Don Meredith, 'MNF' Legend and Lipton Pitchman, Dies at 72

Beloved NFL Announcer Was Just as Famous for His Side Gig Selling Tea

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NEW YORK ( -- Don Meredith, the ex-NFL quarterback and "Monday Night Football" announcer who died Sunday night, was just as well known as a folksy pitchman for Lipton Tea from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s and helped coin the company's signature marketing line of the time, "Lipton Tea Lover."

Howard Cosell and Don Meredith
Howard Cosell and Don Meredith
Mr. Meredith suffered a brain hemorrhage and lapsed into a coma. He was 72.

Mr. Meredith was one of the original great athletes who remained vibrant and popular in a second -- and even third -- career. A Texas schoolboy legend, Mr. Meredith stayed home to play college ball when he decided to attend Southern Methodist University, and in 1959 signed with the Dallas Cowboys several months before the team began to play in the National Football League as an expansion franchise in 1960.

Mr. Meredith led the Cowboys to two NFL title game appearances -- before the evolution of the Super Bowl -- but surprisingly and abruptly retired in 1968 when he said he no longer had the desire to compete.

But if Mr. Meredith's life was Texas-centric to that point, his charismatic mix of candor and a wild side mixed with homespun folksiness was about to be foisted on the nation when he signed on as a color commentator on a fledgling network gamble called "Monday Night Football" in 1970.

Mr. Meredith's style was the perfect foil to the ultra-seriousness of announcer Howard Cosell. Where Mr. Cosell was all business and often infuriated viewers with big words and a know-it-all attitude, Mr. Meredith was a fan favorite for his down-home style and the way he often tweaked Mr. Cosell. And, of course, Mr. Meredith was legendary for singing the chorus of Willie Nelson's "Turn Out the Lights, the Party's Over" whenever he felt a game was no longer in doubt.

Mr. Meredith was on "Monday Night Football" from 1970-73, left for another network for four seasons, and returned to "MNF" again from 1977-84. "Dandy Don," as he was known, was also quick-witted. When an "MNF" camera zoomed in on a fan during one telecast in the early 1980s, and the fan saluted by giving the middle finger on national TV, Mr. Meredith quipped, "Hey, he thinks the Oilers are No. 1!"

He was also said to be the inspiration for the quarterback character of Seth Maxwell in the book and film "North Dallas Forty," written by his former teammate with the Cowboys, Peter Gent.

He parlayed that success into the Lipton Tea gig, which began in the late 1970s and ended in the mid-1980s. Calling himself "Jeff and Hazel's baby boy" in a series of spots, Mr. Meredith extolled the virtues of the beverage -- both hot and cold -- and popularized the tagline "Lipton Tea Lover."

In 1986, he and TV weatherman Willard Scott helped introduce Lipton's "sun tea" concept.

In his book "The Copywriters Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Copy That Sells," author Robert W. Bly cited Mr. Meredith's commercials as a good example of how to build long-term brand personalities.

"The old Don Meredith spots drummed into the consumer mind that Lipton Tea is 'brisk' and 'dandy-tasting,' " Mr. Bly wrote.

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