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Cowboys Hall of Fame lineman Rayfield Wright dies at 76


Rayfield Wright, a tough and agile Dallas Cowboys Hall of Fame offensive tackle who was on five Super Bowl teams in the 1970s, later suffered from dementia for at least a decade, which he says was most likely caused by repeated blows to the head. , died on Thursday. He was 76 years old.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced his death and said he was hospitalized for several days due to a seizure. He did not say where he died.

Wright suffered numerous concussions between 1967 and 1979 – “so many I couldn’t even count them,” he told The New York Times in 2014. Like many former players, he struggled with his memory, his cognitive problems and his headaches.

“Sometimes I walk into the kitchen and forget why I went there,” he said. “I had several car accidents due to seizures. Totaled two cars. My memory is not good. There is a great struggle within myself.

At 6-foot-7 and around 255 pounds, Wright was a commanding presence at right tackle, protecting scrambling quarterback Roger Staubach and creating holes in the defensive line for running backs like Calvin Hill, Duane Thomas and Tony Dorsett.

“I love blocking, I love contact,” Wright, nicknamed the Big Cat for his athleticism, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 1973. “There’s a lot of satisfaction in knowing you’re getting your man out of there. But the biggest satisfaction of all was putting my man down, I’m on top of him and the ball carrier is 10 or 15 yards upfield.

Wright was a three-time first-team All-Pro, selected for the Pro Bowl six straight years, and named to the NFL Team of the 1970s. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame, in Canton, Ohio, in 2006.

Carl Eller, the Minnesota Vikings defensive end who was one of Wright’s fiercest opponents and who is himself a Hall of Famer, told The Associated Press prior to Wright’s induction: “A full day fight with Rayfield Wright is definitely not my idea of ​​a nice Sunday. afternoon.”

In Super Bowl VI in 1972, the Cowboys rushed for 252 yards – a Super Bowl record at the time – en route to a 24-3 victory over the Miami Dolphins. It was one of two Super Bowl victories for the Cowboys in the 1970s; they also lost three times.

“What we did today is how you’re supposed to play this game,” Wright told the Dayton Daily News. “Who is going to control things in advance – that’s what matters, all things being equal.”

He added: “We checked them on the line, and that’s what did it.”

Larry Rayfield Wright was born August 23, 1945, in Griffin, Georgia, about 35 miles south of Atlanta, and was raised by his mother, Opel Wright, and one of his grandmothers. A boy scout, he remembers memorizing Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” when he was in eighth grade, and he said it guided him to believe that life offered him choices.

In high school, he excelled at basketball but didn’t make the football team until his senior year. Playing basketball for Fort Valley State College (now University) in Georgia, he averaged 20 points and 21 rebounds per game and attracted interest from the Cincinnati Royals (now the Sacramento Kings) of the National Basketball Association. He was also a free safety, punter, defensive end and tight end for the football team and was selected by Dallas as a tight end in the 1967 NFL Draft.

“He was a great competitor, talented and smart, and he could race; you could have got away with playing him at wide receiver,” Gil Brandt, the former Cowboys director of player personnel, said in a phone interview.

Wright had been a backup tight end for the Cowboys for two seasons when coach Tom Landry moved him to right tackle to replace the injured Ralph Neely. In his first start in the role, in 1969, he faced Deacon Jones, the formidable defensive end of the Los Angeles Rams.

“Hey, boy,” he later recalled of Jones’ greeting. “Does mom know you’re here?”

“What does my mother have to do with this?” Wright remembers thinking to himself, which distracted him enough to momentarily lose concentration when the ball was snapped. Jones quickly slapped his huge right hand against Wright’s helmet, sending him rolling back onto the turf.

“It was like I had just been hit in the head with a baseball cap,” he told The Times.

It was likely his first concussion, he said, suffered at a time when the NFL was not taking traumatic brain injuries seriously and players were being encouraged to return to action as soon as possible.

Wright continued to play at a high level for most of the next 10 years, until leg problems reduced his effectiveness. He was released by the Cowboys in 1980 and signed with the Philadelphia Eagles, but retired before playing a game with them.

His survivors include his wife, Di; his daughters, Courtney Minor, Anitra Hernandez and Ariel Wright; his sons, Laray and Larry Jr. and his brother, Lamar

In retirement, Wright was a motivational speaker and started a foundation to help children get scholarships to go to college.

He was diagnosed with dementia in 2012. That year, he and a group of former Cowboys joined thousands of other retired players in filing concussion-related lawsuits against the NFL that accused the league to hide the links between repeated blows to the head and degenerative brain diseases. the players.

They were brought together in a class action lawsuit in federal court that was settled in 2015, providing payouts of up to $5 million to individual players suffering from one of the few serious neurological and cognitive disorders.

“I’m scared,” Wright said of her dementia in the 2014 Times interview. “I don’t want that to happen.” Wiping away a tear, he added, “I just want to know why this is happening to me.”

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