What were you doing 25 years ago? Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett was making his starting debut in a new pro football league called the World League of American Football which kicked off its inaugural season in March, 1991. His older brother, John (former Cowboys tight ends coach), was one of the wide receivers on the same team, the San Antonio Riders. Younger brother Judd, the Cowboys director of pro scouting, was the star running back for the team in London, England called the London Monarchs.
The WLAF, which four years later would change its name to NFL Europe, began in 1991 with 10 teams in five different countries. In addition to teams in San Antonio and London, the WLAF boasted franchises in: Barcelona,Spain (Barcelona Dragons); Frankfurt, Germany (Frankfurt Galaxy); Montreal, Canada (Montreal Machine); New York-New Jersey (Knights), Orlando, Florida (Orlando Thunder); Birmingham, Alabama (Fire) Fire, Raleigh-Durham,North Carolina (Skyhawks); and Sacramento, California (Surge).
Jason Garrett played only one season in San Antonio. He suffered a separated shoulder in the season opener on March 23, 1991 and was sidelined the majority of the season. Garrett later moved to Canada and played one season with the Ottawa Roughriders of the Canadian Football League (CFL) before moving to Dallas and joining the Cowboys as one of Troy Aikman’s backup quarterbacks in 1993.
Interestingly, Jason Garrett is one of three current head coaches in the NFC East that played quarterback in the WLAF.
Redskins head coach Jay Gruden in 1991 was the third-string QB for the Barcelona Dragons. Newly hired Eagles head coach Doug Pederson threw 8 touchdown passes as the backup QB behind starter Reggie Slack for the New York/New Jersey Knights in 1992. He returned to the WLAF in 1995 as a member of the Rhein Fire. Following his one season in Germany, he was selected by the Carolina Panthers in the NFL’s Expansion Draft.
How did John & Judd fare in the WLAF?
In 1991, John caught 23 passes for 386 yards (a healthy average of 16.78 yards per catch) with three touchdowns. Years later he would reunite on the sideline again with Jason as tight ends coach and passing game coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys (’2007-2012).
Across the pond in London, Judd was an All League pick who led the team in receptions (71-620 yard, 1 TD) and rushed 23 times for 75 yards on the ground. In 1992, he caught 55 passes for 509 yards with 1 touchdown. After two seasons in the WLAF, he joined the Cowboys in 1993 as a practice squad running back where he was on the same team as Jason who was 3rd string quarterback.
The Garrett brothers are not the only Cowboys with extensive ties to the WLAF.
Former Cowboys team president & general manger Tex Schramm was the first commissioner of the WLAF. Former Cowboys team vice president Joe Bailey was the league’s first COO. Former Cowboys head coach Tom Landry was a manger and limited partner of the San Antonio Riders. Former Cowboys head coach Chan Gailey was the coach of the Birmingham Fire. Cowboys director of security Larry Wansley was the WLAF’s coordinator of security and counseling service. Cowboys media relations coordinator Joe Trahan worked public relations for the Barcelona Dragons in the final years of NFL Europe.
After they retired from their playing careers, Troy Aikman and Daryl Johnston worked the broadcast booth as analysts for NFL Europe alongside Cowboys radio play-by-play voice Brad Sham. Brad helped Troy & Daryl in their nascent broadcasting careers.
There are many ties between the Cowboys and the WLAF/NFL Europe both on-the-field and behind-the-scenes. The league folded following the 2007 season when it played under the name NFL Europa. Games were played in the spring and many players and team personnel would work in the NFL in the fall. It provided great training and good memories for so many valuable members of the Cowboys organization that now call North Texas their home.