On Thursday, Rayfield Wright died, an offensive fight from the Professional Football Hall of Fame nicknamed the “Big Cat” who competed in five Super Bowls in 13 NFL seasons with the Dallas Cowboys. He was 76.
Wright’s family confirmed his death Thursday at the Professional Football Hall of Fame, which reported that Wright was hospitalized for days after a severe seizure. Cowboys also confirmed the death.
“Rayfield Wright was the epitome of what it takes to become a member of the Hall of Fame,” Cowboys owner / general manager Jerry Jones said in a statement. His perseverance, agility, passion, charisma and love for football, community and his family have always shone through. The original “Big Cat” helped shape the Dallas Cowboys’ future through his glorious 13-year playing career. Rayfield was a field champion and “He remained an important part of the Cowboy family long after his playing days were over, and he will be sorely missed. Our love and support goes to his wife, Yes, and to the entire Wright family.”
A major player for his era with a height of 6 feet 6 and weighing over 250 pounds, Wright had already been a spare tight end for several seasons when coach Tom Landry asked him about the game of podcasting. Surprised, Wright said he had never played tackle in his life, but Landry told him he would do well.
Wright first began with a selection in the 1969 game against Dean Jones, the most dominant pass-rascher of the era. Wright held his own and settled as a full-time starter in the right podium in 1970 when Dallas made his first Super Cup. The Cowboys then won their first Super Bowl title in 1971, the first of six seasons in a row Wright was a professional bowler. It was a three-time All-Pro.
“He was absolutely the best,” said Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach before Wright was inducted into the hall in 2006. “Rayfield was a big, strong guy who was able to transfer his size and strength from a tight end to a fight. He also had such a speed of feet that he was able to handle some of the faster defensive ends and even the linebacker’s blitz. I don’t remember when he was interrupted. “
His nickname “Big Cat” got because he was so nimble for his size.
Dallas won another Super Bowl in 1977, but Wright played only two games that season due to knee surgery. Over the previous seven seasons he has played in 95 of the 98 regular season games in which he has started in 94 of them.
After Wright started just 16 of his 31 games in 1978 and 1979, the following spring he was released by the Cowboys. He signed a contract with NFC East rival Philadelphia, but officially resigned due to long-term injuries at the start of training camp without playing for the Eagles.
In 2012, Wright was diagnosed with dementia at an early stage, but after retirement suffered from seizures for a long time. He believed they were from the effects of long blows to the head while playing football. He hid for a long time dealing with headaches, dizziness and, at times, inexplicable irritability and forgetfulness.
In an interview with The New York Times in 2014, Wright said he had received so many concussions during his career in the NFL that he couldn’t even count them.
When he was finally inducted into the Hall of Fame more than a quarter of a century after the last game, Wright was represented in Canton, Ohio by longtime Fort Valley football coach Stan Lomax.
Wright didn’t even do his high school football team for three years in Griffin, Georgia, before traveling to Fort Valley in his home state to play basketball. The following summer Lomax forced him to quit his summer job at the mill to prepare to join the football team.
Lomax tried Wright on free safety, then used him as a player, defense and tight end. The coach also became the father of Wright, who was selected by the Cowboys in the seventh round of the 1967 NFL Draft.
Wright still preferred basketball, although after the junior season he turned down an offer to sign with the NBA’s Cincinnati Royals, a franchise that is now the Sacramento Kings, so he could finish school.
His views were still focused on the NBA when Cowboys Director of Personnel Director Gil Brandt called and said the team was interested in picking him up for the draft.
“I realized that playing for the Cowboys was a God-given opportunity, and I couldn’t ignore it. I decided to visit the Cowboys training camp, which was in July. The royal camp only started in August, “Wright said in his speech at the Hall of Fame.” I thought that if I didn’t get on the Cowboys team, I could go straight to the NBA. “
Wright said Brandt “signed everyone who could walk,” and that he was among 137 newcomers to the 1967 Cowboys training camp. He was one of five who joined the team.
The first two months of the 1969 season Wright was a reserve qualifier and then went on to start work when Ralph Neely was injured. His first start came when Dallas, then 8-1, played the Los Angeles Rams 9-0 with their Fearsome Foursome defense.
“We go up to the line of scrimmage and I look at Dean Jones square in his eyes, his eyes seem red as fire, he pushes his hind leg like a bull,” Wright later recalled. “I say to myself, ‘My God, what am I getting myself into?’
Before the ball was ripped off, Jones shouted, “Boy, does your mom know you here?” Wright was so stunned that Jones ran into him.
“I rolled over, looked at our sideline, thinking Coach Landry was going to get me out of the game,” Wright said. “By the time Deacon Jones put his big hands down and said, ‘Hey, rookie, welcome to the NFL.’ … I said, “Well, Mr. Jones, you don’t know my mom, so don’t talk about her. You want to play this game so we’ll play it.”
Rams won 24-23, but Wright got a gameball for the work he finished against Jones. Their duels over the years have come a long way toward building Wright’s reputation.
Dallas has never had a record loss in Wright’s 13 seasons, which included eight NFC championship games and those five Super Cup appearances. He was part of the NFL team during the 1970s.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.