NFL teams flock to Forest Grove -- 60 years ago
Cowboys, Steelers, Browns loved dry weather and dry town
Super Bowl Sunday brings back memories of Forest Groves glory days with the National Football League.
Many people remember that the Dallas Cowboys came to town for first training camp back in 1960. Rookie coach Tom Landry chose the Pacific University campus for practice in large part because Forest Grove was officially dry at the time, and he wanted to shield his players, most notably rookie quarterback Dandy Don Meredith, from the temptation of alcohol while they prepared for their inaugural season.
The Cowboys, were not, however, the first NFL team to choose Forest Grove as a site for training camp. In 1955, the Pittsburgh Steelers came to town to prepare for their first pre-season game at Multnomah Stadium (now Jeld-Wen Field) in Portland. Like the Cowboys, the Steelers were attracted both by Forest Groves dry laws and dry climate, which was a welcome change from the heat and humidity of the Midwest.
Two years later, another NFL team came to Forest Grove for training camp. The Chicago Cardinals were perhaps the worst team in the league, forced to compete with the cross-town Chicago Bears for fans. In 1956, the team had one of its few winning seasons, and hoped to gain a national fan base so it could move to a new city. Excitement was high as the Cardinals came to the Pacific campus for summer training camp, but the 1957 season turned out to be another bust for the team. Stuck in near bankruptcy, the team had to find training facilities closer to home until it could relocate to St. Louis for the 1960 season, by which time the Cowboys had claimed Forest Grove for its training camp.
The summer of 1960 would get even more exciting for Forest Grove football fans, however, as the Cleveland Browns announced that they would hold a short training session at Pacific after the Cowboys broke camp to begin preseason play. In that one glorious summer, local fans got to watch Meredith, the leagues hottest rookie, and Clevelands Jim Brown, the best running back in NFL history at that point. Unfortunately, although both the Cowboys and Browns chose Forest Grove because it was dry, August turned out to be one of the wettest on record, with rain washing out part of the Cowboys camp. Still, the Cowboys assured Forest Grove that it had a good chance of becoming the teams permanent pre-season base. Then the Browns, too, expressed interest in returning.
By the following spring, Forest Grove eagerly awaited the return of one if not both teams, but the Browns announced that they would train in the Midwest. That left only the Cowboys, who at the last minute also chose to train elsewhere. It appeared that Forest Groves dreams of becoming an NFL town were dead. Local fans watched as Don Meredith became a star and the Cowboys became a force to be reckoned with.
Then in 1963, the town got another surprise when the Cowboys announced that they were coming back to Forest Grove, and this time they intended to stay. This time the weather was perfect, and fans flocked from throughout the Portland area to watch the players train. Everyone was happy as the team broke camp, and the Cowboys developed a home-team fan base in the Northwest. The Cowboys were expecting their first winning season, but they started the season slowly. On Nov. 22 of that year, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, and things got even worse for the Cowboys. On Nov. 24, the team was booed mercilessly at their game in Cleveland, as fans took out their anger on the team. A losing streak followed, wiping out any chance of a winning season.
None of that dampened Forest Groves love affair with the Cowboys, however, and fans gleefully welcomed the Cowboys back in 1964. Hopes again ran high for the regular season, but once again were dashed in loss after loss. Forest Grove fans did not lose faith, however, and prepared for the 1965 training camp.
The Cowboys did not return in 1965, however, or in any other year. The Browns never came back either, nor did the Cardinals or the Steelers. Forest Groves decade of NFL glory faded from memory. Today, local NFL fans have the choice of either a long drive to Seattle to watch the Seahawks or a long afternoon of televised games from around the country. On Super Bowl Sunday, all eyes will be on just one game, and when it is over fans will face a long spring and summer of no football, and with no NFL training camp to dream about.
"Now &Then" runs every other week in the News-Times. The Bilderbacks research and write books about western Washington County. To contact them or get more information, visit kenbilderback.com.JW_DISQUS_ADD_A_COMMENT