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Cowboys CTK: Bill Bates Earned His Way To #40

RJ Ochoa

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Cowboys Blog - Cowboys CTK: Bill Bates Earned His Way To #40 6

Can you believe that on Sunday – 5 days from now – we will get to watch a game of football played between two NFL teams? I know, I know, it’s preseason. But if you were stranded in the desert for six months, would you complain about the brand of water that someone was giving you? I didn’t think so.

My last name is Ochoa so that means I have to “ocho” everything, including the 5 days until Sunday’s Hall of Fame Game between the Minnesota Vikings and Pittsburgh Steelers. 5 “ocho’ed” is 40 and that is the number of days until the Cowboys hit the field to take on the New York Giants in their quest for their sixth Lombardi Trophy.

Today we’re going to talk about a guy who knows a thing or two about winning those, the Greatest 40 in Dallas Cowboys History.

The Following Players Have All Worn 40 For The Dallas Cowboys:

  • Bill Bates, SS
  • Bobby Joe Conrad, WR
  • Keith Davis, FS
  • Jimmy Harris, FS
  • Eric Hurt, CB
  • Danny McCray*, SS
  • Will Smith, OLB
  • Jim Stiger, RB
  • Les Strayhorn, RB

*Active player on the Dallas Cowboys roster

Some of the most talented athletes that have ever lived have played in the National Football League. They come in and show off their God-given talents, leaping over people and hurdling defenders with such ease.

Then there are the other types of players… the ones who fight their way to greatness. These are the individuals who arrive earlier, stay later, work harder and want it more.

There is no player that personifies this more than the Greatest 40 in Dallas Cowboys History.

Bill Bates

Cowboys Blog - Cowboys CTK: Bill Bates Earned His Way To #40

Dallas Cowboys Bill Bates plays in Super Bowl XXX against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Sun Devil Stadium on January 28, 1996 in Tempe, AZ. The Cowboys defeated the Steelers 27-17.
(AP Photo/Tom DiPace)

The 1983 NFL Draft is one of the more iconic in NFL History. Stanford’s John Elway was very vocal about not wanting to play for the team that had the number one overall selection, the Baltimore Colts.

The University of Tennessee’s William Frederick Bates was hoping just to be drafted period. Unfortunately, Bill Bates had run a 4.8 40-yard dash at the 1983 NFL Combine so teams steered clear of his services, leaving him undrafted. The USFL’s New Jersey Generals did try to sway him their way, but Bill elected to sign as an undrafted free agent with his favorite childhood team… the Dallas Cowboys.

You know how some players are a longshot to make an NFL team? Those dudes had it easy next to Bates, but nothing was going to stop him. Bill worked his tail off to ensure that he fulfilled his dream of playing in the NFL and doing so with a Star on his hat.

His perseverance paid off and he found himself on the team’s official roster.

Something Special

It is common knowledge that there are three phases to the NFL game: offense, defense, and special teams. Bates immediately stood out on the special teams unit… so much so that he was named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Year after his rookie season.

Cowboys Blog - Cowboys CTK: Bill Bates Earned His Way To #40 1

As an NFL sophomore in 1984, Bates continued his dominance on Special Teams.

Cowboy fans will remember Bates running down the field on punt coverages like a mad man looking to unload on somebody. His play was recognized that year as he was voted to the Pro Bowl, a decision that caused the NFL to establish a roster spot specifically for Special Teams players… making Bates the first to receive the honor.

The Safety Experiment

From 1986 to 1988 Bates was a starter on defense at the strong safety spot. Bates was an NFL safety if there ever was one and he garnered comparisons to the Greatest 43 in Dallas Cowboys History, Cliff Harris, from Head Coach Tom Landry. Bates didn’t have quite the same success at safety that he did on special teams and found his role reduced to solely Nickel packages.

Cowboys Blog - Cowboys CTK: Bill Bates Earned His Way To #40 2

After the 1989 season, Jimmy Johnson was prepared to lose Bates in the NFL’s Plan B Free Agency.

The Minnesota Vikings were highly interested, but like he would later do so famously with Herschel Walker, Jimmy kept Bates and left the Vikings empty-handed.

Bates actually led the Special Teams in tackles during the 1989 season with 19. He led the unit again the following year with 23 which made Bill Bates the first player in Dallas Cowboys History to lead the Special Teams in tackles in consecutive years.

Buffalo Bill

Jimmy Johnson’s Cowboys rose to prominence after that first year of 1989. They found themselves at the center of the NFL universe in 1992 when they beat the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVII. Bill Bates had to watch that game from the sidelines as he was injured earlier that year and missed the entire season. He vowed to get back and help his team win another World Championship.

Bates rehabbed like a maniac in the 1993 offseason. He wanted to experience the glory of bringing a championship to a world-class organization like the Dallas Cowboys.

Cowboys Blog - Cowboys CTK: Bill Bates Earned His Way To #40 3

In 1993, Bates led the Special Teams in tackles yet again with 25 and helped the Cowboys reach their second consecutive Super Bowl… once again against the Buffalo Bills. Bates was award the Ed Block Courage Award from his teammates that season – a testament to overcoming his injury and leading the team back to the Promised Land.

Bates and the Cowboys would once again beat the Bills and sit atop the NFL as World Champions. He had finally done it.

#40: Bill Bates

There are football players who you admire for their abilities on the field. We all stared in awe every time Barry Sanders dazzled defenders and did things that we couldn’t. We all pretended to be Roger Staubach evading tacklers and tiptoed the sidelines of our make-believe end zones like Jerry Rice.

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Bill Bates and I at Emmitt Smith’s Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony in 2010.

What made Bill Bates great was that he did things that we couldn’t, not because we didn’t have the natural ability, but because there was no way in hell that anyone could work as hard as him. There are very few men to grace the gridiron that have given the game more of themselves than Bill Bates.

Cowboys Blog - Cowboys CTK: Bill Bates Earned His Way To #40 5Bill Bates played 15 seasons for the Dallas Cowboys. This ties him with the Greatest 71 and 72 in Dallas Cowboys History, Mark Tuinei, and Ed “Too Tall” Jones, for the most in Dallas Cowboys Franchise History.

Cowboy fans will forever cherish Bill Bates and the incredible amount of himself that he gave to be great.

He is a testament to the idea that if you work hard enough that anything is possible. Bill Bates went from undrafted in 1983, to winning 3 Super Bowls, to becoming the Greatest 40 in Dallas Cowboys History.

Check back tomorrow to find out who the Greatest 39 in Dallas Cowboys History is!


Want to share your opinions on who should be featured on our Countdown To Kickoff? Email me at rjochoa@insidethestar.com or Tweet @rjochoa.

Tell us what you think about “Cowboys CTK: Bill Bates Earned His Way To #40” in the comments below. You can also email me at RJ.Ochoa@SlantSports.com, or Tweet to me at @RJOchoa!

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I like long walks on the beach, mystery novels, no just kidding those suck. The Dallas Cowboys were put on this earth for us all to love and appreciate. I do that 24/7/365. I also love chicken parmesan. Let’s roll.

@RJOchoa if you wanna shout!

Star Blog

Are the Dallas Cowboys Building a Championship Defense?

Sean Martin

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Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 3

Three of the four teams remaining in the NFL playoffs — a win away from the Super Bowl — ranked within the top four defensively in yards per game allowed this season. The other is the defending-champion New England Patriots, who of course were expected to reach yet another AFC Championship game, thanks to Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.

Somewhere between this field, losing their 2017 hopes at a deep playoff run to injuries, suspensions, and just poor execution at times, are the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys ranked eighth in yards allowed per game at 318.1 this season.

On the surface, all this provides hope that typically springs eternal around the league through the offseason.

It has been far too long since the Cowboys defense matched the skill level of the team’s offense, but Rod Marinelli’s unit (not exactly by design) outplayed that of Scott Linehan’s at times through this 9-7 campaign.

This defensive rebuild in Dallas began with the admission that this group had reached their ceiling in the offseason, as the Cowboys let long-time starters like CB Morris Claiborne, CB Brandon Carr, S Barry Church (now with the Jaguars), and S J.J. Wilcox go in free agency.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense?

Dallas Cowboys CB Jourdan Lewis, CB Chidobe Awuzie, S Xavier Woods (AP Photo / Ron Jenkins)

For a team with Super Bowl aspirations, looking to turn over an entire secondary in a division featuring Carson Wentz, Eli Manning, and Kirk Cousins as quickly as the Cowboys did was a risky move. Their confidence in hitting on draft picks paid off though.

The Cowboys’ bright future is predicated on the likes of CB Chidobe Awuzie, CB Jourdan Lewis, and S Xavier Woods.

With two young starters at cornerback, the sky truly is the limit the this Cowboys defense. And they’ll play in support of an offense with more than enough talent to return to form in 2018.

As it stands now under Rod Marinelli, the Cowboys defense is built to keep everything in front of them, and get bodies to the football. This coverage-friendly approach could be taken to new heights with Lewis and Awuzie on the outside, along with Anthony Brown finding a home in the slot. All three cornerbacks have excelled at using their speed, length, and technique to get their hands on passes.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 1

Dallas Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence

Of course, games are won in the trenches, where the idea of the Cowboys defensive line ever rising to the level of their offensive line was laughable until recently. Whether it’s with the franchise tag or a long-term extension, sack-artist DeMarcus Lawrence looks to be an all-important member of this entire team moving forward.

A healthy Lawrence was a nightmare for opposing right tackles in 2017. He earned a national spotlight each week on his way to the quarterback 14-and-a-half times. Making it look easy at times, Lawrence is a refined rusher with the speed and power to win inside and out.

The RDE position remains a sore spot in need of talent as this Cowboys defense looks to take the next step, but there’s hope for the likes of Randy Gregory, Charles Tapper, and Taco Charlton to get the job done, along with veteran starter Tyrone Crawford.

With Crawford at RDE for much of 2017, running the ball against the Cowboys front was a tall order. His ability to capture the corner against left tackles came as a pleasant surprise to many, and once in position, the defensive captain chased down plenty of plays.

Tyrone Crawford wasn’t the only pleasant surprise on the Dallas Cowboys defensive line this season.

Rookie Taco Charlton looked like an entirely different player to close a first year in Dallas that began with completely uninspiring results. Charlton — having the physical traits to play at the next level — was never a question out of Michigan.

He may never be a player to take over games for a defense, which the Cowboys couldn’t have expected to find at DE selecting 28th overall, but an improved player at DE and DT could be an incredibly valuable asset for the Cowboys in 2018 and beyond.

This leaves the Cowboys linebacker corps, where we find the best example of young potential on the entire defense. Amazingly playing in all 16 games, LB Jaylon Smith is in line to take a massive step forward in year two.

Smith closed his season looking enticingly close to the player he was at Notre Dame, an encouraging sign as the Cowboys look to become less dependent on Sean Lee on this side of the ball.

Lee and Smith paired together would give the Cowboys a middle-of-the-field presence to rival the best in the league. Both players have exceptional range and awareness to run down plays from sideline to sideline.

Anthony Hitchens, an impending free agent, is another valuable piece at LB with his ready ability to play all three positions at a relatively high level.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 2

Dallas Cowboys LB Sean Lee

Stefon Diggs racing to the end zone with no time left to send the Vikings to the NFC Championship game will be the lasting image of this past Divisional Round weekend, an offensive play that will live on forever.

A closer look at these games and the teams that survived them reveals a collective trust in defenses, a trust the Cowboys could be blissfully close to with their own young defense.

The Cowboys are likely losing one of the smarter minds behind their defense in recent years, with Matt Eberflus ticketed for Josh McDaniel’s staff, and are still in need of a secondary coach after not retaining Joe Baker. In a league where better talent typically prevails though, the possibility of the Cowboys building a championship defense for next season and beyond may not be far off.

With defenses in Jacksonville and Philadelphia providing the hope that both teams can pull off the impossible and reach the Super Bowl on Sunday, will defensive potential be enough for Dallas to get through this long offseason and start the even longer path back to their first NFC Championship game in 21 seasons?

Tell us what you think about “Are the Dallas Cowboys Building a Championship Defense?” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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Star Blog

Can Rico Gathers Make Cowboys Offense More “Dak-Friendly”?

Brian Martin

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Rico Gathers, Rams

The Dallas Cowboys unfortunately face all kinds of questions heading into the 2018 offseason. Right now, there are no answers to those questions, which means we’ll just have to sit back and take a wait-and-see approach. But, one question that absolutely has to be answered is how to make the Cowboys offense more Dak Prescott friendly.

Offensively, the Dallas Cowboys had an extremely disappointing year in 2017. Suspensions and injuries are the main culprits for the disappointment, but the Dallas Cowboys haven’t really changed things much in the scheme or personnel to help Dak Prescott succeed.

The sad truth is, the Dallas Cowboys are still operating as if Tony Romo is the starting quarterback. It’s pretty much the same personnel and scheme, but it really doesn’t suit Prescott.

It’s time for that to change. Unfortunately, this isn’t something that will happen overnight.

The Cowboys spent years putting together the personnel to help Romo. Just when they thought they had the missing piece — by drafting Ezekiel Elliott, Romo sustained a back injury, pretty much ending his career.

Anyway you look at it, the offensive personnel needs to improve in order to make this team more “Dak-friendly”.

Enter Tight End Rico Gathers.

Rico Gathers

Dallas Cowboys TE Rico Gathers

The Dallas Cowboys have invested two years in Rico Gathers’ development, but with the exception of a few flashes in preseason, they haven’t benefited from the fruits of their labor. The 2018 season should be Gathers’ coming-out party.

We all witnessed what the Cowboys offense looks like when they are forced to rely on the passing game. Dak Prescott struggled to find any kind of consistency throwing the ball — with the options he had at his disposal in 2017 — while Ezekiel Elliott served a six-game suspension.

Defenses decided to take Prescott’s favorite target out of the equation by bracketing Cole Beasley in coverage. Then, they also devoted extra attention Dez Bryant‘s way, making it difficult to get him the ball.

The only other option left really was Jason Witten on simple check downs.

And that is what the future Hall of Famer has been reduced to.

Jason Witten is no longer the threat he once was. Yes, he is still a reliable target, but his age is starting to catch up to him, which has unfortunately robbed him of some of his athleticism. We will no longer see Witten stretch the field down the seam, or run many routes further than 10 yards.

That’s why I think Rico Gathers could be a difference maker in 2018, especially for Dak Prescott.

Prescott needs more than an outlet receiver at the TE position. No offense to Jason Witten, but that’s pretty much what he has become at this point in his career.

Rico Gathers on the other hand is not only different from Witten, but also provides a different skill set than any other TE on the Cowboys roster. He’s a big target with athleticism, who cannot only move the chains, but stretch the field and break tackles in the open field.

Gathers’ sheer size alone creates mismatch problems against smaller defensive backs and linebackers, but his athleticism should allow him to create separation, something which fits into what Prescott needs from his receivers.

There is no reason why the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff can’t find a way to incorporate Rico Gathers’ unique skill set into the offense. They may not truly trust him to be an every down player, but that’s not happening anyway, not with Jason Witten on the roster.

If it was me, I would have a few packages in the playbook specifically designed for Gathers. I not only think this will help him grow as a player, but help the Cowboys offense become more “Dak-friendly”.

Can Rico Gathers make the Cowboys offense more “Dak-friendly”?

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Months Later, it Seems Jaguars S Barry Church was Right

Kevin Brady

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Months Later, Jaguars Safety Barry Church Wa E

About five months ago, before the 2017 NFL season had even begun, former Cowboys safety Barry Church made comments which made Cowboys Nation scratch their heads. Now a Jacksonville Jaguar, Church said his current team was more talented than his former, the Dallas Cowboys.

At the time, many fans and writers alike laughed off his comments and chalked it up to typical preseason hype. Most people thought Church was crazy for suggesting a 13-3 team had less talent than the Jacksonville Jaguars, a team led by Blake Bortles.

Well, five months later, it’s become clear Barry Church was right.

Brian Chojnacki on Twitter

Jaguars safety Barry Church says he feels this Jags team has more talent than his #Cowboys squad last season. Dallas went 13-3. https://t.co/EcbxfUGsvy

This weekend the Jaguars went on the road to Pittsburgh, and came away with a wire-to-wire victory in January. The Jaguars were the more physical team from start to finish, and dominated from the opening kick off.

On the road.

Against the vaunted Pittsburgh Steelers.

Now the Jaguars are preparing to do something the Cowboys haven’t done in two decades: play in a conference championship game.

The Jaguars and Cowboys will be linked for the next decade or so due to decisions each made during the 2016 NFL Draft. And while it appeared the Cowboys pushed all the right buttons in 2016, it now looks as if the Jaguars are preparing to compete for AFC supremacy for years to come.

With their talented secondary, dominant defense, and physical rushing attack, the Jaguars have built their team in the mold of past champions.

The Cowboys have attempted to do some of the same, but it certainly looks as if Barry Church was correct in his preseason assessment of the two rosters.

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