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:
*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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Bill 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!