Wright, the HOF OT and Cowboys legend, dies at the age of 76

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Rayfield Wright, Pro Football Hall of Fame offensive tackle nicknamed the “Big Cat,” who went to five Super Bowls in his 13 NFL seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, died Thursday. He was 76.

Wright’s family confirmed his death Thursday to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, who said Wright had been hospitalized for several days after a serious attack. The Cowboys also confirmed the death.

“Rayfield Wright was the epitome of what it takes to be a Hall of Famer,” Cowboy owner / general manager Jerry Jones said in a statement. His gravel, his agility, his passion, his charisma and his love of football, society and his family always shone through. The original “Big Cat” helped shape the future of the Dallas Cowboys through his illustrious 13-year playing career. Rayfield “was a champion on and off the field. He remained an important part of the Cowboys family long after his playing days ended and he will be deeply missed. Our love and support goes out to his wife, Di, and the entire Wright family.”

Wright, a big player for his era of 6-foot-6 and over 250 pounds, had already been a backup tight-end for a couple of seasons when coach Tom Landry asked him to play tackle. A surprised Wright said he had never played tackling in his life, but Landry told him he would make a good one.

Wright first started tackling a 1969 match against Deacon Jones, the most dominant pass-rusher of that era. Wright held his ground and settled down as a full-time starter at right tackle in 1970, when Dallas made its first Super Bowl. The Cowboys then won their first Super Bowl title in 1971, the first of six consecutive seasons Wright was a Pro Bowler. He was an All-Pro three times.

“He was definitely the best,” Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach said before Wright’s inauguration in the hall in 2006. “Rayfield was a big, strong guy who was able to transfer his size and strength from close end to tackle. also had such fast feet that he was able to handle some of the faster defensive ends and even the linebacker blitzer.

His “Big Cat” nickname was due to being so nimble for his size.

Dallas won another Super Bowl in 1977, but Wright played only two games that season due to knee surgery. He had played in 95 of the team’s 98 games in the regular season, starting 94 of them, the previous seven seasons.

After Wright started only 16 of his 31 games in 1978 and 1979, he was released by the Cowboys the following spring. He signed with NFC East rival Philadelphia, but officially retired due to long-term injuries early in training camp without playing a game for the Eagles.

Wright was diagnosed with dementia at an early stage in 2012, but had long been plagued by seizures since his retirement. I thought they were from the effects of continued blows to the head while playing football. He had long hidden to deal with headaches, dizziness and sometimes unexplained irritability and forgetfulness.

In a 2014 interview with The New York Times, Wright said he suffered so many concussions during his NFL career that he could not even count them.

When he was finally inducted into the Hall of Fame more than a quarter of a century after his last game, Wright was presented in Canton, Ohio, by longtime Fort Valley State football coach Stan Lomax.

Wright did not even reach his high school football team for three years in Griffin, Georgia before moving to Fort Valley State in his home state to play basketball. The following summer, Lomax got him to quit his summer job on a mill to get ready to join the football team.

Lomax tried Wright in free safety, then used him as a tipper, defensive end and tight end. The coach also became a father figure to Wright, who was selected by the Cowboys in the seventh round of the 1967 NFL Draft.

Wright still preferred basketball, even though he turned down an offer after his junior season to sign with the NBA’s Cincinnati Royals, the franchise that is now the Sacramento Kings, so he could finish school.

His sights were still on the NBA when Cowboys player human resources director Gil Brandt called and said the team was interested in drafting him.

“I realized that the potential to play for the Cowboys was a god-given opportunity and I could not ignore it. I decided to attend the Cowboys’ training camp, which was in July. The Royals camp started in early August,” Wright said in his Hall of Fame speech. “I kind of figured if I did not get on the Cowboys team, I could go straight to the NBA.”

Wright said Brandt “signed everyone who could go” and that he was among 137 rookies in the Cowboys’ training camp in 1967. He was one of five who came on the team.

Wright was a backup tackle the first two months of the 1969 season, and then got into the starting job when Ralph Neely was injured. His first start came when Dallas, then 8-1, played the 9-0 Los Angeles Rams with their Fearsome Foursome defense.

“We go up to the scrimmage line and I look at Deacon Jones square in his eyes, his eyes appear red as fire, he kicks his back leg like a bull,” Wright later recalled. “I say to myself, ‘Oh my God, what have I got myself into?’

Before the ball was snapped, Jones roared, “Boy, does your mother know you out here?” Wright was so amazed that Jones ran over him.

“I rolled over, looked over at our sideline and thought coach Landry would take me out of the game,” Wright said. At that point, Deacon Jones reached out his big arms and said, “Hey, rookie, welcome to the NFL.” … I said, ‘Well, Mr. Jones, you do not know my mother, do not talk about her. you want to play the game this way, we’ll play it ‘. “

The Rams won 24-23, but Wright got a game ball for the job he ended up doing against Jones. Their duels over the years went a long way toward building Wright’s reputation.

Dallas had never lost a record in Wright’s 13 seasons, a span that included eight NFC Championship Games and those five Super Bowl appearances. He was part of the NFL’s entire decades team in the 1970s.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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