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A Special Kind Of Cowboy

Bill Bates may have been a longshot to make the Cowboys roster as an UDFA, but through sheer hard work and determination he fought his way onto the roster for 15 consecutive seasons.

Brian Bahr/Getty Images

There was nothing special about Bill Bates that made NFL scouts think that he was the type of football player who would hang around the National Football League for a decade and a half. In fact, only the Dallas Cowboys and Seattle Seahawks had any interest in the player at all. The only one who thought Bates would have any sort of future in football was Bates himself and there were times that he had his doubts.

That was because nobody ever bothered to measure the size of Bates heart. The undrafted free agent defensive back went on to play the second most number of games in a Cowboys uniform in team history. He lasted fifteen seasons for one reason. Bill Bates refused to quit.

"It was a battle for me every day because nobody expected me to be on the team. And I just said, ‘Hey, while I'm here with the Cowboys, I don't know how long it's going to be, another game, another day, whatever. I'm going to get out and see if this is as good as I can be.' I looked at every day like it might be my last."So I got my head down and I'm grinding and all of a sudden Coach [Jimmy] Johnson comes in and we're in Super Bowls and all of a sudden I look up 15 years later ... I made it more than just one day, for sure." - Bill Bates

From the outset of his career, Bates knew that he was always going to be considered the man on the bubble, the guy who would eventually get beat out by a younger player with more talent.  That day never came for one reason; Bates refused to be outworked by anyone on the field no matter how much talent that person had. His work ethic kept him one the field and earned Bates the admiration of the legendary Tom Landry.

"If we had 11 players on the field who played as hard as Bill Bates does and did their homework like he does, we’d be almost impossible to beat" - Tom Landry.

Bates personified the type of man that Landry wanted on his squad. He was hard working and drove himself to improve each day. He found a way to seize even the slightest opportunity and turn it to his advantage. Bates was never given anything on the field that he did not earn through his own dedication to his craft and that has made him one of the most beloved of all Dallas greats.

By the time that Bates left the game of his own will and not through a visit with the Turk, he had played in 217 regular season games, won three Super Bowl rings, and he had been named as both the league's special teams player of the week and defensive player of the week.  In addition his list of honors includes Pro Bowl and All Pro recognition. He also had earned a reputation among players for the powerful hits that he often delivered to opponents. Landry ranked him with Cliff Harris as the best hitters that he ever watched play.

Even Super Bowl winning head coach turned broadcaster John Madden, who had some vicious hitting defensive backs during his career, held Bates in high regard as the type of player who could deliver knockout power during contact.

"Every game starts with a kick. With Bill Bates on the field, every game begins with a bang!" - John Madden

All told, Bill Bates has a successful football career for any player, regardless of his draft pedigree or lack thereof. For an underrated long shot that was presumed to be nothing but a camp body, his success is nothing short of the triumph of the human will over the realities of the situation. Bates embodies the will and determination to be a champion against all odds, and a champion is something that he became three times over.

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