The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced Thursday that Rayfield Wright, one of the most decorated and dominant offensive linemen in Cowboys history, has passed away.
He was 76 years old.
Referred to as “Big Cat” by his teammates, Wright made five Super Bowl appearances in his 13 seasons with the club. He was named the first or second All-Pro team in six consecutive seasons and secured a place on the NFL All-Decade Team in the 1970s.
Wright was the first offensive lineman in franchise history to earn a spot in the team’s Ring of Honor and Hall of Fame. Larry Allen followed him.
They are the only ones.
“Rayfield Wright was an example of what it took to be a Hall of Famer,” Jerry Jones said of Wright posthumously.
“His courage, agility, passion, charisma, and love for football, community and family always shined through. The original ‘Big Cat’ helped shape the future of the Dallas Cowboys through his illustrious 13-year career. Rayfield was a hero on and off the field. He remained an important part of the Cowboys family for a long time After his playing days are over, he will be sorely missed. Our love and support for his wife, Dee, and the entire Wright family.”
Before his death Thursday, Wright was hospitalized for more than a week after a “severe seizure,” the Hall of Fame reported.
Wright once said, “I love to prevent, and I love to contact.” “There’s a lot of satisfaction knowing you’re getting your leg off there. Most important of all is putting my leg on the ground – I’m on his head and the ball carrier 10 to 15 yards down.
Wright was inducted into the Hall of Fame on August 5, 2006. Early in his speech, he spoke about learning about Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” in eighth grade. Wright said his instinct was always to take the easy way, but he found that “the easy way never came my way.”
Born on August 23, 1945, Wright was raised by his mother and grandmother in Griffin, Georgia, a small community outside of Atlanta. The family did not have much. He remembers kneeling beside his grandmother when he was 10, praying to God for some ability that would allow him to lift his family out of poverty.
Wright was good enough at basketball that Loyola University allotted a place for him, but financial difficulties convinced him to choose a career in the Air Force. Shortly thereafter, Stan Lomax – the man who introduced Wright in Canton – was hired to coach the football and basketball team at Fort Valley State University.
The star excelled 6-6 in both. He averaged 20 points and 21 rebounds when he was young and was approached by the Cincinnati Royals for a jump into the NBA, but he stayed behind to complete his education.
The news today of the passing of my friend and brother Rayfield is sad.
What a wonderful, kind man who had a heart for service. His smile lit up every room he entered and he will miss him very much.
Tore my friend and brother. Prayers for your wife, family and friends. pic.twitter.com/DL58fGVryv
– Drew Pearson (@88DrewPearson) April 8, 2022
During his senior year, Wright received a phone call from Jill Brandt. The Cowboys’ vice president of the players’ team told the athlete that the club is interested in drafting him.
“Why?” asked Wright.
Dallas Wright picked a defensive end at Fort Valley State in the seventh round of the 1967 draft. Only one Cowboys player had any kind of lasting success at the professional level.
A Kentucky receiver named Pat Riley, who went on to NBA fame, was taken by Dallas four rounds later.
Wright was among 14 recruiting picks and 137 rookies invited to camp that year. Wright thought if he didn’t make the Cowboys he’d go to Camp Royals later in the summer.
Five juniors made cowboys that season. I saw one of them.
The Cowboys used him on a tight end, along with some pickups down the defensive line, during his first two seasons. He has had two passes in his 27-yard NFL career, one of which was a 15-yard touchdown pass by Don Meredith against Philadelphia.
Long after their careers were over, Wright asked Meredith if he remembered throwing that touchdown pass. The midfielder laughed.
“Rayfield, I wasn’t throwing the ball at you,” Meredith said. “I’ve been so tall, I got in the way.”
Tom Landry called Wright into his office for the player’s third season and told him he’d be moving up front. Wright replied that he never played that position.
The Cowboys’ head coach said he knows, but he told Wright he was fast, fast and needed to play in the line because they had a new midfielder who didn’t like staying in the pocket and ran a lot.
It was Roger Staubach.
“It was the best ever,” Staubach once said. Rayfield was a big, strong guy who was able to transfer his size and strength from one tight end to the other. He also had such fast feet that he was able to handle some of the faster defensive ends and even full-back strikes.
“If he got hit, I don’t remember it.”
Wright played behind the Pro Bowl in tackling Ralph Neely for most of the 1969 season, but started three games after the veteran was injured. His first start came against Deacon Jones of the Los Angeles Rams. Offensive coach Jim Myers-Wright warned that Jones was old, strong and mean
“Well, I am,” Wright replied.
She was the first of 113 to start as Wright. He soon became one of the Pro Bowl players in the team’s offensive line along with left-footed goalkeeper John Niland.
One of the players who faced Wright during those years was Minnesota defensive end Karl Eller, who had made it to the Hall of Fame two years earlier than his opponent the Cowboys.
“Fighting all day with Rayfield Wright is not my idea of a Sunday afternoon,” said Eller. “I think it’s a lot like the way the All-Pro handles. It has the size, the power and the speed.
“The important thing about Rayfield is that he has a lot of range. He moves faster than most tackles. It is difficult to play against him.”
In the spring of 2012, nearly six years after his induction, Wright was diagnosed with dementia.
“Student. Incurable problem solver. Amateur baconaholic. Introvert. Infuriatingly humble music fanatic.”