THEN: A former All-American halfback at the University of Oregon, Mel Renfro spent his entire 14-year NFL career as a defensive back with the Dallas Cowboys, with whom he played in four Super Bowls and won two championships, in 1971 and 1977. During his career, Renfro was selected to 10 Pro Bowls, and he’s still the Cowboys’ all-time interceptions leader, with 52. In 1981, Renfro was inducted to the Cowboys Ring of Honor, and in 1996 he was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
NOW: Now 74, Renfro still lives in the Dallas area, where he keeps busy with autograph signings, motivational speaking and personal appearances. However, his primary focus is on spending time with his 10 grandchildren between the ages of 3 and 22.
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ON DALLAS’ 10-1 START: “Looking back, two years ago, we were kind of one play from maybe, possibly, going to the Super Bowl, so the nucleus was there. It was just a matter of last year, with unfortunate injuries to some key players, they just weren’t able to get it together. But this year, by the grace of God, those two rookies (Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott) have really been the key. And I think the defensive coordinator (Rod Marinelli) has done a tremendous job of getting the defense to where they’re playing extremely well. They haven’t got the greatest talent in there, but they’ve got guys that work hard and want to win and never give up.”
ON THE PLAY OF ELLIOTT AND PRESCOTT: “Right out of the gate, there was no question in my mind (about them) from Day 1. The way they performed in training camp, and in the preseason games, these guys played against first-teamers and they showed some ability, some talent, and they were very confident and worked well together. The offensive coordinator (Scott Linehan) and Coach (Jason) Garrett have really done a great job of making the right calls and the right decisions at the right times, so the formula is there for them to be a solid team for many years to come.”
ON THURSDAY’S COWBOYS-VIKINGS GAME: “They were our nemesis several times, and the hail mary pass up in Minnesota with Roger (Staubach) to Drew Pearson was an exciting finish (in the 1975 divisional round). And then I know one time in Texas Stadium (in the 1973 NFC Championship game), the Vikings knocked us out of the playoffs and they went on to the Super Bowl that year. But it’s going to be a good matchup. You’ve got to play the game. You can’t call them before it starts, and anything can happen, but I’ve got confidence in Zeke and Dak that they’ll play hard, the team will rally around them, and hopefully they’ll have a victory.”
ON THE SECRET TO INTERCEPTING PASSES: “It’s hard to put your finger on it, but I played free safety (when I led the league in interceptions with 10 in 1969), and I had an uncanny ability to read the quarterback and read receivers and be in the right place at the right time. A lot of my interceptions came on long, overthrown passes, where I was in position to make the play. But it’s a little different these days, with so many four- and five-wide-receiver sets, spreading the ball around and throwing a lot of short passes. So it’s difficult to make that many interceptions. I was just fortunate in my day and time to be able to do that.”
ON THE JOY OF WINNING A CHAMPIONSHIP: “We had eight opportunities to go to the Super Bowl, and it took us four hard years where we lost in the playoffs before we got to the Super Bowl. Then we got to Super Bowl V (in 1970) and lost, and the next year we finally won. So we were called ‘next year’s champions’ for four years and it was very painful, but to finally get there and win those Super Bowl rings — I’ll tell you, it’s like getting to the mountaintop.”
ON OREGON’S DECISION TO FIRE MARK HELFRICH: “I don’t agree with it, and it’s sad to hear that he was fired. He’s been such a mainstay and such a winner and such a gracious and good guy for so long. You’re going to have down years in any sport, and he had a great run. And I think if he had just been fed the right players over the last couple of years that he’d still be in there. So it’s unfortunate, but I wish the best for him, and I know that Oregon will rise again.”