How Did a Lawsuit Lead to the Dallas/Houston Governor’s Cup?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about football and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the football urban legends featured so far.

FOOTBALL URBAN LEGEND: The annual Governor’s Cup game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Houston team from the AFC began due to a legal settlement.

In the early days of the existence of the American Football League, then a rival to the National Football League, there were many battles over college players. In fact, the existence of the AFL was, in many ways, one of the biggest boons to players’ salaries in the history of professional football. Until the AFL came along, there was no way of truly demonstrating how much a given player was worth on the open market because there WASN’T an open market. Once the AFL came along, they were desperate for relevance, and the quickest way to get to relevance was to get star players. So the AFL paid through the nose for the best of the college graduates. As a result, salaries soared. One of the reasons the NFL was willing to merge with the AFL was that they couldn’t afford to continue fighting with the AFL for players.

One of these players was Ralph Neely, the standout offensive tackle from the University of Oklahoma. The beginning of his professional career led to a great battle between the two pro teams from Texas, the Dallas Cowboys of the NFL and the Houston Oilers of the AFL.

In 1965, Neely was drafted in the second round of both the NFL Draft and the AFL Draft. In the NFL, he was drafted by the Baltimore Colts. Neely signed with the Houston Oilers in a deal that included an ownership stake in a gas station in Houston. Neely kept the deal quiet so that he would remain eligible to compete in the Gator Bowl during his Senior year (eventually the news got out and he was ruled ineligible for the game). During this time, the Cowboys made a trade with the Colts for Neely’s rights. The Arkansas native Neely was okay with choosing Houston over the Baltimore Colts, but now that the nearby Dallas Cowboys were interested, things were different. So Neely returned the Oilers’ check and signed with the Cowboys. As you might imagine, the Oilers were none too pleased about this particular turn of events, so they sued the Cowboys (presumably tortious interference with contractual relations).

The case dragged on into 1966, even as Neely began playing for the Cowboys in 1965, where he was a starter at right tackle right of the bat (a position he played for five seasons, plus eight more at left tackle) as he made the NFL All-Rookie team.


When the AFL/NFL merger was being negotiated in 1966, one of the outstanding matters was the lawsuit between the Oilers and the Cowboys. The Cowboys were ordered to settle the matter so that the merger could be completed. They sent three draft picks and cash to the Oilers and also agreed to begin to play a yearly game against the Oilers starting in 1967. These games became known as The Governor’s Cup. They took place in the preseason unless the two teams happened to be scheduled against each other during the regular season. The Governor’s Cup continued until the Oilers moved to Tennessee in 1997. A number of notable Governor’s Cup games were played, including games in Tokyo, Japan as well as Mexico City, Mexico.

The Cowboys won 18 of the 31 Governor’s Cup games.

In 2002, the expansion Houston Texans brought professional football back to Houston. The Texans and the Cowboys picked up the Governor’s Cup tradition and played the game every year except the lockout-shortened 2011 season. The Cowboys have a 7-5 advantage in Governor’s Cup games against the Texans (4-4 in preseason games and 3-1 in regular season games).

The legend is…


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