Before he earned a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, before teammates pinned the “Manster” nickname on him, Randy White was a rookie with the Cowboys.
What awaited White that first day of training camp was a ritual everyone who played under coach Tom Landry endured: the Landry mile.
That wouldn’t be a problem for White. Heck, he was the second player taken in the draft. The Maryland star was an elite athlete.
“Coach Landry ran it with us and beat me by about 100 yards,” White remembered.
“OK, 200 yards,” he said. “I thought, ‘I can’t even beat the coach running a mile. Maybe I can’t play.’ ”
No such test looms for this generation. The players underwent physicals and conditioning tests before leaving for San Antonio. All they are required to do is report, then show up this evening for a kickoff celebration at the Alamodome.
Country music, cheerleaders and adulation from fans in an air-conditioned stadium. Who wouldn’t prefer that over a mile run?
Don’t mistake this for a diatribe about how much tougher players had it back in the day. Even players back in the day don’t buy that.
Bob Lilly wasn’t required to attend all of the organized team activities and minicamps players do now. Those Cowboys tried to fit in four workouts a week around off-season jobs. Lilly spent two years installing burglar alarms and another three years in the insurance business after he was drafted by the club.
“In today’s world, the players are working out in minicamps all year,” said Lilly, who turned 70 on Sunday.
“The Landry mile wasn’t anything real significant, except we had to run it in six minutes. It was a test of conditioning.”
The significance came in the tone that was set.
There were more demanding drills, the 110s and gassers in full pads, the endless repetition. These Cowboys will face many of the same demands.
Still, the Landry mile let players know from Day 1 what camp was all about in a way a kickoff celebration cannot.
“We knew we could knock out a mile, but it still was intimidating,” receiver Drew Pearson said. “What we heard of as a rookie coming in was, ‘you’ve got to make the Landry mile.’ It added to what we heard the reputation of camp was about. It was going to be hard. It was going to be brutal.
“Again, it was just a mile and you knew you were in shape. But it was the intimidation, Landry running behind you, knowing he can’t finish ahead of you and that type of thing.”
Running back Don Perkins never completed the mile. Bob Hayes may have been the world’s fastest man at the time, but the receiver who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame later this summer struggled.
“Bob used to walk it,” Pearson remembered. “Poor Bob. He could go 100, maybe run that 220, but he couldn’t run that damn mile for nothing.”
Requirements varied. Sometimes the mile was run through the hills of Thousand Oaks, Calif., and other times on the track. Some years there was a time requirement for each position, and other years it was about positioning.
“You had to finish between [Mike] Ditka and Coach Landry,” Pearson said. “Mike was really in shape back then. He had his own hips and could really run. He would set the pace. Coach Landry would really push the end of it. You had to finish in between those two guys.”
The Landry mile is part of Cowboys lore. People will talk about it long after the latest kickoff spectacular has been forgotten.
Unless Wade Phillips decides to make his players run the Riverwalk. That would generate some nostalgia in years to come.