National Football League
3 T's shape image of Big D: tragedy, triumph, TV
National Football League

3 T's shape image of Big D: tragedy, triumph, TV

Published Feb. 5, 2011 2:04 a.m. ET

The symbols are simple yet haunting: a pair of X's painted in the middle of Elm Street, marking each spot where a bullet struck the handsome young president, bringing a crashing halt to Camelot and leaving many to wonder if Big D would forever be stained.

Then along came ''America's Team,'' led by the father-figure coach in a fedora and the clean-cut quarterback who served in the Navy, teaming up to win a pair of championships and give Dallas a reason to feel proud about itself again.

That lasted for a while, until the scheming oil tycoons and big-haired women of ''Dallas'' hit the airwaves, leaving us to ponder such probing questions as, ''Who shot J.R.?''

These are the images of Dallas, the Super Bowl city that has been shaped for the rest of the nation - and the world - largely by the three T's: tragedy, triumph and television.




On Nov. 22, 1963, John F. Kennedy visited Dallas to do some fundraising for his expected re-election campaign and to shore up a rift in the Democratic Party caused largely by his push on policies such as civil rights in the still-segregated South.

Thousands jammed the downtown streets to get a glimpse of the dashing Kennedy and the elegant first lady, Jacqueline. At Kennedy's request, a protective bubble was taken off the limousine so those along the well-publicized motorcade route could get a better look at their leader.

Bill Lively was among them.

''I knew it was important to go see any president of the United States,'' said Lively, who heads the local Super Bowl committee and was a student at Southern Methodist that fateful day. ''As a young man, I did not know all that he stood for. But I knew he was a young, dynamic, charismatic president. I was intrigued by him.''

Lively had already headed back to school when the car rolled slowly into Dealey Plaza and made a left turn onto Elm Street. Up above, Lee Harvey Oswald lurked on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository, perched at a window that gave him a clean shot at the motorcade. Authorities say he got off three rounds, two of them striking the president. The second killed him, his body slumping over against his frantic wife.

The news reached Lively back on his college campus. As a member of school band, he was summoned to play taps at a local elementary school. That evening, he drove home - right through Dealey Plaza.

''There was no yellow tape, no crime scene. It was a different time,'' Lively recalled. ''It's a day I won't ever forget.''

The sixth and seventh floors of the old school book building are now a museum, chronicling Kennedy's presidency, his assassination, his legacy and the still-debated issue of whether Oswald was the lone gunman or even if was involved in the assassination at all.

On most any day, so-called ''conspiracy theorists'' can be found in Dealey Plaza, doling out literature that insists Kennedy was killed by a Communist plot or as part of a coup within his own government. But perhaps the most striking part of the museum is the glassed-off spot where the rifle was apparently fired, which reveals just how close Oswald would have been to the president's open car moving slowly below.

For the people of Dallas, the most pressing issue was how to deal with being known as the city where JFK was killed.

''That was our label for a number of years,'' Lively said. ''When I would travel around this country and around the world ... people would say, 'Oh, you're from Dallas' in a condescending way. People thought Dallas was a bad city with mean people.''

Football, such a dominant force in Texas, helped to change all that.



The NFL placed an expansion team in Dallas in 1960, a ragtag squad known as the Cowboys that didn't have a winning season until 1966. From there, coach Tom Landry built a championship contender, missing out on a chance to play in the first two Super Bowls with close losses to the Green Bay Packers.

By the 1970s, it was the Cowboys who were known as ''America's Team,'' a catchy label that stuck in a decade that included five trips to the Super Bowl and a pair of championships.

They wore a simple but powerful star on their helmets, played in a futuristic stadium with a hole in the roof (supposedly left that way so ''God can watch his favorite team'') and had a group of scantily clad cheerleaders who became nearly as famous as the players.

All of it helped Dallas shed its label as a city of hate.

''Every year in the '70s, we had a shot at it,'' said Roger Staubach, who took over as the team's quarterback after serving in the Navy. ''We should've won more Super Bowls, but we were always in the hunt. And I think coach Landry, just his image, who he was. People really respected him around the country. He was a really great man.''

Looking back, Staubach knows how much the Cowboys helped shape a new image for Dallas instead of the one that drew scorn from the rest of the world.

''I had felt that way, too, before I got here,'' Staubach said. ''I didn't particularly like Dallas. But the Cowboys had a good, positive part in getting the city away from the assassination.''

Staubach stayed after his playing career ended and is now one of the city's most revered residents.

But the most famous resident of all might be one that didn't actually exist.



In 1978, CBS gave the green light to a primetime soap opera that would focus on the devious twists and turns of a wealthy Texas oil family.

They were the Ewings and ''Dallas'' was their town.

For America, the show epitomized a city and state where everything - houses, cars, clothes, hair, trouble - had to be bigger and better than anywhere else. And no one captured the imagination like one of the Ewing sons, J.R.

Portrayed by Larry Hagman, he was such a manipulative, intriguing character that when season two ended with him being shot in his office after seemingly angering the entire state of Texas, the whole country seemed to chime in on who might have pulled the trigger.

''People used to think we all lived like that,'' said Sally Peavy, a native Texan who works as tourism sales manager at Southfork Ranch in suburban Dallas. ''Of course we didn't, but we would tell everyone, 'Yeah, we all have a ranch and we all drive big cars.''

The opening sequence included a flyover of Southfork, and the outside scenes were filmed there each summer through most of the series' 13-year run. Originally known as Duncan Acres when the home was built in 1970, it wound up being transformed into a tourist attraction and conference center that draws more than 300,000 people a year.

You can see everything from the gun that shot J.R. to Lucy Ewing's wedding dress.

Lively, the head of the Super Bowl committee, speaks for the locals who never appreciated their depiction on ''Dallas.''

''It was not representative of the people of Dallas,'' he said. ''That theme song still haunts me. I can't get it out of my head, and I've sure tried over the years.''

Peavy, speaking in a Texas twang punctuated by words like ''honey'' and ''baby,'' sees things differently.

''Oh my gosh, look at the clothes, the shopping they did at Neiman Marcus,'' she said. ''Look at what they were driving. And I used to love that big hair and shoulder pads. That was all part of the era.

''I think it kind of brought a positive light to Dallas after the Kennedy assassination,'' she added. ''At least that's the way I look at it.''


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