Some former opponents, teammates say honor overdue for Cowboys great
12:34 AM CST on Wednesday, February 1, 2006
By TODD ARCHER / The Dallas Morning News
DETROIT – Jack Youngblood was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001. He was named All-Pro five times and went to the Pro Bowl seven times. But when he is asked about former Cowboys right tackle Rayfield Wright, he does not remember having much success.
"I still have nightmares over the guy," Youngblood said. "He was definitely one of my nemeses in my career. There's no question that he was a dominant offensive right tackle at that point in time."
Two years ago, Wright made it to the final stages of the Pro Football Hall of Fame voting process only to be shut out with former teammate Bob Hayes. Former Cowboy Cliff Harris made it to the final 10. As least three candidates and not more than six are elected each year.
On Saturday, Wright gets another chance for induction into the Hall of Fame as one of the two Veterans Committee choices with former Oakland coach John Madden. There's a chance the Cowboys could have three inductees with Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin also on the final ballot.
In 13 years, Wright was named to six Pro Bowls. He played in five Super Bowls. He was named an All-Pro four times. He was named to the All-Decade team in the 1970s. He opened holes for Calvin Hill and Tony Dorsett. He protected Craig Morton and Roger Staubach. In 2004, he became the first Dallas offensive lineman inducted into the Cowboys' Ring of Honor.
"He had the whole package," Youngblood said. "He had finesse and he had size and quickness and great feet. I'm sure it broke his heart to go from a tight end. He went from being a pretty boy to one of those grunts, but he turned into a wonderful player."
At a North Texas golf outing not too long ago, Hall of Fame defensive lineman Joe Greene saw Wright walk by and said, "There goes the best offensive lineman I ever played against."
If you don't believe Youngblood or Greene, listen to Wright's teammate, Roger Staubach.
"I remember we'd be watching film and when you'd see plays, especially from linemen like Bob Lilly doing his thing there'd be oohs and aahs, and Rayfield had those, too," Staubach said. "Rayfield, when he went up against great players, he was great. If you ask Deacon Jones, I'm sure he'd say he was right at the top of the list. He told me."
And if you don't believe Youngblood or Greene or Staubach, listen to another Hall of Famer, Jackie Slater. Slater was a rookie in 1976 when Wright was established as one of the best tackles in football. He looked at Wright as a role model of sorts.
"Years ago in the NFL, one of the things a lot of teams did with their pass protection schemes was having man blocking schemes," said Slater, who played for 20 seasons with the Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams. "The defensive end belonged to the tackle. The tackle belonged to the guard. It was definitely a challenge for the tackles, and he had some of the best feet. I remember watching him thinking, 'Can I really do this?'"
If Wright is inducted, he will be the first Cowboys' offensive lineman in Canton, Ohio, a startling fact considering the success the Cowboys had in the 1970s and '80s.
Staubach, Youngblood and Slater cannot wait to welcome him to their Hall of Fame team provided the vote goes Wright's way this time.
"I was part of an 11-year period where it was almost two different eras," Staubach said. "First with Lilly and [Mel] Renfro and then with Drew Pearson and Randy White and Tony Dorsett, and Rayfield was there for a lot of that, too. He was the best tackle in the league. He was just a fantastic football player.
"I've been to some Hall of Fame functions, and these guys just shake their heads at how is it possible that Rayfield is not in the Hall of Fame. Hopefully this will be his time."