Pro Football Hall of Famer and Dallas Cowboys icon Rayfield Wright died on Thursday at the age of 76, the Hall of Fame announced, citing his wife Di. Wright suffered a severe seizure and had been hospitalized for several days, the Hall of Fame said.
“Over the past few weeks, it has become abundantly clear the love that so many Hall of Famers and others around the NFL felt toward Rayfield, his wife, Di, and the extended Wright family,” Hall of Fame President Jim Porter said.
“His gentle nature away from the game belied his commanding presence on the field. All fans, especially those of the Cowboys, will remember fondly his dominance on the offensive line in the 1970s and how he took protecting Dallas quarterbacks as his personal mission.
“We will guard his legacy in Canton with equal tenacity. The Hall of Fame Flag will fly at half-staff through Rayfield’s services next Friday as a tribute to the many lives he touched.”
A seventh-round pick in the 1967 AFL-NFL Draft out of Fort Valley State College, Wright was an offensive tackle who played 188 games in his 13-year career with the Dallas Cowboys, where he was named to six consecutive Pro Bowls and three straight first-team All-Pro selections.
After being offered a position by the NBA’s Cincinnati Royals, Wright elected to forego a career in pro basketball and later joined the Cowboys as a tight end.
During the 1969 season, right tackle Ralph Neely suffered an injury, which forced Cowboys Hall of Fame head coach Tom Landry to plug Wright in as his replacement. After a stellar performance, he was named the team’s starter the following season.
Wright was named to the NFL’s 1970’s All-Decade team after helping the Cowboys win two Super Bowls in five trips under Landry. He was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016 and is one of just two offensive linemen elected to the team’s Ring of Honor, as well as the Hall of Fame.
“Rayfield Wright was the epitome of what it takes to be a Hall of Famer,” Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said in a statement. “His grit, his agility, his passion, his charisma and his love for football, the community and his family always shined 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 go out to his wife, Di, and the entire Wright family.”