DALLA Cowboys Hall of Famer Rayfield Wright died Thursday at the age of 76. His death was confirmed by his wife Di.
Wright, a three-time All-Pro, suffered a seizure and was hospitalized for several days, the Pro Football Hall of Fame reported.
A statement from Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones called Wright the “quintessential” Hall of Famer.”
“His courage, agility, passion, charisma and love for football, for the community and for his family have always been on display,” Jones said.
“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 we will miss him dearly.”
Standing at 6ft 6 and weighing over 250 pounds, Wright was a big player in his day. He played as a backup tight end for a few seasons when he was approached by coach Tom Landry about tackle play.
He started as a tackle in 1969, although he had never played that position in his life before. His first game was against Deacon Jones, the most dominant pass rusher of the time.
Wright managed to hold his own and became a full-time starter at the right staple in 1970 when the Cowboys went to their first Super Bowl.
They would win the coveted Lombardi Trophy in 1971, the first of six consecutive seasons with Wright as a Pro Bowler.
“He was absolutely the best,” said Hall of Famer quarterback Roger Staubach prior to Wright’s induction in 2006.
“Rayfield was a big, strong guy who could carry his size and strength from the tight end to the tackle. He also had feet fast enough that he could deal with some of the faster defensive ends and even the linebacker blitzes. If he was hit, I don’t remember it.”
Despite his size, Wright was quick on the field, earning him the nickname “Big Cat.”
The Cowboys would win another Super Bowl in 1977, but a knee injury sidelined Wright and he only played two games that season.
He played in 95 of the team’s 98 regular-season games and started in 94 of them.
Surprisingly, Wright didn’t make his high school football team while living in Griffin, Georgia. He attended Fort Valley State to play basketball, but the school’s football coach, Stan Lomax, convinced him to join the team.
Wright played under Lomax as safety, then punter, defensive end, and tight end. His coach had become a father figure to Wright, who was selected by the Cowboys in the seventh round of the NFL draft.
Despite his fondness for basketball, Wright turned down an offer to sign his junior year with the Cincinnati Royals, now known as the Sacramento Kings, so he could finish school.
He was keen to still play for the NBA when Gil Brandt, the Cowboys’ director of human resources, said the team was interested in drafting him.
“I realized the potential of playing for the Cowboys was a God-given opportunity and I couldn’t ignore it. I decided to attend the Cowboys training camp that was held in July. The royals’ camp only started in August,” Wright said in his Hall of Fame speech.
“I figured if I didn’t make the Cowboys team, I could go straight to the NBA.”
For the first two months of the 1969 season, Wright played as a backup tackle before being pushed to the starting line when Ralph Neely was injured.
His first starting game was when Dallas played the Los Angeles Rams.
“We go to the line of scrimmage and I look Deacon Jones straight in the eye, his eyes seem to be red as fire, he kicks his hind leg like a bull,” Wright recalled.
“I’m like, ‘My God, what have I gotten myself into?'”
Wright joked that before the ball was snatched, Jones said to him, “Boy, does your mama know you out here?”
Jones would run over the stunned Wright.
“I turned and looked at our touchline and thought Coach Landry was going to take me out of the game,” Wright said.
“At that point, Deacon Jones stretched his big arms down and said, ‘Hey, rookie, welcome to the NFL.’ … I said, “Well, Mr. Jones, you don’t know my mama, so don’t talk about her. You want to play the game like this, we play it.”
The Rams eventually won 24-23, but Wright received the cue ball for his fight against Jones. Their meetings over the years eventually built Wright’s reputation as a player.
In 2012, Wright was diagnosed with early incarceration and struggled with seizures in the years following his retirement.
He believed his health problems stemmed from sustained hits to the head while playing football. He said he’s struggled with headaches, dizziness, and even inexplicable forgetfulness over the years.
In a 2014 interview with The New York Times, Wright said he had suffered more concussions than he could count during his NFL career.
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https://www.the-sun.com/sport/5079331/rayfield-wright-dallas-cowboys-death-news/ Inside Rayfield Wright ascends to the Football Hall of Fame after former Dallas Cowboys player dies at 76