The Oak Cliff Mustangs

Craig-Mustangs-1975

Craig Dunning, Oak Cliff Mustangs, 1975

I had a two-season venture into youth football in 1975 and 1976. I wasn’t so much into football – I was always a baseball guy – but so many of my baseball teammates talked about playing football that I thought I would give it a try.

Most of the talk among my friends was about the Oak Cliff Mustangs, so that was the team I tried out for.

The Mustangs were considered to be one of the best youth football clubs in Dallas in those days (the Jets organization was the other, as I remember it). Therefore, many of the better youth football players chose the Mustangs because of their winning reputation. The odds were stacked against me because the challenge of competing for a roster spot with some of the best football players in Dallas was compounded by my small size and lack of experience. The only thing I brought to the table was effort; I desperately wanted to make the team. Not just any team. This. Team.

The tryout period was rough; it was hot, the practices were long, I had no idea what I was doing, and I didn’t particularly like getting crushed by the bigger, more experienced players. We practiced daily (M-F) from 6-8pm at the north end of Redbird Park, which is now known as Thurgood Marshall Park.

The head coach’s name was Ray Dean. He was old, stern, and ran a tight ship. We had other coaches, but I only remember him and his son (1976), whose name was Kit or Kip.

Craig Dunning, Oak Cliff Mustangs, 1976

Craig Dunning, Oak Cliff Mustangs, 1976

Tryouts were about 2 weeks long. Maybe longer, and definitely shorter for some! I think I have blocked the specifics of tryouts from my memory to preserve my sanity and dignity. The warm up routine was 3 laps around the field (about 1/2 mile) followed by calesthenics. For calesthinics, a couple players, chosen by Coach Dean, led us through a standard set of jumping jacks, sit ups, neck rolls, etc.

After we were sufficiently warmed and stretched, we went through a variety of skills and coordination drills, which were followed by full-contact and blocking pad drills. I did fine in the skills and coordination sessions, but routinely got smothered in the blocking and contact events.

The best part of practice – besides the end! – was scrimmaging. Even though it was stressful because I didn’t know what I was doing at any position they placed me, I most enjoyed scrimmage. To end practice, we did sprints or laps or both. I. Hated. That. Part.

The final thing each night of tryouts was the cut. I dreaded the thought of being called to the “gallows,” but pretty much expected it. Each night, my dad sat in a lawn chair with the other parents watching practice and waiting for the evening to end with the inevitable summons to meet with Coach Dean. After each practice, Dad always inquired: “He didn’t tell you to stay after?” Surprisingly, that didn’t happen the first week. It should have, but it didn’t. And more surprisingly, it didn’t happen the second week, either. I actually made the team! But not because of any skills or potential. I didn’t have either. According to Coach Dean, I had earned his respect and a spot on the roster because he tried but couldn’t make me quit. (Story continues below.)

1976 Oak Cliff Mustangs

1976 Oak Cliff Mustangs

At the year-end banquet, Coach Dean awarded me the Heart Award, which was 10 silver dollars and a handshake. More important to me, though, is what he said when announcing the award:

The recipient of the Heart Award shouldn’t be here tonight. He should not have made the team; by all accounts, he wasn’t supposed to. At tryouts, he was the smallest, slowest, and least qualified player in the bunch. But, he wouldn’t quit. He came in last on sprints. But, he wouldn’t quit. He shuffled along at the back of the pack on laps. And when I made him run more laps for being last, he ran them … slowly, but he refused to quit. He was easily knocked down. But he always got back up. I wanted him to quit, but he wouldn’t. I tried every way I could to get him to quit. But, he wouldn’t. And because he wouldn’t quit, I kept him on the team.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the recipient of the the Heart Award is Craig Dunning.

For two seasons, I didn’t quit. For two seasons, I went to practice every day Monday thru Friday, then to games on Saturdays. I rarely got to play in the games. It didn’t matter if I sat on the bench near the coach or stayed out of his way, I wasn’t getting into the game until mop-up time, if at all. Sometimes that meant less than 01:00 remaining on the clock. Many times I never entered the game at all. Only a few times in two seasons, did I get into a game when the outcome wasn’t yet decided. On one of those occasions, an away game against the Grand Prairie Packers, I made the most of my opportunity: I sacked the quarterback twice on consecutive plays. (Story continues below.)

In this undated photo, Craig Dunning pursues an opponent. This may be the only existing photo of Dunning in action on a football field.

In this undated photo, Craig Dunning (20) pursues an opponent. This may be the only existing photo of Dunning in action on a football field.

I know it was hard on my parents to see me work so hard and get seemingly so little out of it. There was a financial cost for them, to be sure. But, there must have been an emotional cost, as well. Yet, they never complained in my presence of either. They were team players. I appreciate their willingness to let me fight and struggle and hurt in this way, so that I could be part of something bigger than myself.  I had made the roster of one of the best youth football teams in Dallas, Texas. I was an Oak Cliff Mustang! That was important to me. Thus, it was important to them and they willingly paid their own price for that to happen.

I learned much about life in those two years. I learned the value of getting up when I got knocked down. I learned the value of putting one foot in front of the other and continuing to move forward, even slowly if that’s all I have left in me. I learned the value of being part of something bigger than myself. I learned about team dynamics and team work. I learned the value of suffering. I learned the taste of victory and defeat. I learned what it feels like to be unappreciated. I learned what it feels like to sit the bench. I learned how to earn respect.

Thank you, mom and dad. Thank you, Ray Dean. Thank you, Oak Cliff Mustangs 1975 and 1976.

Comments

  1. William Soper says

    Nice story!

    • Jeff Taylor says

      Hey im jeff taylor i too made the 78 79 mustangs team barely you had to be a pretty tuff kid.i never got to play unless we were ahead by 2 or 3 touchdowns i dont remember ever being down by more than 1 td.im telling you these kids like rick milson hey rick could make any varsity team in state.when we do driiis i used to prsy i wouldnt get lined up against rick.tracy barientos qb could flat foot throw a 50 yard srike.wesley white shoes johnson receiver i think he ran 40 in like 4.2 lol rick milson running back and i think wooley linebscker brian jordan lineman he bench like 280 in 8th grade.dont forget rusty morgan reciver craigvharmilio this one white kid that was the smallest on the team. his name rodney something. He played with more guts than anyone.i wanna say eddie cox played on team those years.our coach was raymond wooliver and he had son travis that used to lead drills .we had coach norris he was coolestt but the resson we. Dominated is because. Of the respect we had for coach and teammates.i mean there was not a little leage team in the nation that even had a chance we played best team hands down inLouisiana and beat them by 40 points in the first halfe.i always wanted to see 1979 reed trojans state champs play mustangs that year thats the only team that would have a prayer.how bout shabo price he hit hard and broke his leg. Into at one of our practices remember dude named terry played qb and could throw 70 yard bomb in the 8th grade big thing was we had 150 weight limit and still beat up any jr high team.every kid wanted to be on this team i was proud to ride the bench and de blocking dummy for milson it was pickard then.memory lane .raymond betty and travis wooliver.were dedicated to that team losing was not an option im telling you i should have been making book on those games could have made a fortune id say mustangs minus 40 pts every week it was crazy.i still go to red bird park once in a while how many times we had to run around that park you mess up play coach pulled u thats what sucked worst and say go get me a leaf i was like what yea off that tree about halfe a mile away i can barely see it .lolthen run about 50 sprints.i had 4.4 speed and i was slowest back lolin 8th grade.it was an honor to make team and i wouldnt trade those days for nothing.people just dont know how good those teams were. Take care everyone bless all of you..hippy jeff

      • CraigDunning says

        Jeff,

        Thanks for contributing to memories. Sounds like you might have taken my place in the organization. Based on the details you provided, you were in the Mustangs organization after me, but about the same age.

        I remember many of the names you mentioned. Craig Jaramillio was very close friend from baseball. When I spent the night at his house, his uncle lived a few houses down and had 1 set of boxing gloves. So, we would each lace up one glove and pound each other. Whoever got the right hand glove was very advantaged. I wish I could track him or his younger brother Rickey down. Their uncle, Rudy, became one of the best hitting coaches in Major League Baseball, even doing a stint with the Rangers.

        Wesley “White Shoes” Johnson was a friend, too. He spent the night with me on occasion. He took the name from Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, a wide receiver for the Oilers, who Wesley said was his uncle. I wonder where Wesley is these days.

        I think I remember Barrientos from baseball. Seems like he played for the Vikings, if I’m not mistaken.

        If you know of or run across any other Mustangs, invite them to this thread.

  2. I love going down memory lane with your stories. One of the memories I have about this that you didn’t mention is on the first day of practice your dad told you on the way home “you don’t have to go back tomorrow, you can quit” and I told you the same thing. But you were determined to make the team and you would not quit. One of the things I admire about you is your don’t quit attitude.

  3. Richard Salas says

    I to remember the Oak Cliff Mustangs. My brother played with them in 1978. Great team that year. Won everything they got into. I remember going to New Orleans and watching them play in the Crawfish Bowl and the whole team touring the Super Dome. Great times. Wish there was more pictures. Thanks for the memories.

  4. CraigDunning says

    Thanks for sharing your memories, Richard. I have great memories of my 2 trips to the Crawfish Bowl and the accompanying tours of the Super Dome.

  5. Rick Millson says

    Craig, on a whim i googled oak cliff mustangs and this came up. I was a member of those teams with you. This was a blast from the past for sure. I am number 32 in the photo. My name is Ricky Millson, Picard at that time. It sure brought back some good memories for me. Hope life is treating you well. We are the Mustangs, the mighty mighty Mustangs!

    • CraigDunning says

      Thanks for stopping by Ricky. Great to hear from you. I would love to know more about your whereabouts and all.

  6. i played for the oak cliff jets for several years in the 70 -76 years yes it was hard to make the team musstangs were biggest rivals cornel green from cowboyses teems son was even on the mustangs c team best time of my life went to crayfish bowl several times cant find nothing on jets back then our coch was barringer back then any jets fan back then please post salizar nick nickerson rangel wendell

  7. Louis Green says

    This is a great article. I accidentally came across the website, as I was searching for historical material from my pop warner days to add to my start-up company’s website, JunBugg, a fitness social network. http://www.junbugg.net

    I’m Louis Green. My brother, Donavon Green and I were also Oakcliff Mustangs for about 3 seasons. My sister Vickie Green was a mustang cheerleader. I played running back, defensive end, and safety. My father took tuns of pictures. Was a lot of fun. Saturday footballs and eating humongous pickles and Frito pie. The best!

    This brought back so many memories. I can’t believe it – you described practice exactly as I remembered. I’m number 88 in the picture. I lived in Cedar Hill. The uniform, socks, shoes, elbow pads, helmet, scrimmaging, warm ups, letterman jackets, banquets, everything – I remember it all. I remember going to New Orleans and playing in the Crawfish Bowl.

    You forgot one thing, the cook-outs/potluck after practice, I believe every Wednesday or Thursday night. The food was so good after those tough practices and running sprints. Haha!

    I’m now reside in Los Angeles, California, near Venice Beach.

    Cheers ;=)
    Louis Green

    • CraigDunning says

      Louis,

      Thanks for stopping by and adding to the story. Pickles and Frito Pie … I remember them well!

      Best wishes on your new startup. If you have any contact with others Mustangs (from any era), encourage them to drop in and add their memories.

    • David Smith says

      Hey, I was just wondering if you knew which Mustang team you played for. When I was born my father Mike Smith coached the Mustangs. I have a championship plaque her for 1975 when The won the Southwest Conference Championship. It also says Turkey Bowl and Crayfish Bowl. I don’t know if it was given to him by the league or the parents but it has every players name and number. It says 1975 Oak Cliff D Mustangs

      • CraigDunning says

        Hi, David!

        Sorry I didn’t see your post until now (even though it was to Louis). I was on the C-Team, so the age group just above the group your dad coached. I missed the age cut-off for your dad’s team by 6 days, which made me the youngest and smallest kid on the C-Team.

  8. Steven Estill says

    I remember all that was mentioned in these articles. Practice at Red Bird park everyday. Playing on Saturday at Bishop Lynch. I remember going to new Orleans and winning thevcrayfish bowl. I also remember the field there you could hear the water under the mud as you played. I broke a finger there ouch but I remember the win. Our uniforms where ref and black the only time we wore white was at practice. Does anyone remember the tornado drill man I sure do I hated it. Everyone stands in a circle with one in the middle coach would call out a number on your jersey you would hit the one in the middle and tackle him as hard as u can. It seems like it was torture but the coaches knew how to make us tough. So tough in fact we would state that year beating the the Jets at Bishop Lynch field. My trophies and patches were lost over the years sure wish I had proof of those championships. Can’t find anything on oak cliff pop warner of those years. I was number 70. I believe it was 77 and 78. Oak cliff mustang state champions

    • CraigDunning says

      Steven,

      Thanks for sharing your memories of the Mustangs. You were a few years behind me. If you know of other Mustangs whereabouts, encourage them to drop by and share their memories.

    • I’m seeing this in my mind. I have strong memories on a few guys but not everyone. Special times The Kinner La wet field. & the desiel fumesl from the buses we rode onwith all our gear on them.

  9. Derek Mott says

    The 1968 Mustangs coached by Raymond Woolerver was the best team ever to come out of Oak Cliff. We were National Champs that year. In all my years of playing football that was a special team. Honor all of them not with us anymore.

    Derek Mott

    • CraigDunning says

      Derek,

      Thanks for dropping by to share your memories. Congratulations on being part of a great organization and a great team. If you know of any Mustangs’ whereabouts, encourage them to drop by and share their stories.

  10. Steve E. says

    Thank you for sharing this story. You brought back many memories of my youth. Playing against the Mustangs in the Crawfish Bowl was an eye-opening experience. Lots of fun, in the rain!
    I just wish we could have scored !
    Thanks again.

  11. Greg Kerr says

    I’m celebrating my 50th year since I first tried out with the Mustangs organization. It was 1969 as a 9 year old and I like you Craig, had no idea. But I made the “C” team (the Ponies back then) and my football career was off and running. I played for the Mustangs in ’69-70 then again in 72-73.
    Wonderful times that I’ll always cherished. We learned to win a lot and lose on occasion. We lost the C-City Championship to the Chiefs in ’70 and we all cried, coaches and players alike.
    My last year in ’73, we won the Dallas championship beating the Jets twice and Tornadoes along the way. Then we won the Crawfish Bowl in NOLA and at Christmas time we flew to Ft. Lauderdale, FL with an 18-0 record. I still wonder how that trip was paid for…must’ve been more than passing the hat around the stands and concessions.
    I remember coach Dean from my “C” team days…Coach Woolever was the “B” coach with so many others who were outstanding role models. I played with many outstanding players, some went on to play college football. Oak Cliff was rockin’ back in the day, and the Mustangs rocked along with it.
    Thanks for sharing your story Craig, I enjoyed it.

  12. Oh my goodness, I played for the Mustangs late 70’s. Going to New Orleans for Crawfish Bowl in Kenner La. was fond memories, I guess parents were fired up coachs babysat us as they hit New Orleans in hind site. Went to HS at Duncanville and played football and baseball with guys on those same teams. Now motivated to find those old annuals or team/sponser books with all our pictures.

    • CraigDunning says

      Thanks for dropping by, Kevin. Feel free to connect stories with people who were on your teams. Share any photos you may have. If you are in contact with any former Mustangs, invite them to share their memories.

  13. Stewart Ditch says

    nice artilce , thank you Admin . keep it up have a great day

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