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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.

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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.

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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.

Cowboys Blog - Cowboys CTK: Bill Bates Earned His Way To #40 4

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!



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

Sean’s Scout: Measuring Randy Gregory’s Impact on Cowboys Defense

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: Measuring Randy Gregory's Potential Impact on Cowboys Defense

The Dallas Cowboys report to training camp next week, and for the first time in a long time there may be more excitement for their defense compared to a largely reshuffled offense. This hype for Rod Marinelli's defense, bolstered by the addition of Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard, was elevated earlier in the week when the Cowboys learned Defensive End Randy Gregory would be reinstated.

Gregory's presence as a potential starting right defensive end is an uplifting one for the Cowboys as they depart for Oxnard. Above all else, this is a rare turn of fortunes for a player the NFL can now tote as a success story.

Once Gregory's focus shifts towards taking hold of that starting DE position for good and giving the Cowboys a pass rush of him and DeMarcus Lawrence off the edge, his impact could change the entire complexion of this defense.

After watching Gregory's last game for Dallas, a week 16 win in Philadelphia back in 2016, here is what I saw from the Cowboys "Christmas in July" addition to their defensive line.

Gregory3

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This first clip is probably Gregory's most memorable play through three seasons with the Cowboys. Two teams going in opposite directions since this game, the Cowboys have cycled through their rotation of pass rushers to play the weak side -- with nobody coming close to the athleticism and bend Gregory displays here.

Already planning on attacking the offensive tackle to the outside with his long arm approach, Gregory regains his balance avoiding the low block to get even with Carson Wentz and finish the play. This type of relentlessness is a signature of the Cowboys defense under Marinelli, now fielding a deep group of defensive ends around Gregory and Lawrence.

Gregory1

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Just how much Gregory comes off the field for the likes of Tyrone Crawford, rookie Dorance Armstrong, Charles Tapper, or Taco Charlton will be determined by his ability to hold up against the run. This was a strength for Gregory against the Eagles, as his cornering ability helped him chase down plays all over the field.

It's hard to understate just how important Gregory's speed and range from this RDE spot could mean to the Cowboys, especially given their changes at linebacker for the 2018 season.

This is a team that's also added plenty of range to the second level of their defense with rookie Leighton Vander Esch and another year of Jaylon Smith.

These linebacker's ability to shoot gaps and be disruptive in the backfield will be aided by the depth Gregory is capable of gaining with ease against left tackles.

Gregory2

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

Gregory does have a tendency to play upright at times and offer a larger blocking area than needed. As you see above, this can help him as an all-around player, as chasing down the run to the outside comes easy for him.

The Cowboys won't be at full strength at defensive tackle to start the season, with David Irving suspended for the first four games again. Maliek Collins is also coming back from another broken foot, as him and Gregory will be important to watch progress through training camp.

The overall potential for a Cowboys defensive line featuring all three of these players, and the rotational pieces behind them, is incredibly high for a team just looking to get back to their roots this season.

For the Cowboys in 2018, this means running the ball effectively, limiting turnovers on offense, and protecting the lead on defense. Randy Gregory significantly helps the Cowboys do the latter here, improving an already fearsome pass rush in ways that few players are capable of.

This is ultimately why the first-round talent fell to the second round for the Cowboys, who took the risk on Gregory and are now on the long path back towards seeing this gamble pay off, something a very thankful Gregory must see through on the field.

Tell us what you think about "Sean’s Scout: Measuring Randy Gregory’s Impact on Cowboys 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

Why Patience Is Key In Evaluating Randy Gregory

Kevin Brady

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Will the Dallas Cowboys "Get Lucky" at Defensive End?

The Cowboys were fully aware of the risks involved when they drafted prolific edge rusher Randy Gregory in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft.

They were also well aware of the potential rewards too.

Gregory has spent much of his NFL career away from the Dallas Cowboys, dealing with suspension after suspension and rarely playing actual football. Now, Randy Gregory has gained reinstatement into the league, and all signs point to positivity around his future.

As expected, both the Cowboys and their fan base are excited about the return of Gregory to the roster. And, of course, they should be. Gregory possesses all the traits necessary to be a top tier pass rusher in the NFL, even if we haven't seen it on full display thus far.

At his best Gregory is the prototypical RDE that Cowboys Nation has been yearning for. But it's probably unfair for him to reach that potential as early as this season. Pass rushers coming off suspensions, particularly lengthy suspensions, are rarely able to find their way quickly after returning.

And if you want proof of this, you only have to look across the way at DeMarcus Lawrence. After a strong 8 sack 2015 season, Lawrence was suspended the first four games of 2016. Once he returned, Lawrence battled injuries all season and only appeared in 9 games. Over those 9 games Lawrence tallied just 1 sack and made a minimal impact.

The next season, though? DeMarcus Lawrence was back to playing fully healthy and engaged, en route to a team leading 14.5 sacks and the best overall season of his career.

Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence are different players, and this is obviously a different situation, but the need for patience remains the same. To expect Gregory to be a dominant pass rusher in 2018 is more-than-lofty, as he deserves time to work back into playing shape and perfect his craft off the edge.

Unlike Lawrence, Gregory will have a full offseason and 16 game slate ahead of him. Plus, we haven't heard of any lingering injuries affecting Gregory going forward.

So while we may need to temper expectations at least a little bit, I still expect Randy Gregory to become the RDE we all hoped he could be with time.



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Star Blog

How Should The Cowboys, And The NFL, Value RBs?

Kevin Brady

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Will Cowboys' Offense Improve With Ezekiel Elliott's Return?
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

There is no one, stand-alone "best" strategy for winning in the NFL. There are, of course, common themes and ideals which run true year in and year out among the top teams.

Strategy in the NFL is dynamic, or at least it should be. Running in place for too long under the same leadership often breeds mediocrity, and refusing to move with current trends can put you at a severe disadvantage.

Succumbing to those trends without fully analyzing the confounding factors your situation presents, however, can also ruin a team building exercise.

With that being said, should teams pay elite running backs top dollar? Or are those running backs expendable, replaceable, and often forgettable within the NFL machine?

To be honest these aren't very fair ways to pose legitimately interesting questions. You can acknowledge that a running back is important to your offense while also acknowledging that you don't want to break the bank for a position with such injury risk and high turnover year-to-year.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are currently facing this dilemma, as their star running back Le'Veon Bell asks to be paid like an elite "weapon," not as a normal running back. And when you examine how the Steelers deploy Bell within their offense, he clearly has a point.

Bell is not your traditional "running back." He lines up on the boundary, in the slot, and is a passing threat out of the backfield as well. On top of all of this versatility, Bell is an excellent pass protector, something which is often lost among other "versatile" backs.

Bell can quite literally do it all for an offense, but the idea of paying that position elite-level money makes teams cringe. As The Athletic's Marcus Mosher pointed out on Twitter, teams like the New England Patriots have been able to replicate Bell's production by using multiple speciality backs rather than one workhorse.

In theory, this takes away the injury risk component to a certain extent. Rather than giving one player 350-400 touches per season, you spread those touches out and allow for players to do what they do best.

Lately, the NFL has seemed to agree that this is the most efficient way to play offense. But when you have a player like Bell or Ezekiel Elliott, in what way is taking the ball out of their hands "efficient" at all? In addition, how is using three players to mimic the skill set of one efficient?

Yes, the NFL is a passing league, but when you have a playmaker who is of the caliber of a Bell or an Elliott, it is up to the offense to deploy in him ways that maximize his value. Teams should be using the Bells and Elliotts of the world as pass catching threats and as weapons all over the field. Force the entire defense to account for your running back rather than just jamming him between the tackles like it's 1975.

The movement towards "running back by committee" rather than the traditional one-back system can also be credited to the lack of workhorse-worthy backs entering the league.

Ezekiel Elliotts don't grow on trees, they are rare and special players. And when you have one, especially when you spend a premium pick on him, you should get the most out of him that you can. Playing winning offense in the NFL is about more than just "do you run or do you pass," and it often hinges on creating splash plays of 15-20 yards.

If you can get those plays through the use of an elite running back, that player becomes intrinsically valuable to your team. No matter what "position" he is labeled as. Of course you want to be able create mismatches in the passing game all over the field, so when you are able to do this with a running back, shouldn't that be deemed as highly valuable?

We can't say just yet if the Cowboys should re-sign Ezekiel Elliott once he enters free agency. After all, five seasons (and a franchise tag year) where he touches the ball more than most players in the league will almost certainly bring about some wear and tear.

But with the way the Cowboys have chosen to play offense, and the way in which they've built their roster, a workhorse back like Elliott is necessary for success.

Once again, at least it is for now.



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