That was some big doin’s the Cowboys staged in Frisco on Monday. Jerry Jones’ Hall of Fame party with Justin Timberlake was more elaborate, but for football fans, not much could have outdone the ceremony unveiling the Ring of Honor Walk sponsored by Dr Pepper.
The football star power was enough to battle what North Texas saw of the solar eclipse to a standstill. Given the ages of some of the Ring of Honorees, it’s likely an event just like that will never happen again.
With 16 of the 17 living Ring members on hand as well as family members of the four who are deceased, that ceremony had more moving parts than Cirque du Soleil. And if you think you’re ever going to be near The Star, take an extra few minutes to stroll the boulevard and check out those individual monuments. There are 21 now and the number will grow, however slowly.
It’s a far, far cry from the first Ring of Honor ceremony, for Bob Lilly, in 1975.
“I didn’t even know it was the Ring of Honor, or what that was,” the man affectionately known as “Mr. Cowboy” chuckled back at The Star after Monday’s extravaganza. “They didn’t say anything about that. They just told me they were going to have a halftime ceremony. They just had me put my uniform on (editor’s note: This was the year after Lilly retired) and drove me around the track in a golf cart. The team came out around me, and they brought out a Pontiac station wagon. Had a bird dog in it, and a shotgun that Lee Roy Jordan and the teammates had got, and I thought that was it.
“Then they started pulling on a rope (holding the drape over Lilly’s name on the wall), but it didn’t work. Somebody had to get up and pull the sign off that covered my name. Then I looked up and saw it.
“[Owner] Clint Murchison came out, and Tex Schramm and started talking about the Ring of Honor, that I was the initial one. They gave me a bowl, a silver bowl with a base on it. I was the first name on it. I’ve still got it. I’ve only got three names engraved on it. I think Don Perkins and Don Meredith are the others.
“It wasn’t anything like this. This is spectacular here,” and then a hearty Lilly chuckle. “Big time.”
If Lilly didn’t know there was to be a Ring of Honor, the most recent enshrinee, Darren Woodson, certainly did. Woodson even recalls when he first became aware of the Ring.
“My rookie year, 1992,” Woodson recalled. “We had a practice at Texas Stadium, and [then coach] Jimmy Johnson had the rookies stay after he let the veterans go. He sat us right there on the star and talked to us about the tradition of the club and the people who had built it. Wanted us to know who came before us and what they did. He told us to look up at the names and see them. I’ll always remember sitting next to ‘Pup’ [cornerback Kevin Smith] and saying, “I want my name up there someday. I want to be good enough to be there.”
That doesn’t mean Woodson, the club’s all-time leading tackler and a three-time Super Bowl champion safety, was really prepared when it happened.
“I was in Oxnard, covering training camp for ESPN,” he said. “[Public relations vice president] Rich Dalrymple told me Jerry wanted to talk to me. He walked me out to the tower between the practice fields, and the whole Jones family was there. I never get called to the tower. I remember thinking, ‘He’s going to cut me! I don’t even play for them any more, and these people are going to cut me!’ Then it kind of hit me, and I got up there and they all put their arms around me and we all started crying.”
Unlike Lilly, Woodson knows all about the Jones’ way of doing Cowboys things. In fact, it’s the only way Woodson knows, so the breathtaking once-in-a-lifetime majesty of Monday’s ceremony impressed him, but it didn’t surprise him.
“We’d expect nothing less from Jerry and the family,” he grinned. “Over the top, first class all the way.”
So you know, the Cowboys’ Ring of Honor was the sport’s first. Now they’re all over the league, some of them heavily populated. One thing Schramm stressed to Jones was how exclusive the Ring should be, and Jones has kept faith. He’s actually improved it by including some glaring omissions from pre-1989 (Jordan, Bob Hayes, Drew Pearson) while keeping membership properly exclusive.
That makes it mean more. It’s why Tony Dorsett tweeted after pulling the drape off the enormous blue 33 bracketed by his name and career stats literally etched in stone on the Ring of Honor walk, This is truly one of the great honors of my life. It’s why Pearson quipped after unveiling the 88 on his monument, “I now know where I want to be buried.”
Talk of the Ring invariably leads to hot sports opinions about who should be next. Your Humble Correspondent will never stop beating the drum for Cornell Green, a college basketball player who became All-Pro multiple times at both safety and cornerback. Ask Lilly and Jordan, who played with him, how great Cornell Green was. You can certainly have a conversation that includes Harvey Martin and Ed Jones, Charlie Waters and Everson Walls, Daryl Johnston, Bill Bates. Give me Green before all of them.
There are two walking locks to take their place in the Ring: DeMarcus Ware and Jason Witten. If I had to bet, my guess is that the next pick will be Johnson. He has a lot of support and a revived relationship with Jerry Jones. He’d be hard to argue against.
But whoever is next whenever, you can be assured the Ring will remain exclusive and special. And in the history of one of America’s most storied sports entities, Monday of this week will go down as one of the most special days ever. A day as big as Texas. Read