Gil Brandt: How IBM helped Cowboys change pro scouting


It’s no secret that the Dallas Cowboys revolutionized pro scouting in the 1960s through the use of computers. What’s not so well known, however, is how they arrived at the idea.

Which is why we invited Hall-of-Fame nominee Gil Brandt, chosen as one of two senior candidates for the Class of 2019, to clarify that for us on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast. The team’s player personnel director for 30 years (1959-89), Brandt was in the middle of a groundbreaking process that put the Cowboys in five Super Bowls during his tenure and forced competitors to embrace it.

“What happened,” Brandt said, “is that in 1960 (Hall-of-Fame executive) Tex Schramm got the job of being the president of the Dallas franchise, and he was working for CBS at the time in charge of sports programming. And he was in charge of putting the Winter Olympics on.

“IBM put a chip in the ski to find out how fast somebody was coming down the hill, what was his cumulative time and so forth. He thought so much about it that when we came back the next spring in 1961 we went to IBM to see if they could do that for us. And they said, ‘Yeah, that’s a great idea. We’re going to send you over to a company called SBC, Service Bureau Corporation (it was a subsidiary of IBM), and we’re going to let them work this out four you.’

“So we went over there and found a fellow who was from India and really didn’t know if a football was pumped or stuffed. But he was really great at mathematical equations. So that was the start of it.

“We later on got so good at it that we formed our own company out at Page Mill Road out in Palo Alto (California), and one of the things that took place after football …we also did three hockey teams … (that we) also computerized the city of Cupertino’s water works.”

The Cowboys found players in places others never looked — like other sports and other countries — and it wasn’t long before they were challenging Green Bay in the  1966 and ’67 NFL championship games.  They lost both, but it didn’t matter. They had made an impression — with the rest of the league (including the Packers) interested in how and where they found their players.

“I’ll tell you an interesting story about the computer,” said Brandt. “In 1963 we held up the draft for about five hours because (former University of Oregon safety) Mel Renfro put his hand through a mirror after he heard about the President’s assassination (John Kennedy’s assassination on Nov. 22, 1963).

“And so we took this time … about five hours … to send this doctor, Dr. Slocum, from Portland down to Eugene to check his hand out. And Vince Lombardi came by and said, “Ha. ha, ha, what happened? Did your computer break down?’ He said, ‘I’ve never liked those things anyway.’

“(Then,) about three years later he came to us and said, ‘You know, that’s a pretty good idea. I’d be willing to come in with you.’ And we told him, ‘Well, the entry price is about three million dollars.’ He said, ‘I’m not that interested.’ ”

The computers worked so well that during Brandt’s time with the team, the Cowboys went to the playoffs 18 times, won 13 division titles and two Super Bowls, appeared in 12 NFC championship games and had a streak of 20 straight winning seasons. Moreover, they had nine Hall of Famers whom Brandt helped scout, including three taken after the sixth round (Bob Hayes, Roger Staubach and Rayfield Wright).

“It’s been a lot of fun (doing) what we did,” Brandt said.

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