Joseph Donald Meredith, professional football player, commentator, and television spokesman, was born on April 10, 1938, in Mount Vernon, Texas. He was the son of Jeff and Annis Hazel Meredith. After enjoying a stellar high school sports career in Mount Vernon, “Dandy Don” Meredith, as he was often called (a name he later distanced himself from), played college football at Southern Methodist University, where he was a two-time All-American quarterback for the Mustangs. The university retired his football jersey, number seventeen, in 2008.
Meredith’s college football career ended as professional football began to expand into Texas. Both the American Football League (AFL) and the National Football League (NFL) planned to establish teams in Dallas. The NFL's Dallas franchise (later known as the Dallas Cowboys), signed him to a personal services contract on November 28, 1959. At the time the franchise did not have a coach, other players, or a team name. As Meredith recalled in a Dallas Morning News interview, "The contract read, 'If we get a National Football League franchise, we'd like for you to play quarterback.'"
Meredith's Cowboys career, from the team's inaugural season in 1960 through 1968, saw the team go from a struggling expansion franchise to one on the verge of championship success. He became the starting quarterback in 1963 and set a passing record for most yards in a game (460 yards) against San Francisco on November 10, 1963. The record still stood in 2010. Meredith led the Cowboys to consecutive division titles and two NFL championship games, in 1966 and 1967 (an epic game that was dubbed the “Ice Bowl”). Dallas lost to the Green Bay Packers, who won the first two Super Bowls. Meredith was the 1966 Player of the Year and was selected for three Pro Bowls.
Meredith's folksy demeanor did not always endear him to his more straight-laced coach, Tom Landry. Yet, when Meredith unexpectedly retired from professional football after the 1968 season, Landry admitted that his decision to stick with Meredith "led directly to our conference championships." The Cowboys inducted Meredith into their Ring of Honor in 1976.
A new generation of football fans came to know Meredith for his color commentary on ABC television's Monday Night Football, from 1970 to 1973, and again from 1977 through 1984. He was part of a three-man crew with fellow commentator Howard Cosell and former NFL star Frank Gifford, who performed the play-by-play duties. Cosell's and Meredith's banter was a key element in making Monday Night Football a success. Meredith also became known for singing the Willie Nelson song, "The Party's Over," when the outcome of the game was settled.
During and after his commentating career with Monday Night Football, Meredith continued his television career as an actor and as a spokesman for Lipton Teas. His work included an appearance as guest host on The Tonight Show on July 30, 1975. He and his wife retired to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he enjoyed golfing, painting, and writing, and he also performed in a stage production of The Odd Couple. He died at the age of seventy-two on December 5, 2010, after suffering a brain hemorrhage. Joseph Donald Meredith is buried at Mount Vernon City Cemetery near his parents. He was survived by his wife Susan and three children.