Fort Valley State
- Yrs w/Teams
1967-1979 Dallas Cowboys
Rayfield Wright, the Dallas Cowboys seventh round draft pick in the 1967 draft, was given little chance of making the team's final roster. But the Fort Valley (GA) State All-America demonstrated enough determination and raw athleticism that the coaching staff knew they somehow needed to work him into the lineup.
During his first three seasons the 6-6, 255-pound Wright was used as a tight end, defensive end, and offensive tackle. In 1969 when right tackle Ralph Neely was injured, Coach Tom Landry decided to insert Wright into the lineup. His first opponent was future Hall of Fame defensive end Deacon Jones. "The Deacon is big and strong and mean," Wright was cautioned by his line coach. "Well," said the confident Wright, "so am I."
Wright's performance against Jones was good enough that before training camp opened in 1970, Landry announced that Wright would be his starting right tackle. One season later he was named All-NFL. Known as "Big Cat," Wright earned first- or second-team All-NFL honors six consecutive times (1971-1976). He was also selected to play in the Pro Bowl following each of those seasons.
Wright's performance during the 1975 season was particularly impressive. Coming off knee surgery, many questioned whether "Big Cat" would even play. Not only did he play, but he again notched All-NFL honors into his career belt. In postseason play he faced three legendary defensive ends - Hall of Famer Jack Youngblood, Pittsburgh Steelers L.C. Greenwood, and Minnesota Vikings Carl Eller - head on. Each time he rose to the occasion with exceptional play.
"He was truly outstanding," Youngblood summarized of Wright's play in the playoff game. As for his performance against Eller, longtime Cowboys offensive line coach Jim Myers proclaimed that Rayfield "played as well or even better in that game."
"An all-day fight with Rayfield Wright definitely is not my idea of a pleasant Sunday afternoon," Eller once offered. "I think he is pretty much of a composite of an all-pro tackle. He has size, strength, and quickness. The big thing in Rayfield's favor is that he has a lot of range. He moves faster than most tackles. He's just difficult to play against."
Myers summarized Wright's overall career this way. "We tried to make a tight end out of Rayfield. Then we tried him on the defensive line. And then he made a great coach out of me."
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