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Saturday, July 27, 2002

Lessons in Dallas prepared Baldinger

By Frank Luksa
The Dallas Morning News

DALLAS – Odd how former Cowboys turn up as someone out of character from their playing days. Who'd have guessed that Brian Baldinger would reappear in his present guise?

Baldinger can explain how it happened and did this week from his home in Marlton, N.J. Of those with the greatest influence on his career, he named Randy White, Tom Landry and Craig James. Each in different ways prepared him to become a Fox Network analyst on a majority of 12 Cowboys games in 2002 alongside Pat Summerall.

Baldinger's ascent as a broadcaster unknowingly began during six years with the Cowboys as an reserve offensive lineman.

When practicing at left guard, which was often, he lined up against Randy White. The only rookie free agent to stick in 1982 met a future Hall of Famer and from that matchup learned survival skills.

"The only reason I made it in the league as long as I did was Randy," Baldinger said, recalling White's relentless ways. "It was either get swallowed up or get better. In 13 years in the league, I never saw anyone practice like that."

Baldinger improved enough after he left Dallas to start four seasons in Indianapolis and spend three more years with Philadelphia. Memories of his time with Cowboys remain vivid. Coach Tom Landry, for instance, never got the easiest of his names right.

"He called me, `Byron.' He'd say, `Byron, get in there,' " Baldinger said. "Made you wonder if Coach knew what was going on. How could you go home and admit, `The coach doesn't even know my name.'?"

Another vignette defined Landry to Baldinger in an everlasting way. The '83 season opener took the Cowboys to Washington where they'd lost the NFC Championship to the Redskins the previous year. Halftime found them down, 23-3.

"I think we had negative offensive yards," Baldinger recounted of the game the Cowboys would win, 31-30. "We all looked like we were in the Twilight Zone. Coach Landry came in and said, we haven't begun to execute our game plan, so we'll do this and that. And we scored the first four times we touched the ball. I remember the calmness of Landry, and how much we needed that."

Landry returned to Baldinger in another context:

"The man was too humble. He was a war hero, self-made and from a small town. I always thought that's why he had an eye for free agents like Drew Pearson, Bill Bates and me. He was always looking for someone who resembled himself."

Landry gave Baldinger a chance to play, and working against White made him a better player. But Brian couldn't play anymore after his knees collapsed in 1995. Nor did he have interest in using a psychology degree from Duke as a professional shrink.

"I didn't want to listen to that many problems," he said.

Almost reluctantly, he enrolled in a broadcasting school former SMU-New England running back and CBS announcer James had opened in Dallas. That graduating class included many of the present generation of broadcasters _ Merril Hoge, Mike Golic, Irving Fryar and Baldinger.

"It was almost at the end of school before the light went on. Then I knew what I wanted to do," Baldinger said.

A dispatch of 20 letters to Philadelphia-area colleges led to his first analystost-game interviewer job for Bucknell. It was a voice-in-the-door opening, a chance to learn and refine, since Baldinger knew the station's signal barely ranged beyond the end zones.

He moved on and up _ Ivy and Patriot League, NFL Europe in `97 and to the NFL for Fox in `98. Local radio gigs, a New York studio show and a Monday night gig on The Sporting News Radio filled his schedule. What style has emerged from this experience?

"Straight talk. Almost old school," said Baldinger, 43

and single. "The game is entertaining by itself. You don't need pre-game fluff or a comedian in the booth.

"I'll tell why things happen. Teach at a simple level at times. As an offensive lineman, I see the game from the inside out. All we have to do is put the camera on Larry Allen, and you'll see good stuff.

"Somebody once asked Emmitt Smith what percentage of plays he runs behind Allen. Emmitt said, `Not enough.' "

Baldinger said his presentations will include two other items. He has stories to tell about players who are "the good eggs" of the game. And to prove he already knows the local scenery, he'll not be influenced by hype from owner Jerry Jones.


© 2002, The Dallas Morning News.



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