An NFL titan was lost this week. Rayfield Wright, a former offensive tackle for the Dallas Cowboys who rose to the ranks of becoming both a franchise legend and eventual Hall of Famer, died on Thursday at the age of 76. The Pro Football Hall of Fame issued a formal statement regarding his death, focusing on the impact Wright had on all those he had ever come into contact with -- as both a football player and a human being.
"Over the past few weeks, it has become abundantly clear the love that so many Hall of Famers and others around the NFL felt toward Rayfield, his wife, Di, and the extended Wright family," Hall of Fame President Jim Porter said. "His gentle nature away from the game belied his commanding presence on the field. All fans, especially those of the Cowboys, will remember fondly his dominance on the offensive line in the 1970s and how he took protecting Dallas quarterbacks as his personal mission.
"We will guard his legacy in Canton with equal tenacity. The Hall of Fame Flag will fly at half-staff through Rayfield's services next Friday as a tribute to the many lives he touched."
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones mirrored Porter's sentiment, and then some.
"Rayfield Wright was the epitome of what it takes to be a Hall of Famer," said Jones. "His grit, his agility, his passion, his charisma and his love for football, the community and his family always shined through. The original "Big Cat" helped shape the future of the Dallas Cowboys through his illustrious 13-year playing career. Rayfield was a champion on and off the field. He remained an important part of the Cowboys family long after his playing days ended, and he will be deeply missed.
"Our love and support go out to his wife, Di, and the entire Wright family."
Wright was a seventh-round pick of the Cowboys in 1967, when the team was mostly still in its NFL infancy, and instantly became one of the reasons it ascended to the moniker of "America's Team." Initially selected to be a tight end in the league, he'd flex between that position as well as defensive lineman and, most notably, offensive tackle en route to six Pro Bowl nods, six All-Pro honors, and two Super Bowl rings -- helping to protect the likes of fellow legends like quarterbacks Don Meredith and Roger Staubach, while also literally clearing the way for running backs such as Calvin Hill and Tony Dorsett.
As a member of the NFL 1970s All-Decade Team and the Cowboys coveted Ring of Honor, Wright's dominance both on and off the field are remembered profoundly by Hall of Fame wide receiver Drew Pearson, who spent several seasons with Wright during the glory days of the 1970s.
"The news today that my friend and brother Rayfield passed is somber," said Pearson, via Twitter. "What a wonderful and kind man he was with a heart for service. His smile lit up every room he entered and he is going to be greatly missed. RIP my friend and brother. Prayers for your wife, family and friends."