Bates scores because of his hits
Former Vol, Cowboy going into Knoxville's Sports Hall of Fame
By DREW EDWARDS, firstname.lastname@example.org
August 9, 2005
Long before he played for the Dallas Cowboys, long before his four years as a starter at Tennessee and long before Herschel Walker turned him into a speed bump on his first touchdown run at Georgia, Bill Bates was just another kid whose helmet looked a little too big.
Doug McQueen was the biggest, baddest sixth-grade football player around.
Doug McQueen was the speed bump.
"Doug was always bigger than the rest of us when we were kids," said Stan Cotten, the radio voice of Wake Forest football, basketball and baseball, and one of Bates' best friends growing up. "You just didn't want to tackle him."
The memories are vague at best, but Cotten isn't the only one who recalls that day at practice when Bates stepped forward in his Cedar Bluff Farragut Optimist football uniform and announced his presence with the type of hit that would become his calling card during a 15-year NFL career.
McQueen took the handoff and Bates deposited him on his backside with perhaps his first recorded "slobberknocker" - longtime Farragut teacher and coach Bobby Henry's word for a Bates hit, a hit that, well, knocks the slobber out of the person on the receiving end.
"He was the best running back in the CBFO," said Bates, who will be inducted into the Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame on Aug. 18. "It just so happened Doug got in my way."
McQueen wasn't the first person, or the last, but anyone who stood between Bates and his quest to be the best seemed destined for the same fate.
Before Bates arrived in Knoxville, he lived down the street from the McCrary brothers, Brian and Conrad, in Memphis.
A day of football outside ended in one of those neighborhood fights that are forgotten as soon as they're over. Only in Bates' case, he certainly forgave, but he didn't forget the lesson he learned that day as the younger McCrary blackened his eye in front of the whole neighborhood.
"From that time, I vowed never to let something like that happen to me again. It's kind of simple, but it's like they had disgraced me around all the other guys," Bates said. "Here I am, and the younger guy had beat me up, basically. Going home, I said, 'That's never happening to me again. I'm not going to give in.' "
Brian and Conrad played college football, at Ole Miss and Florida State, respectively, but their biggest impact on the game of football - and McQueen's, too - may have been igniting Bates' legendary engine.
That drive made him a standout defender at Farragut High School and a four-year starter at Tennessee. It was that drive that turned Bates from an undrafted free agent into one of the most beloved Cowboys of all time on a team that won three Super Bowls during his years there.
It's the same engine that got Walker, later one of Bates' best friends in football, tackled on his first day as a Cowboy during a non-contact drill.
"Bill was such a go-getter," said Carson-Newman College coach Ken Sparks, who coached Bates at Farragut. "He wasn't the fastest guy on the field. He just had a heart bigger than most people. You could go measure his heart and it's at least 1 1/2 times bigger than any other.
"He was one of those guys always going 100 miles an hour. There was nothing half-speed about him. He would drink water wide-open."
Now he's living life wide-open.
Bates retired from football in 1995 and immediately became an assistant with Cowboys, followed by a stint with Jacksonville Jaguars that ended in 2004.
About that time, two of his triplets, Hunter and Graham, were set to begin their freshman year at Nease High School. At the request of the head coach, Bates became the school's first freshman football coach.
The school, which had never had a freshman team, needed equipment, so Bates went to Douglas Football Equipment, which had supplied his pads as a player. Besides 60 sets of pads, Bates found himself a new business opportunity, as well.
Along with Williams Sports Group, Bates became a partner in air-conditioned shoulder pads called the Temperature Management System. With Bates' help marketing them, UCLA, Clemson and the Indianapolis Colts, among others, use the TMS pads.
Bates is still living the good life.
He's coaching his boys at Nease, and he'll be there on the sidelines when ESPN televises the school's game against Hoover, Ala., on Aug. 27.
Whether it's attacking the opposing team on Friday nights or selling shoulder pads; playing golf, running the Bill Bates Cowboy Ranch or relaxing with his wife, Denise, and their five children, Bates continues to display that wide-open passion that turned him into an undersized Pro Bowler and McQueen into the second-most feared sixth-grader in West Knoxville.
"You know it," he said. "That will not change." Drew Edwards may be reached at 865-342-6274.