On this day in 1984, Tom Landry testified in a criminal prosecution of Danny White

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The past 20 years of the NFL has featured plenty of crazy and compelling stories, and many of those are detailed in Playmakers. The 20 years before that included plenty of crazy and compelling stories, too.

The difference, especially in the days before the Internet, is that many of those stories went largely unnoticed or underreported, given that the machinery didn’t exist for covering every single thing about the NFL, big or small.

Something fairly big happened on this day in 1984, thanks to the folks who maintain the @QuirkyResearch account on Twitter. I’ve followed the NFL closely for 50 years, and I don’t remember this one — or I never knew about it.

An Associated Press story from McKinney, Texas examined that legendary Cowboys coach Tom Landry testified as a character witness at the criminal trial of former Cowboys quarterback Danny White. White was charged with misdemeanor assault of a 17-year-old boy who accused White of trying to “run him off a rural road for no apparent reason.” White claimed that he slapped Jon Michael Clark in self defense after he “instigated a dangerous game of speeding up and slowing down and almost forced White’s van, carrying three of his children, into a head-on collision at 80 mph.” Specifically, White was trying to pass Clark’s Camaro (of course) on a two-lane road, but the kid kept speeding up, forcing White to remain in the lane of oncoming traffic.

The prosecutor pressed White on the question of whether he chose to race Clark. White testified that he later slapped the kid to “impress upon his the seriousness of the incident and to prevent him from continuing to follow his van.”

Landry testified that he believed White wouldn’t have hit Clark without provocation, adding this gem (that apparently didn’t draw a successful objection): Landry said if he were “under the same type of stress situation that Danny was under, I might do the same thing.”

The defense of White also assumed a Seinfeld finale vibe, with lawyers calling “several Plano residents” who said that Clark “has a bad reputation” and that he was involved in at least three other dangerous driving incidents.

Then there’s this, the final paragraph of the story: “Two other witnesses, 16-year-old Kelly Lynn Pope and her mother Frances, testified that Clark, whose nickname is ‘Pyro,’ once left a dead cat on their doorstep after the high school student refused him for a date.”

White ultimately was acquitted. He shouldn’t have been, frankly. Absent evidence that Clark was threat to White in the specific moments preceding the slap, there’s no self-defense. It was retribution, plain and simple. And it falls into the “two wrongs don’t make a right” category.

Good luck selling that with a Dallas-area jury in the box, especially when the evidence comes with a dead cat on the welcome mat.

9 responses to “On this day in 1984, Tom Landry testified in a criminal prosecution of Danny White

  1. Not a Cowboys fan, but sounds like the kid needed an attitude adjustment. Hopefully it was a life-changing experience for him.

  2. Strange story. White was one of the best backup QBs in the league. After Staubach retired, just couldn’t put the Cowboys over the top.

  3. This is a gem. These unusual stories make for great journalism. Bravo.

    Presuming you know better than a jury of peers who saw all the evidence and came to a decision about the applicability of the charges in this case, not so cool.

  4. The Cowboys knew about this early. They should have left Danny stand on his own merit and drafted the best QB available in 84, which was Boomer Esiason. An upgrade over Danny as they missed out on the All Time class the year before. Danny could not get the Cowboys over the final hump, and this was a chance to cut bait.

  5. I suppose what he did was wrong. However, if put in White’s shoes and this punk would not let you merge back into the lane when there is an oncoming vehicle, you can see the panic and anxiety that situation would create. Now the news article says that the kid said that White punched him in his nose but your story says White slapped him. Which one was it? I think if that kid deliberately tried to seriously hurt White and his kids with his car, a slap in the face is small potatoes compared to what he deserved.

  6. Long way to go for a Seinfeld reference but it worked. – barely mike, barely.

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