-around guys. George was a real talker and he said that [Tex] Schramm told him that I was going to be a free agent, and they had drafted me the year before.

At that time, if you look when I got drafted, it was like the 13th round. Okay, if you look at it closely, a guy in the 12th round was Roger Staubach. Everybody used to say, “Well, you didn’t get picked until the thirteenth round.” I’d say, “Well, did you see when Roger Staubach was picked?” And they say, “Oh, yeah, that’s right.” But we were five-year seniors, so we got drafted our junior years.

So, I got drafted as a junior and Roger was in the Navy, and he wasn’t going to be eligible to play for like two, three years after he gets out of the Navy. So, we got drafted early, and we’ve got a little asterisk by our pick. These rounds were very short then, and there weren’t as many teams in the NFL as there are today, or half the number, probably.

Paul Heckmann: Let’s go back just a bit to the end of your college career. You were actually up for the Heisman Trophy because of your consensus All- American and AP Player of the Year in the NCAA. You were the Heisman Trophy runner-up in the closest voting ever. Can you tell me a little bit about happened around the Heisman?

Jerry Rhome: Well, they did the vote, but Mr. [John] Huarte4 went 11 and 0 with his team, and I guess there must have been a lot of Catholics around in the vote. I came in second and defensive lineman Dick Butkus5 came in third.

Jerry losing the Heisman in one of the closest votes ever. John Huarte won it. Photo courtesy SI.com. 1964: Notre Dame’s John Huarte (1,026) over Tulsa’s Jerry Rhome (952) by 74 points

We were riding the bus in Washington, D. C. The three of us had been invited there and we didn’t know who was going to win. Butkus and I are just shooting the bull, and Huarte is sitting on the other side of the bus, and he’s got a couple people he’s talking to, and they’re just having a conversation. They’re talking and joking around, and I turned to Butkus and said, “Hey, Dick, you think he knows something that we don’t know?” Sure enough, he won the Heisman. I came in second.

I just got through talking to a guy on the telephone two days ago named John Huarte. We had talked before when we’d been together signing some autographs and stuff somewhere along the line. When I was coaching for the Arizona Cardinals, he had finished his football career and lived right up the street from the Cardinals facility. He used to come out and I recognized him over there on the fence, watching practice. I was the offensive coordinator, and I walked over to him and said, “Mr. Huarte, would you mind coming on to the field and watching practice? I want to introduce you?”

He said, “How do you know me?” I said, “Are you kidding? You ruined my senior year by me not winning the Heisman.” And he said, “Oh, you’re Jerry Rhome?” I said, “I’m Jerry Rhome. Where in the hell do you live? I see you walking by here all the time, watching.” He said, “I live two blocks down the street.” And I said, “Well, you just come around this gate right here and on to this field. I’m going to introduce you.” He started coming to practice and we became really good friends.

About two weeks ago, I was going through my card collection and I ran across John’s football card. I told my wife Carmen, “I’m calling him.” She said, “How do you know where he is?” I said, “I’m just going to call this old address.” I called and he answered the phone. Anyway, I wrote a book about how to raise a winning quarterback or something like that. I said, “John, do you remember me? I’m Jerry Rhome.”

Oh, I know why I called him. I called him because Dick Butkus died, so I called him and told him the story about me and Butkus talking about how he was having a lot of fun on that bus and we thought he knew something that we didn’t. He started laughing.

Paul Heckmann: So you got drafted in 1964 by the Dallas Cowboys, your home team. You gotta be pretty darn excited. Now, you were the backup to Don Meredith, weren’t you at that time?

Jerry Rhome, Don Meredith and Craig Morton with the Cowboys. Photo courtesy Jerry Rhome

Jerry Rhome: Well, I’ve got to be fair to Craig Morton. We kind of alternated. He was a dadgum good player. Absolutely. And he also was a good guy.

Paul Heckmann: I know you’re gonna have a game in Green Bay, Wisconsin in 1967. Tell me about that game. It is famous. Folks around Dallas know it very well as the Ice Bowl. Tell me about the Ice Bowl.

Jerry Rhome: Well, I don’t really remember it. I got KO’d in the Ice Bowl game. I ran some play and somebody hit me, guess a helmet hit me. Next thing I remember, I was in the locker room. Of course, I’m asking what the score was and the way it ended. You know, we lost it!

Paul Heckmann: As it turns out, probably for the best. So four years with the Cowboys, and then you went to the Browns in 1969.

Jerry Rhome: Correct.

Paul Heckmann: Then you went to the Oilers in ‘70, the Rams in ‘71.

Jerry Rhome: I was with the Cowboys four years. And this is interesting. This is going to tell you a lot about the way I feel about people in the world. J.D. Smith got traded to the Cowboys from the San Francisco 49ers my third year with the Cowboys. We went to training camp, and then we’re at a preseason game in Philadelphia. It’s Saturday night, the last preseason game, and Landry said, “Y’all take the night off. Go to the movies,” or something like that. And J.D.’s standing there in the lobby by himself. He’s black, okay? And I walk up to him and I say, “You wanna go to the movies?”

He said, “You’re asking me?” I said, “Yeah, I’m asking you.” He said, “Yeah!” So, we’re walking down the street toward the theater and he said, “I can’t believe you asked me to go to the movies.” I said, “Well, what’s the matter? You got polio or something?” And he said, “No, I’m black.” I said, “You are?” Just like that to him. I said, “Sir, I am color blind.” He said, “Well, that is so cool because you’re the first white guy that really ever paid any attention to me.” We became really good friends.

I ended up coaching Stephen McNair, who was black. I ended up coaching Warren Moon, who was black. Doug Williams was black. Chris Carter, wide receiver. I mean, I am color blind. I don’t know what color you are and I don’t care.

So, it was fortunate that I was that way. I am color blind and, in coaching, that means a lot.

Playing at that time, it meant a lot. There were so many people who were prejudiced.

Paul Heckmann: Tell me about Tom Landry. Tell me about your first impressions. What did you love about the guy? And what did you not love so much?

Jerry Rhome: He was about as funny as… well, you know…he was dry. And very serious all the time, serious. The greatest example of that is my first year after we came back from training camp. He called all the quarterbacks in one at a time to talk to us about our future and what he wanted us to work on during the summer, and where we are on the football team. So, we had our little talk, and he said, “Tell so and so to come in.” I said, “Coach, can I tell you something?” He said, “Of course,” and I said, “Coach, you’re a good coach, but you’re behind the times.”

Paul Heckmann: What was his reply?

Jerry Rhome: Well, he just looked at me. I said, “You’re being passed by. They all are throwing the ball and running and stretching their offenses out and running three receivers and one back.” I said, “You are strictly a two-receiver, two-back guy and the quarterback out of the center.” He finally decided to change about two or three years later. But when I said it to him, he said, “When you get your team, you can do it your way.” I said, “Coach, I’m sorry. I probably should’ve kept my mouth shut.” He said, “No, I like a young man that’s not afraid to step up.” And I said, “Well, I’m going to step up.” He said, “What now?” I said, “If you want me to get on the board and draw up some formations, I would love to do that.” He said, “I think I can wait on that one.”

He ran five guys on the line of scrimmage, tight end on one end of the line, tight end on the other end of the line, a guy split out on one side and one guy split on the other side, and two backs, and that’s it.

Paul Heckmann: Which I’m sure he learned under Lombardi. You know, New York, three, four yards and a cloud of dust type stuff.

Jerry Rhome: I was with the Cleveland Browns. I’d been four years with Cowboys and I hadn’t gotten to play much. They had Landry and they had Craig Morton. I’m stretching to reach six feet tall. Don Meredith and Craig Morton are both about 6’3”, 6’4”. If Staubach comes in, he’s about 6’4”. So, they all got me on size. But that wasn’t my strength. My strength was being able to call plays very well and understand the game. I actually ended up being a better player-coach than I was a player. Although in high school, in college, none of that mattered, the size and all that, but in pro ball they had the pick of the country. So, I was fighting that. And I still lasted seven years.

But what really got me was a concussion. After a game, they’d say, “Oh, you’ll be all right. You just got a headache.” They didn’t know shit. Then I tore my rotator in my arm—I was still with the Cowboys—and I went to the doctors and I told them at the end of the season, during the off season. The doctor and the trainer told me, “Well, you just throw a lot of passes.” They didn’t know what the torn rotator was.

I went ahead and played through. I played seven years in the NFL and six years for the Toronto Raptors. I used to take. . . there was a pill, I don’t know the name of that pill, but there was some kind of pill that was real quick deadening. It just numbed the joint and it worked within 10 minutes. It was indocin (Vicodan?), the pill that I used to take. I popped two indocins into my mouth and that helped. That was fast-working. Sometimes I’d take three at one time, just to get me through the game. Once it kicked in, I thought, hey, there wasn’t anything wrong with me.

Paul Heckmann: The practice facilities, when you were with the Cowboys, would’ve been at the Cowboy Towers at Yale and SMU Boulevard, correct?

Jerry Rhome: It was awful. It sucked. Even when they moved later to Forest Lane, they were very sparse. It was a metal building and some weights outside and stuff like that. But I guess it’s a lot better than Barnett Field in the early days of the Cowboys. You know, the old baseball field, that would have been. I can’t be responsible for what that owner was willing to pay. Go ask Clint Murchison. I know he bought the land out from underneath the Kansas City Chiefs. The Cowboys took it over and then, of course, the Dallas Texans moved to Kansas City.

Paul Heckmann: You’re done with your NFL pro career after seven years, and you started to look at coaching again. You’d done a lot of coaching in the past, just with other players and things like that. But where did you first start coaching?

Jerry Rhome: I was coaching with the Seattle Seahawks. It was the first year of the Seahawks, and I had these two little old guys who had played for me at Tulsa. A little old 5’10” wide receiver everybody said was too slow and too little to play football. His name was Steve Largent. I coached him at Tulsa, and I told Seattle that this guy was the best receiver in the NFL. They just laughed.

I said, “Well, he is. If you’ll bring him here, I’ll prove it to you.” The Oilers got him in the fourth round and he hadn’t played a game in the preseason. The way it worked is each team put out, like, five players that [an expansion team] could touch. Then we just go in there and say, “We want him, we want him, we want him,” but were limited as to how many they could pick.

This is my first year coaching for Seattle. I went to Jack Patera, the head coach, and I said, “Coach, you don’t really know me that well. I appreciate the fact that you’ve given me a chance coaching here. But if you want to make the biggest deal in history, make a trade with the Houston Oilers for Steve Largent.” He says, “Who?” I said, “Steve Largent. I coached him at Tulsa.” He said, “Well, let me look him up.”

He flipped through a book and he’s flipping pages and said, “Okay, here he is. Oh, no, no, he’s too little. He’s too slow.” I said, “Well, he’s just big enough to outjump you. He’s just fast enough to outrun you. And he’s certainly quick enough to beat you on any route.” He said, “You’re really high on him, aren’t you?” I said, “I coached him for three years at Tulsa. He’ll give us something to show off, because, Coach, we’ve already been to training camp and we ain’t got shit.”

We were terrible. So, he called me into the office when we came back from camp and we start talking, because I was the quarterback coach. He said, “We’ve really only got one receiver in my opinion.” I said, “Coach, go get Steve Largent.” He said, “You’re really high on him still.” I said, “I’ve been talking to him on the phone. He’s down there playing fourth string with the Houston Oilers. They don’t give a crap about it. They don’t even pay any attention to him. He’ll come in here and he’ll make you the most famous head coach ever.”

He started laughing. He said, “That’s pretty strong.” I said, “Do you think I can coach?” He said, “Oh, I know you can coach. I’ve been very, very impressed with your offense and the whole thing.” I said, “Well, bring that little sucker in here and you will really be impressed. We’re using the same offense that we used at Tulsa University.”

So, we brought him in and he looked like crap. He’s stumbling, dropping balls. I mean, he’s terrible. Just terrible. Everybody was coming by me, saying, “Oh boy, your boy is really great. Oh yeah, wow, that was really a show.” And so I went to the locker room and I said, “Steve, let’s step outside.” I said, “Steve, what the hell’s wrong with you?” He said, “Jerry, I haven’t slept in three to four days. You know, I haven’t got a father. I’m responsible for my family. I’ve got a mother, I’ve got two sisters and a brother, and my mother doesn’t have money. If I don’t make this, I don’t know what’s going to happen to them. We’re going to lose our house.”

I said, “Okay, I’ve got an idea. Where are you staying?” He said, “At the hotel.” I said, “Go back to that hotel and get yourself something to eat and go to bed. And get up and come back tomorrow morning and be Steve Largent. I will guarantee you that I will give you a chance to be Steve Largent. I run the offense.” He said, “Okay.”


And he did. He came back and he went out there, and I just fitted him into the position he needed to fit in. I was calling the plays, and I started using him, and he put on a show. Everybody came up to me after practice and said, “What did you do to that guy?” I said, “Well, that wasn’t the real guy yesterday. Today, you saw the real Largent.” He made rookie of the year.

Paul Heckmann: At this point, you’re the Seattle Seahawk offensive coordinator and the quarterback coach.

Jerry Rhome: Actually, I wasn’t the offensive coordinator. I was the quarterbacks and receivers coach. He [head coach Patera] didn’t move me up until the next summer. He said, “If you’re going to do what you’re doing, you’re going to have to be able to run the team without anybody questioning you.” Because the line coach wanted to run the ball. So, he said, “You are now the offensive coordinator. And I’ll give you a $10,000 raise.” Well, that to me was a lot. You know, I laugh about it now but, at that time, with that $10,000, I’d be making $29,000. Different times. Everything was a little cheaper back then, for sure. It was still bad. But you’re in the NFL and you’re coaching, so there’s that, too.

Paul Heckmann: Tell me about Dave Kreig.

Jerry Rhome: Oh yeah, I remember him. He came from a Division III team or something. I brought him in there and everybody looked at him as he was throwing the ball. You didn’t know where he was going to throw it. The next throw might have been up into the second floor window. He just didn’t know how to play football. We had a meeting over the weekend and they said we had to get rid of Dave Kreig. I was the one who found him. I was looking for a quarterback to back up Jim Zorn. We didn’t have any way to get one. We didn’t have anything to trade. And so I said, “You guys gave me two weeks with this kid and you’ll be shocked.” Sure enough, we did it. Two weeks later, they all said, “I’m sure glad we kept him.” And look at his history.

I remember them both. They were really excellent quarterbacks. I remember Jim Zorn because he’s left-handed. As a quarterback, whenever I was handing the ball off to the right, I used my left hand across my body to give the ball. When I hand it off to my left, I used my right hand across my body. It didn’t make any difference. The only thing that makes a difference is, when I pitch the ball out, I’d either pitch it out with my right hand or left hand. It made no difference, just whatever was most comfortable.

But when throwing it, it’s a different ball game. I’m going to throw with my right arm or I’m going to throw with my left arm. With my right hand or left hand. The ball spins in reverse when you’re left-handed as opposed to right-handed. But when you get in the ball game and you’re a receiver, you don’t give a shit how they throw it. Just throw it to me!

Paul Heckmann: Let’s move on to the Redskins. You were quarterbacks coach, and you got in a couple Super Bowls there. ’83 and ‘87. That must be a blast.

Jerry Rhome: ‘87 was a lot better team than ’83. I had Theismann up through 1985. And then I saw some film on this guy, this quarterback from Washington State. It was kinda out in the middle of the boonies. I said, you know, I’m just gonna drive up there and check this kid out.

Paul Heckmann: It was Mark Rypien.

Jerry Rhome: Yeah, Mark Rypien. I went there to the head coach of the team, and I said, “I’m Jerry Rhome.” He said, “Welcome to Washington State. What are you doing?” I said, “I’ve come to scout your quarterback, Mark Rypien.” He said, “He’s a big guy. Big ol’ good kid.” And I said, “Can he play?” He said, “Yeah, but he’s really raw.” I said—this was football off-season—I said, “Is there any way that I can get him and maybe three or four of your best receivers out there? I’d like to look at them, too.” He said, “Yeah, I’ll take care of you, coach.”

He put Mark Rypien on the field, and he had three or four receivers out there, and I was out there five minutes, and I said, “Oh, shit! How could the NFL not even know this guy’s here?” It was basically because of where he was. Washington State’s in the middle of nowhere, right? I went back to the Redskins and I said to Joe Gibbs, “Coach, there is a quarterback at Washington State.” He said, “Who?” I said, “Mark Rypien.” They said, “Oh, he’s too clumsy and slow. How many dadgum games has he played in? How many games have they won?”

The year was over and it was snowing, and I had taken him into the huge basketball pavilion. This was like three basketball courts. It was just me and him and one other little kid that I wanted to put in different places. I said, “Okay, Mark, stay here at half court and hit the backboard.” BAM! He rattled the backboard. I said, “Okay, let’s back up.” I mean, he’s at the other end of the court, and he rattled it again. And I’m going, “Oh, yes.” He’s about 6’4”, and I said, “This guy’s tall. He’s made for it.”

Jerry Rhome during his coaching days with the Washington Redskins, 1987

He played ‘87 to ‘93 with Washington. Doug Williams had left. I don’t remember what happened to Doug, whether he retired or got hurt or something. Doug was the quarterback on the ‘87 team, Super Bowl 22. In the meantime, we had drafted Mark Rypien in the 7th or 8th round, one of the last picks. We brought him in there and everybody said, “Well, we’ll see your magic, Rhome. It’s your boy.” I said, “Yeah, you’re right.” And so he played. He was MVP of Superbowl 26 in 1992, completing 18 and 33 for about 300 yards and two touchdowns. I remember a good career for him.

Paul Heckmann: Now you’re moving on from the Redskins, you go the Chargers and then to, of course, the Cowboys in ’89. And you’ve got Troy Aikman sitting there. What’s next?

Jerry Rhome: I was coaching for the Seahawks, then I went to the Redskins. And from there, I went to the Chargers where I was quarterback coach and offensive coordinator. And then I went to the Dallas Cowboys. Landry brought me in. Then they fired him (more about that in our Tom Landry Bio, how the firing really happened. Jerry was there in person, he was the only other person) and brought in Jimmy Johnson. He didn’t want to run anything but two backs, and he didn’t want to spread them out. He was really behind. Unfortunately, I told him that to his face. He kind of told me that, when you get your team, you can do what you want to do. Just like Landry. They were all very, very conservative.

In my mind, I go back to where my father was and we’re running the spread offense in high school. I’m always way ahead of everybody and the way to win is to out coach them. Well, the way you out coach them is to run an offense that makes it difficult for them to defense, plus use all your talents.

Paul Heckmann: Tell me about some of the players, like Aikman and some of those people that you coached.

Jerry Rhome: Troy was really a good guy. Had a good arm on him. UCLA. He played for the Cowboys for 11 years.

Let’s see, where did I go after the Cowboys? I went to the Arizona Cardinals. And that’s where I coached Timm Rosenbaugh. We got him in a supplemental draft. We brought him in and everybody asks, “Who the hell is he?”

It’s funny because everybody took credit for Kurt Warner; they were going to cut him. He was playing arena football and then he went to Amsterdam, in Europe. And then he went to the St. Louis Rams because I saw him on film and I said, “We need to bring this kid in.”

You know, there were a lot of quarterbacks that I spent time with. It was the same kind of story. They didn’t do well the very first day. They were nervous or this or that. And I would look at ’em and say, “Okay, that’s me. Yep. That’s me. I went through some of this. I know exactly how they feel.” I was a quarterback and I know what they’re going through in their mind. You see the pluses. He’s got quick feet. He’s got a good arm. He’s really, really sharp in his answers and he’s very aggressive and he’s confident. That’s the stuff that I look for. And that was what enabled me to do be a good coach.

Paul Heckmann: After the Rams, you went to the Falcons and the Vikings, but during your whole NFL career, who was probably one of your favorite guy or guys to work with.

Jerry Rhome: Warren Moon. I liked Doug Williams. And Dave Kreig. Jim Zorn. There really wasn’t any quarterback that I didn’t like. No stinkers. Because that was what I played and so they didn’t last very long if I didn’t like them. The ones that I did end up with by the time the season rolled around, I liked. I was like, come here, let me put my arm around you. You’re gonna be the man. Go out there and play your ass off. Which is what I got somebody to do for me. My old man.

You know what I’m saying? Somebody puts their arm around you and says, “You can do this. I’ll teach you.” Didn’t that work for you?

Paul Heckmann: Yeah, I played football through college. I was a nose guard and an offensive guard in high school, and then I was a fullback in college.

Jerry Rhome: Did you ever have a coach that put his arm around you and said you could play?

Paul Heckmann: Not exactly. Our coaches were more like Marine Corps type guys, you know.

Jerry Rhome: But deep, deep down, did any of them look at you and could you tell that any of them cared about you?

Paul Heckmann: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. Coach Davis and Taylor in high school and Coach Walkoviak in college, there are several that worked with me. Even after practice, they’d make some time for me.

Jerry Rhome: Didn’t that give you confidence? And it helps you play. And it made you understand things more. You listened harder. For me, that was the secret of coaching. If you were a player and you started coaching, then you’ve experienced the playing and now you’re doing the coaching and you remember coaches who made you a better player. And that’s what I tried to live by.

Paul Heckmann: Well, it sounds like you have. Everybody talks highly of you. I haven’t seen a discouraging word ever.

Jerry Rhome: Well, they could be lying, but it’s okay. I’m bound to piss somebody off.

Paul Heckmann: Well, I haven’t run across him yet, but who knows.

Jerry Rhome: That’s a very nice thing to say, no matter what, because in the position I’m in now, I’m retired, I think back and I tried to coach players the way God wanted coaches to coach me. So, if I failed, that disappoints me.

Paul Heckmann: So are you in Atlanta now?

Jerry Rhome: We’re way past that. We left Atlanta eight years ago. I was with the Falcons and Dan Reeves had gotten fired.

And so I came to Dallas and I got to deal with the Cowboys. To make a long story short, I ended up in a place called Mansfield, which is just on the edge of the Dallas metroplex.

Paul Heckmann: I live on Swiss Avenue, down there above the fairgrounds.

Jerry Rhome: Boy, the fairgrounds. I love the State Fair grounds. I won so many teddy bears pitching coins in plates. I’d walk up and the guy would start getting the bear down. He’d take it off the hook. He says, “I got one ready for you.” You know, there was a trick to it. You’d lean over and pitch it high. You hit the back of the plate. It goes up in the air and comes down and then stays in the plate and rolls around. I probably won 300.

I went from Dallas Sunset, growing up at the State Fair in Dallas, to Tulsa. The State Fair of Oklahoma was in Tulsa, so I was about two miles away from it. I would park my car right outside the State Fair. They had a big fence, and I found a little spot where you could crawl under the fence. Then I’d walk or run about 400 yards across this field to the strip where you throw the football and all that stuff, you know to try to win prizes. Can’t remember it right now.

Paul Heckmann: The Midway.

Jerry Rhome: The Midway, yeah. When I went from Dallas to Tulsa, I did the same thing. I walked up to this one spot and started pitching coins. And this guy said, “Oh, man, are you the old football player?” They were the same guys that had been in Dallas. They’d say, “Alright everybody, get around here.” This is how you win them. They just start yelling and screaming to get a crowd because they know that the bigger the crowd, then they could start making money. When they see somebody that can do it, they say, “Oh, I could do that.” Anyway, I won. My limit was two, but then they said, “Keep pitching and we’ll keep yelling. You keep pitching. We can afford to lose a couple more teddy bears, but we need the people. Before we know it, we had a crowd. Then I went back and started selling the teddy bears to all the guys in the athletic dorm. They’d come to the room and they’d say, “Hey, you got any more teddy bears?” I’d say, “Yeah, five dollars.” They’d say, “Five dollars?” And I’d say, “Well, go out there and see if you can win one.” They’d say, “Okay, here, here’s five dollars.” They wanted one for their girlfriend.

Jerry Rhome and the Dallas Sunset Hall of Fame, courtesy Jerry Rhome and Sunset Hall of Fame

Paul Heckmann: Listen, I’ve kind of held you prisoner here for about two hours, so I think maybe we can wrap it up here a little bit. I really appreciate your time. I’d appreciate it if you let Carmen know that I appreciate her hooking us up and allowing her husband to talk on the phone.

Jerry Rhome: Yeah, she’s a jewel, she’s my gal. She’s from Cuba. She’s without a doubt the best looking woman I ever saw.

Paul Heckmann: She certainly is quite lovely! Thanks so much for giving us this time. It’s been fun.

Jerry Rhome: Yeah, no problem man. Listen, thank you for letting me rattle on Ah, it’s fun, man. You, I thought, you know what? You sounded like somebody that, that is interested in sports and interested in stories. Well I got stories!

Paul Heckmann: You certainly do. And I need to thank your sister Jo Anne for helping me get in touch with you. She did a fantastic job.

.Have a great day!

2 Sunset quarterback on 1950 state champion.

3 Mary Eliza “Lida” Hooe graduated from Dallas High School as valedictorian in 1892-1893 and taught in Dallas schools. https://www.dallasisd.org/domain/1696

4 Quarterback at Notre Dame University.

5 Center and linebacker at University of Illinois

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