It’s always nice when one of the greatest, most respected coaches of all time pays a compliment to your team’s new head coach, and Jim Zorn received such a compliment — from a Hall of Famer, no less, despite the fact that he’s been viewed as a bit of a longshot for the position. “You can’t tell about Zorn,” said the Hall of Famer. “He shows promise.”
Of course, the Hall of Famer in question — former Cowboys coach Tom Landry — passed away just three days shy of exactly eight years BEFORE Zorn was named head coach of the Washington Redskins, and he was referring to Zorn’s prospects as a longshot fourth QB in Cowboys training camp in 1975, so the compliment isn’t quite as important as it might’ve been. It’s still an interesting story, though.
A 1975 article, cheerfully headlined “Chances Slim for Jim Zorn” — I don’t know the original source, but it’s reprinted in an interesting post on this meticulously-researched Cowboys blog — positions Zorn as the ultimate longshot, a 1975 equivalent to Derek Devine, buried on the training camp depth chart behind Roger Staubach, Redskins nightmare Clint Longley, and someone named Leo Gasienieca.
Zorn reminisced about those days on his conference call with the Dallas media yesterday, and it’s a story that takes some odd and not entirely explained turns on its way through Dallas to Seattle and ultimately here.
“That was the year with the Dirty Dozen,” Zorn says, a legendary twelve-man Cowboys draft class. “I was the dirty thirteenth, and then I got let go. I made the football team, Tom Landry was the head coach. We spent WEEKS in [training camp in] Thousand Oaks.
“If I remember right, we had close to 130 players going to training camp in Thousand Oaks, and I went there on July 8th. We started training camp. We were there for two weeks, maybe three weeks, before the veterans even showed up, and they cut us down to about 80 players. Then the veterans showed up and now there’s 120 players again. That’s just in my mind; it could’ve been alittle more or a little less.
“It was a grueling training camp — things are a lot different in today’s football world — but it sure taught me a lot. It taught me how to sacrifice, how to be mentally tough … I owe a lot to the organization at that particular time in my career, because it helped me go down the road in my career as I went to the Seahawks.”
Zorn pauses for a minute when asked if the Cowboys should’ve kept him around. “I’ve thought a lot about that at different times, but I’m not sure that would’ve been the best decision for the team at that time because I was certainly unproven. I was a free agent; I had come from Cal Poly Pomona, not exactly a football powerhouse. But I was a good athlete, and needed to be developed at that particular time. The only thing that in my mind could’ve happened is that they kept me on and maybe make room at another position, keep three quarterbacks. Because remember, they decided to only keep two. And I was the third quarterback at the start of that first week of the regular season; I did make the 43 man run.”
Compared to the article’s prediction, simply making the 43 man roster has to count as some sort of triumph. It’s at this point that the story takes a slightly bizarre turn, as Zorn’s stories often seem to. Presumably the question on the phone was about if Zorn then “hid out” around the Cowboys team for the rest of the year.
“I did. I kinda got a job. You think about being hid out, I wasn’t really hid out. I got a job with a fine man named E. Grant Fitts. I don’t know if you guys know who Grant Fitts is.” I had no clue, but a quick Google search shows that he was president of something called Gulf Life Holding Company in the 1970s, and was a generous contributor to the Republican party at the last few elections.
“I worked for Grant,” Zorn continues. “And really I ran errands and was doing jobs and was hanging out with Grant and his son. Really just staying around, staying in shape, getting ready in case there was an injury, I would hopefully get called and get put back on the football team. That did not happen, and I went to the Rams soon after that. I was only there maybe two or three more weeks and then I went to the Rams and finished out the season in LA.”
There’s another question for Zorn that I can’t hear, presumably asking for clarification on this slightly odd chapter in the man’s life, and his answer only makes it seem odder.
“What’d Grant do? He just did his job. I was a guy that was just there to do odd jobs. You could say I was a jack of all trades, I just did odd jobs for Grant. In reality, you know what I did? I had a really good relationship with Grant, and I helped his son out in different situations – he was only about 14 or 15 at that time – so really I just did odd jobs. I ran errands, I drove him around. He didn’t even need me to do certain things. I mean, he had his own driver and junk like that, but I’ll tell you what: he was a Cowboys fan and he lived and breathed Cowboys.”
On the one hand, here’s yet another excellent reason for Redskins fans to hate the Cowboys: they cut our coach, driving him to become sort of crypto-handyman for a slightly mysterious, slightly sinister-sounding Cowboys fan benefactor! On the other hand, them doing that led directly to him making his way to Seattle, which in turn led to that excellent Zorn milk commercial video from the other day, and it’s hard to imagine a bigger favor than that.