Few positions in sports are as glamorous as quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. Signal callers such as Roger Staubach, Troy Aikman, Tony Romo and Dak Prescott have all carried the burden and the honor of quarterbacking "America's Team". Eddie LeBaron was the original Dallas Cowboy quarterback. Hailing from San Rafael, California, LeBaron stood against the odds and persevered. Standing just 5'7", he earned the nickname "The Little General". From the battlefield to the gridiron, Eddie LeBaron lived a full life. This is his story.
Eddie LeBaron was born on January 7, 1930 in San Rafael, California. After graduating from Oakdale High School he went to the University of Pacific where he played for Amos Alonzo Stagg for a year before the coach resigned after the 1946 season. After his freshman year, the school hired Larry Siemering As a senior in 1949, he led the Tigers to an undefeated season, finishing the season ranked 10th in the nation. He was named first team All-Pacific Coast after that fine season and was named the MVP of the East-West Shrine Game. He was drafted by the Washington Redskins in the 1950 NFL Draft.
War and Football
Before he could play in the NFL, Eddie LeBaron had to serve his country in the Korean War. A Marine Corps Reserve while in college, LeBaron was called to active duty with the US Marine Corps during his first NFL training camp. In his nine months of service, 2nd Lieutenant Eddie LeBaron was wounded twice. During a battle on Korea's Heartbreak Ridge, Eddie LeBaron left cover to alert the forward observation post of a mortar platoon in sight of the enemy. Later in the same conflict, he took charge when a nearby rifle platoon lost its commander. For his heroic efforts, Eddie LeBaron was awarded both the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.
Eddie LeBaron returned to America in 1952 as a hero in search of an identity after seeing so much carnage and death. As a rookie, he started seven games but only won once. However, he did show promise throwing 14 touchdown passes. The following year, he won four games, lost three and tied once but threw for just three touchdowns against 17 interceptions.
In 1954, LeBaron left for Canada in search for a better opportunity and signed with the Calgary Stampeders who had recently hired his old college coach, Larry Siemering. Eddie LeBaron had a rocky time in Canada, tossing eight touchdowns and 24 interceptions. After the season, the Stampeders fired Siemering and LeBaron returned to the Redskins. The next year, he was invited to his first Pro Bowl after throwing for 1,270 yards and nine touchdowns.
After injuries limited him to just five games in 1956, Eddie LeBaron made it to two more Pro Bowls in 1957 and 1958, tossing 11 touchdowns against 10 interceptions in each year. Throughout his time in Washington, though he was a good player, he could never get the team to the post season. Eventually, this wore him down and he retired after a lackluster 1959 campaign having already earned a law degree. However, a movement was happening in Dallas that would extend Eddie LeBaron's career just long enough for him to own a sliver of fame.
The Dallas Cowboys were founded in 1960, too late for the NFL Draft and decades before free agency. As an expansion team, they had their choice of the most unwanted players from each roster in the NFL. Even though they had already drafted their quarterback of the future, Don Meredith, they still needed a signal caller before Meredith would be ready to lead the team. Ironically, they traded a first round pick in the 1961 NFL Draft to their greatest rival, the Redskins, for Eddie LeBaron. The two quarterbacks would soon become close as LeBaron became a valuable mentor for young Meredith. Still, even with the veteran quarterback under center, Dallas was abysmal that first season, never winning a single game. However, they did manage to unexpectedly tie the perennial title contenders New York Giants late in the season, In his first season in Dallas, Eddie LeBaron managed to throw for 1,736 yards, 12 touchdowns and a career high 25 interceptions.
Things were a little better the next year with LeBaron leading the team to two wins in 10 starts. He also cut down on his interceptions to just 16 for the year. The Cowboys were still losing in 1962 but Eddie LeBaron managed to get invited to his fourth and final Pro Bowl after throwing for 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions in six games. The 1963 season was his last in the NFL as the Cowboys were getting ready to transition to the younger arm of Don Meredith. LeBaron only started twice that season, losing both times, and throwing for just three touchdowns against three interceptions.
After that season, Eddie LeBaron retired. He was inducted into the College football Hall of Fame in 1980. After he left the field of play, he became an announcer for CBS, staying in that position until 1971. In addition to sporadically practicing law over the years, he also worked as the Atlanta Falcon's general manager from 1977 to 1982 and as their executive vice president from 1983 to 1985. Eddie LeBaron died on April 1, 2015 at the age of 85.
"Stories from the Hall of Fame Archive: From fields of battle to football fields". Jon Kendle. The Canton Repository. https://www.cantonrep.com/story/sports/2020/11/15/eddie-lebaron-jr-decorated-marine-fighting-korean-war-nfl-star-qb/6283009002/
"STAR: From War Hero to NFL QB, Eddie LeBaron Had a Successful Journey". Jeff Sullivan. Star Magazine. https://www.dallascowboys.com/news/star-from-war-hero-to-nfl-qb-eddie-lebaron-had-a-successful-journey-373986