Rayfield Wright, one of the most embellished and dominant striking liners in Cowboys history, has died, the Professional Football Hall of Fame announced Thursday.
He was 76.
Surrounded by teammates called the “Big Cat”, Wright played five appearances in the Super Cup in 13 seasons at the club. He was selected to the first or second All-Pro team for six seasons in a row and earned a spot on the NFL team for the entire decade during the 1970s.
Wright was the first striker in the franchise’s history to win a spot in the team’s Honorary Ring and Hall of Fame. He was followed by Larry Allen.
They remain the only two.
“Rayfield Wright was the epitome of what it takes to become a member of the Hall of Fame,” Jerry Jones said of Wright after his death.
“His perseverance, agility, passion, charisma and love for football, community and family have always shone through. The original “Big Cat” helped shape the Dallas Cowboys ’future through his glorious 13-year career. Rayfield was a champion on and off the field. He remained an important part of the Cowboys family long after his playing days were over, and will be greatly missed. Our love and support goes to his wife and the whole Wright family. “
Before his death on Thursday, Wright was hospitalized more than a week after a “severe seizure,” according to the Hall of Fame.
“I love blocking, I love contact,” Wright once said. “It is a great pleasure to know that you are moving your man from there. The most important thing is to put my man on the ground – I’m on it, and the bearer of the ball is 10-15 meters from the field.
Wright was inducted into the Hall of Fame on August 5, 2006. At the beginning of his speech, he said that he learned about Robert Frost’s poem “The Road is Not Taken” in the eighth grade. Wright said his instinct was to always go the easy way, but he found that “the easy way never came to me.”
Born Aug. 23, 1945, Wright was raised by his mother and grandmother in Griffin, Georgia, a small community outside of Atlanta. There were few in the family. He remembered how, when he was 10 years old, he knelt beside his grandmother, praying to God for some ability that would allow him to bring his family out of poverty.
Wright was good enough in basketball that Loyola University had reserved a place for him, but financial difficulties convinced him to choose a career in the Air Force. After a while, Stan Lomax – the man who introduced Wright to Canton – was hired to coach the football and basketball team at Fort Valley State University.
A 6-6 star scored in both. In his youth, he scored an average of 20 points and 21 rebounds, and the Cincinnati Royals asked him to join the NBA, but he stayed to complete his education.
In his last year, Wright was called by Gil Brandt. The Cowboys ’vice president of staff told the athlete that the club was interested in his draft.
“For what?” Wright asked.
In the seventh round of the 1967 draft, Dallas chose Wright, a defender at Fort Valley. Only one other player from the Cowboys class has achieved any long-term success at the professional level.
A Kentucky receiver named Pat Riley, who gained fame in the NBA, was taken by Dallas four rounds later.
Wright was among 14 draft picks and 137 newcomers invited to camp that year. Wright speculated that if he did not enroll in the Cowboys, he would go to the Royals camp later in the summer.
Five rookies joined the Cowboys that season. Wright was one of them.
The Cowboys used him in the tight end, along with some jerks in the defensive line, during his first two seasons. During his NFL career, he caught two passes of 27 yards, one of which was a 15-yard pass from Don Meredith against Philadelphia.
Long after their careers were over, Wright asked Meredith if he remembered throwing that pass on landing. The quarterback laughed.
“Rayfield, I didn’t throw the ball at you,” Meredith said. “You were so tall that you interfered.”
Tom Landry called Wright in his office before the player’s third season and told him he would move to the offensive line. Wright replied that he had never played in that position.
The Cowboys head coach said he knows, but told Wright that he is fast, quick and should play in line because they have a new defender who doesn’t like to stay in his pocket and runs a lot.
It was Roger Staubach.
“He was absolutely the best,” Stavbach once said. “Rayfield was a big, strong guy who was able to pass on his size and strength from the tight end to the selection. He also had such fast legs that he was able to handle some of the faster defensive ends and even the linebacker’s blitz.
“When he was beaten, I don’t remember.”
For most of the 1969 season, Wright played for right-handed Pro Bowl Ralph Neely, but started three games after the veteran was injured. His first start came against Dean Jones of the Los Angeles Rams. Offensive line coach Jim Myers warned Wright that Jones is big, strong and mean
“Well, me too,” Wright replied.
It was the first of 113 starts at Wright’s position. He quickly became a Pro Bowl outpost in the team’s offensive line along with left-back John Niland.
One of the players who opposed Wright in those years was Minnesota defender Carl Ehler, who entered the Hall of Fame two years earlier than his enemy from the Cowboys.
“All day fighting with Rayfield Wright is not my idea of a pleasant Sunday,” Ehler said. “I think it’s pretty much a challenging All-Pro selection. In its size, strength and speed.
“The big benefit to Rayfield is that it has a great range. It moves faster than most tackles. It’s just hard to play against him. “
In the spring of 2012, almost six years after administration, Wright was diagnosed with dementia.
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