Bob Lilly is about as decorated and respected as any NFL veteran to ever play the game. For starters, he was the first player ever selected by the Dallas Cowboys in 1961, and it doesn’t get much better than that. What an excellent way to start a Hall of Fame career! Bob was one of the best defensive tackles to ever play the game. He was a seven-time Pro Bowler who only missed one game due to injury during a long 14-year career. He also wears a Super Bowl ring on his finger and is a member of the Cowboys Ring of Honor. Now, as for many years, he is a world-class photographer, busy with an active life.
What was your first car?
The first car that I ever owned was when I was in college. I bought a 1953 Plymouth in the summer of 1958. I drove it for a few years and gave it to my brother. He went to TCU, drove it for three years and then he bought a new car.
It was a four-door sedan and it ran well, and I worked in the oil fields in the summer to pay for it. I learned to drive in a Studebaker Terraplane. You probably never heard of that, but it was a little coupe from the ’40s. My dad had it around and he let me drive it. Finally, it rusted out and it was hauled off. I started driving when I was eight in an International pick-up following my dad who was driving a tractor pulling a combine. Without a doubt, International made a durable product.
The International pick-up truck…which transmission did it have in it?
A four-speed – a granny gear, first, second, third and fourth, plus reverse. It was on the floor, had a long stick with a knob on top. Everything I learned on, all my first cars, had a stick. The pick-up had the stick come right up through the floorboard, was metal, probably two feet tall. Started left and up, and right and back, to get to granny gear.
I guess that’s where four on the floor comes from.
Yeah, four on the floor.
I’d seen where Bob came from. Now I wanted to see where he was presently.
What cars do you own now?
Right now we have a Toyota Mini Van and a Nissan Milan. I have a, just actually gave it to my son, but I had a four-wheel-drive Toyota Sequoia I’ve been using for hunting and photography and all that. I’ve been driving it for the past five years.
That’s what Lee Roy Jordan drives now.
Well yeah, that’s because of me. I know how tough it is because my youngest son and his family have had it for a little while and they haven’t been able to destroy it yet.
(LAUGHTER)…Okay. When you entered the NFL and got that first substantial contract, what vehicle did you buy to spoil yourself?
You didn’t get too spoiled back then, on a $2,500 bonus, but I bought a Chevrolet Corvair. That car was produced for a short period of time. I bought it after my senior year, in 1961, when I got my bonus. I drove it for a short period of time. Right on University Drive by TCU, by the Chevy dealer, half of the motor mount came loose and dropped down on the ground. I came to a screeching halt on my way to my first meeting with the Cowboys. They came over and hauled it over to the Chevy dealership. The owner at the time, of Jack Williams Chevrolet, Mr. Williams, gave me a Bel Air Chevy and he didn’t charge me the extra $500 that it cost. I never forgot him. He was a wonderful man. I’m glad that happened earlier than later because I would have been fined for missing a meeting.
There would have gone your bonus.
Yep. They felt so bad about my bonus later that they gave me a $2,000 extra bonus. Had I known that, I would have bought an Oldsmobile hard-top with a 454 in it.
That’s a big motor.
I owned one of those later.
Well then, what was the sportiest car you owned?
Let’s see. Probably two cars I had. The one I had that was really sporty was a ’65 Oldsmobile hard top, two-door, red and white on the inside, white on the outside with red down that little thing on the side. I think it had a 454 cubic inch motor. The gearshift was in the middle where you just pull it back. From reverse to neutral to drive. You could burn rubber for about 200 yards. I went through about four sets of tires before I wised up. That was really a sporty car. I remember a little Mercedes 220SL, I believe it was, which was pretty sporty, but it was too small for me. It cornered great and looked great, but wasn’t practical. Then, another car I had, was a Lincoln Continental Coupe in 1971. That was sporty, was light blue on the bottom with a white top or vice-versa. I don’t remember, but that was a very pretty car. I really enjoyed that car, very comfortable.
Did you ever look at a teammate’s car and say, T have to have me one of those?’
I did. Teammates were all different; the single guys had nicer cars than the married ones. I’m trying to think. Probably in the mid- or early-’70 s, some of the guys started driving four-wheel-drive Suburbans. They had a lot of room and you could even take out the back seat to sleep, because we fished and hunted a lot back then. The Suburban really made a lot of sense, but it was a big car and I couldn’t get it in the garage. I couldn’t shut the door or I couldn’t get in the house, but I owned a Suburban for 20 years after that. I always enjoyed them. Then I got that Sequoia. Ironically, we moved down to Sunset City and I had the Suburban, which would fit in the garage, but you had to go out of the garage to come back in the garage so you could go in the house. I got the Sequoia, which fit fine.
I could have gotten a Tahoe or something, but the Sequoia took the Suburban’s place.
What’s your favorite color combination on cars?
I’ve been through all of them. I had a red Suburban and a blue and off-white Suburban, which I liked. After the Cowboys, I had a gray Mercedes. A black one. A blue Plymouth, way back. The Sequoia was silver. Just trying to think of all of them. I think, in Texas, my favorite is white or kind of off-white. What do they call that, pearl?
Yes, pearl. I actually think GM calls it white diamond.
Yeah, maybe that’s it. It makes sense down here because there’s lots of sunshine down here – and mud and dirt – and white doesn’t show dirt as much as black. And you can knock it off real easily. I don’t know, it’s just a nice color. Easy to touch it up if you need to.
What has been your top speed in a vehicle?
Top speed? I never have on the freeway, but down in east Texas there are a lot of open roads. Say, near Fort Stockton where there’s nobody or nothing for 50 or 60 miles, you might see one or two cars. I have a friend. We photograph down there. I think, probably, the Suburban I had up to 120 one time, and once, in his sedan Mercedes, we got it up to 140. That’s about it.
He not only ran fast on the field, but he obviously liked speed in a vehicle.
Very impressive, that is pretty fast.
Yes, not bad.
Okay, he played for the Dallas Cowboys, so I wanted to find out if he was into country music or another selection while driving.
What kind of music do you listen to when you’re driving?
I like – when I’m in the city -1 like classical. I listen to the classical station more than anything. I like the oldies. I have a CD collection. I like some country western too, old and new. Number one in town would be classical, where you’re focused. On the open highway, where there’s no stress, I like oldies and country and western…where you can hear the lyrics.
Have you ever been involved in a bad accident?
I’ve never had one, but I’ve been in a car when someone else was driving and had one. My roommate – the quarterback at TCU – and I were going to his hometown in north Texas, in Amarillo. We were going up and it was rainy. We were going up to be clowns in the rodeo. We borrowed a car from an alumni, I think. I don’t remember. Anyway, this truck had stopped in the middle of the road. A big truck. We came over the hill and it was raining and we couldn’t stop. He hit the brakes but we slid into the back of the truck, went under the truck and it took the top of the car off. Thank goodness we were as low as we could get. That was the scaredest I’ve ever been. We were stout, so we kicked the doors out even though they were jammed, and the cops came and the truck driver came down. His truck had stopped, quit running right in the middle of the road. He went down to the diner and called, but he came back. That was the worst wreck I ever had.
When you were a kid, did you have a dream car that you might have had a poster of?
Yes. Not when I was a kid, but when I was a sophmore, maybe I was a junior. Chevrolet came out with the ’55 Chevrolet. We were in a small town – Throckmorton – 1,100 or 1,200 people, I guess, and the Chevrolet dealer there was right next to the movie theater. There was no crime back then, so the back door was a big wooden door, like a barn door, and you could pry it open. We went back there and had a look at it. We just couldn’t believe how pretty that car was. It had a big V*, and was pretty. I really lusted after that car until the ’57 came out. That was my senior year. And when the ’57 came out I’ve never stopped lusting for one of those.
Well, maybe you can find a good restored version of that ole ’57.
You know, the guys at General Motors might bring a good Chevy back out with a new motor. I think it would sell very well to the baby-boomers and people like myself.
I hear that you are into photography. What can you tell me about your history and fascination with photographs, and do you develop your own photos?
Yes, I’m pretty much into it. My senior year in college, I made several All-American teams, including the coaches. All-American team, and that team was sponsored by Kodak. In fact, that team was intact until about four years ago. Kodak finally pulled the plug on it. Anyway, they gave us nice 35-millimeter cameras made in Germany and 200 rolls of film with pre-paid envelopes that we just mailed in and they mailed them back. And that’s when I started. I started taking pictures of my teammates, candid shots of my teammates on the all- star teams. Then I had a darkroom my second year of pro ball. I had a new Locker camera and continued to take the candid shots. I actually had a book called Bob Lilly: Reflections, a reflection of my years with the Cowboys, my teammates as I saw them through the camera. I had a darkroom until I moved here. I had a wet darkroom all my life, but when I moved here, I have a digital darkroom with a scanner. I shoot a lot of film. I do shoot some digital high-end cameras, and I have a high-end Emerson printer. I really don’t market it anymore. I give a lot of it to charity. I re-copy and retouch old pictures, things like that. I still like to go out and take pictures of nature. I take pictures of the grandkids and various holiday functions. My passion now is traveling the highways with my buddies. We go for a week or 10-day photo trips. Shoot New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, quite a bit in Texas. It’s much easier and more comfortable now. I shoot the film and scan it, and take the ones I like and work on the computer, take out the scratches and all of the things that you couldn’t used to do. Then when I get them the way I want them, I save them to the hard drive, and to gold CDs or DVD so they’ll last. Supposedly they’ll last 100 years, which is longer than me, but I don’t believe all that. If they last 25, I’m happy.
Being a devout Cowboy fan, I had to ask the question.
Okay, one more question. Who is your favorite Dallas Cowboy of all time?
Well, I have a lot of them, obviously, but my favorite is Roger Staubach. I don’t know why I say that. In some ways, Roger is my favorite. Lee Roy Jordan was another, Mel Renfro, there’s so many. The reason I say Roger is that he was the catalyst to winning the Super Bowl. We were in the playoffs so many times. Meredith would have got us there, but Don was so beat up before we got a good team that he gave it up. Craig Martin did a great job, but he had two bad knees. Roger came about the time we had a good team, but we weren’t making the big play at the right time. We went to Super Bowl VI and won the game, and I think a lot of that was due to Roger’s leadership skills. He and Lee Roy Jordan, both, were really good leaders on the practice field and in the games. We had a lot of really good leaders. I could make a list, but I won’t. That’s what it takes to win. You have to have leadership from your players. The coach can motivate you so much, but players have to motivate each other, especially during practice, which prepares you for the game.
On the drive from Dallas to Bob’s house, I was explaining to Catherine just how much of a legend Bob Lilly is – not just in the Dallas, Texas area, but to all football fans worldwide. He and his wife, Ann, were very gracious, inviting us to their home and showing us an extensive collection of Bob’s amazing photographs. Bob even gave Catherine some of his prints and a copy of his book! I was honored to get to explore his automotive history in this interview.