Tony Dorsett paused for a minute as he reflected on his favorite memory of Rayfield Wright. Then, his face broke out into a big smile as it came to him and he couldn’t wait to share.
“We were playing Philadelphia and one of their defensive linemen was giving me a hard time. Big Cat came up to him and said, ‘Man, leave him alone. He’s one of ours,’” Dorsett recalled.
“Then, he put that big hand on my shoulder — his hand covered my entire shoulder pad — and he said, ‘Rookie, you’re gonna be alright. Follow me and you’ll do just fine.’ So that’s what I did, all the way to the Hall of Fame.
“He had the most wicked forearm I have ever seen,” Dorsett continued. “He could stop King Kong. When he hit you with that forearm, church was out and it was time to go home.”
The Hall of Fame running back for the Dallas Cowboys (1977-87) was one of many former teammates who benefited from Wright’s wisdom and kindness. Wright, a Hall of Fame offensive tackle himself after playing for the Dallas Cowboys from 1967-79, impacted everyone he came in contact with — and continues to do so today with the annual Rayfield Wright Memorial Golf Tournament.
This year’s tournament, played Monday at Squaw Creek Golf Course in Willow Park, was the first without his smiling face and jovial attitude as a highlight. Still, his big, kind heart and spirit was present as the event once again benefited first responders in Willow Park, along with the Community Food Bank.
The tournament, which began in 2019, was formerly named the Rayfield Wright Celebrity Golf Tournament. However, after his passing in April of this year, it became a memorial event.
Along with a great day for golf, Monday was a time for folks, particularly fellow athletes who knew him best, to reflect on the man they knew — as NFL Alumni President, Dallas Chapter, Liffert Hobley described, “So mean on the field and so kind off.”
“He was a big man with an even bigger heart,” Hobley said.
Norm Hitzges, whose show is from 10 a.m.-noon on The Ticket sports radio, was broadcasting from the tournament with his co-host Donovan Lewis. He said the thing he remembers most about his late friend is his laugh.
“He had this huge, full laugh. I was always amazed at how, when you heard the story of his life, how hard his childhood was, he came through it with such humor and I was amazed at the wonderful attitude he had. I’m fully convinced it’s because he knew the Lord,” Hitzges said.
“I loved Rayfield. That’s why we’re here today. Memories of Rayfield are always good memories, and I come back to that giant laugh out of that giant body.”
Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame defensive tackle “Mean” Joe Greene (1969-81), who squared off against Wright and the Cowboys in Super Bowls X and XIII (both Steelers wins, 21-17 and 35-31), echoed Hitzges’ thoughts.
“Big Cat had a golden personality. He was always smiling. He always worked to see the best in people and life,” Greene said.
Former Cowboys tight end Billy Joe DuPree (1973-83) remembers Wright, who started his career as a tight end before being moved to tackle, making a quick impression on him at their first practice together.
“He gave me a few pointers and here I am this kid he didn’t even know, and that’s when I realized he was good at helping people,” DuPree said. “I remember him telling me, ‘It’s Tom’s (Landry, head coach) decision who starts, but if I can help you I will.
“What I learned from Rayfield socially and athletically gave me direction.”
Former Cowboys Hall of Fame safety Cliff Harris (1970-79), like Wright, is one of only five players in NFL history to play in five Super Bowls. Wright was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006 and it would not be until 2020 when Harris got in. All the while, Wright kept encouraging his friend, telling him his time would come.
“After he got in and I didn’t, he was the first guy to call me, and he said, “You’re going to get in. It’s going to happen,’” Harris recalled. “Then, when I got in he was the first to call me and congratulate me. But he also coached me through all I had to do as I was getting ready.”
Hall of Fame defensive tackle Bob Lilly, known as Mr. Cowboy (1961-74), remembered the moment he knew Wright was on his way to becoming a fellow legend. The Cowboys were playing the Rams in Los Angeles and Wright was matched up opposite the great Deacon Jones.
“Deacon later came up to me and said, ‘Who’s this Rayfield guy?’ I said, ‘He’s gonna be your worst nightmare,’” Lilly said.
“My rookie year, it was a strike year (1974) and veterans weren’t in camp. But once the strike was over Rayfield came up to me and said two things I’ll never forget,” said Former Cowboys defensive end Ed “Too Tall” Jones (1974-78/1980-89). “He asked me, ‘Do you play poker?’ I said no and he said, ‘Don’t learn, they’ll just take your money and you need to be studying the playbook anyway. Then he told me, ‘I’m going to work with you and Harvey Martin a lot because you’re gonna run into a lot of tackles my size.
“That’s how I’m always going to remember Big Cat, always ready to help, always ready to make someone else’s life better.”
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