The irony is that Gil Brandt wasn’t much of a football player himself.
Brandt, who died Thursday at age 91, was a 150-pound defensive back at his Milwaukee high school, but that is where his playing days ended, only two years before his formal education at the University of Wisconsin ended, too.
But Brandt knew football — more specifically, what made good football players, how to evaluate them and how they could fit into a roster. He knew all of that so well that he became not only one of the preeminent talent evaluators of his era while building the Dallas Cowboys team that won two Super Bowls in the 1970s, but also the godfather of modern scouting and the use of data in personnel evaluation.
“We are so deeply saddened by the passing of Gil Brandt — a true icon and pioneer of our sport,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said in a statement released on Thursday. “Gil was at the very core of the early success of the Dallas Cowboys and continued to serve as a great ambassador for the organization for decades beyond that. His contributions cemented his spot in the Ring of Honor. He was my friend and a mentor not only to me, but to countless executives, coaches, players and broadcasters across the National Football League.
“His dedication to, and passion for, this game left a lasting impact on generations of Hall of Fame players and coaches. There are very few people that have been able to have the kind of generational impact that he did.”
Brandt’s reputation as vice president of player personnel in Dallas was that he knew everything about everybody — height, weight, 40 times, girlfriends, eating habits. It was knowledge he continued to dispense in his post-Cowboys years as an analyst for NFL.com and on his SiriusXM NFL Radio show. On the receiving end was anybody who wanted to know the goods: scouts, general managers, coaches, media members. Brandt trafficked in information, surely, but most of all, he was in the business of relationships. He visited coaches even when they didn’t have draftable players. He remembered to ask about people’s children. His elegant Christmas cards arrived every year for hundreds of recipients.
“One of the stories they liked to tell from the Cowboys days was that some fairly obscure player name came up, and Gil said, ‘His father sells eggs in Albuquerque,’ ” recalled Greg Aiello, the NFL’s former public relations executive who worked with Brandt in Dallas.
Aiello thought of that story — and many more like it — when the NFL was preparing to launch its website right before the 1995 draft and was in need of an analyst. Aiello told his colleagues at the NFL’s league office that he knew a person who knew a lot about the draft. That was an understatement.