Catching Up with Bill Bates

The term "fan favorite" might be an overused one in today's sporting world but former Cowboy special teams standout Bill Bates definitely fit the bill during his 15 seasons with America's Team.

Not only was Bates, a former University of Tennessee standout, considered too small and too slow by NFL standards, but he also went undrafted and made the Dallas roster the hard way, as a free agent. He quickly became known for his tenacity and tireless work ethic on special teams and in 1984, went to the Pro Bowl for the only time in his career for his often-unsung work covering kicks and the like.

Bates hung up his spikes for good in 1997 and now coaches high school football in Florida, but his legacy is simple: believe in your dreams and truly anything is possible.

Besides his coaching duties, he has several business interests here in Dallas and also makes the rounds as a motivational speaker. caught up with him by phone and here is that exchange:

The Ranch Report: How do you look back on your time with the Cowboys?
Bates: I'm just so blessed to even have the opportunity to play with the Cowboys. I came out of college, I started at the University of Tennessee and played all four years there. I started as a freshman and thought that I would be drafted really high. My dream in high school was to play for the Cowboys. I loved Charlie Watters and Cliff Harris and wanted to play for the Cowboys. In fact, my high school team was the Farragut Admirals in Knoxville, Tennessee and our uniforms were blue and silver. Of course, we were the Admirals with a Navy kind of theme. A coach came to our school when I was a sophomore, Ken Sparks. He was a great Christian man and loved the Cowboys, Coach Landry, FCA and his Christian beliefs. So, when I was in high school, we wore Dallas Cowboy uniforms. I had a star on my helmet and a 40 on my chest. The Cowboys just didn't know it at that time but I was a Dallas Cowboy. I had dreamed about playing for the Cowboys and that started during those days. In my younger years, I was a Johnny Unitas fan and liked the Colts. Then as I got a little older, it was the Cowboys because of the influence of my head coach and Coach Landry. That's where the dream started.

My whole collegiate career at the University of Tennessee was about trying to be drafted in the first or second round by the Cowboys. Unfortunately, when the draft came around, I guess my speed in the 40-yard dash wasn't quite where it needed to be to get drafted in the first or second round. I wasn't drafted but thought I would get drafted. Back then, they had 12 rounds in the draft. There was also the USFL and I did get drafted into the USFL but I didn't want to do that, I wanted to play for the Cowboys. I wasn't drafted and thought that maybe I should have played in the USFL. But the next day, the Cowboys called me and told me that if there were 13 rounds in the draft, I would have been a 13th-round pick. So, I signed a contract. When I got out there to Thousand Oaks, where Coach Landry was having his training camp, I realized there were a bunch of guys they had told the same thing. There were about 180 of us.

When I got in there to the NFL, most of the guys that were playing didn't want to play special teams, they were just on it. They were just starting. Special teams was a pain for a majority of the guys. (Bill Bates/Getty Images)
Just to be able to get to camp, go to the locker room and find my uniform in the locker. My high school uniform was right there. Being able to have a dream, have a dream come true it's every boy's dream to have something like that happen. I had to do a lot of planning beforehand but to be able to play for Coach Landry, hopefully I had proven that I was a pro and that I did things the right way. That's what it's all about.

The Ranch Report: How did it make you feel that the fans acknowledged what you were doing on special teams during your career?
Bates: No. 1, to have the support of the coaches and to be able to actually play in front of the fans, that was the goal. Then, to have been able to kind of mold a position such as special teams was great. When I got in there to the NFL, most of the guys that were playing didn't want to play special teams, they were just on it. They were just starting. Special teams was a pain for a majority of the guys. For me to be able to go out and run down on a kickoff, make tackles, play on the punt team and kickoff team and all the different things that I was involved with on special teams with the fans behind you and to have people like John Madden behind you and notice that you were doing something special, that was what it was all about.

I look back on the Super Bowls, the rings and my teammates, that is very special. But probably the most special thing is to know that I had the support of the fans and the fans liked what I did on the football field. To go out and get awards from the fans, that's the kind of thing that a young boy in high school dreams about. Sure enough, it happened to me. I'm just so blessed. Hopefully, my legacy is that people will look back and say that he was a pro, he did things the right way and he was an example that parents and high school coaches can relay to their players, their sons and their daughters just to say hey, have a dream and keep that dream alive.

The Ranch Report: Since you played a lot of games there, how do you feel about this being the final season at Texas Stadium?
Bates: Well, as a kid, I watched Texas Stadium being built to the Cowboys playing there with the newness. When Texas Stadium was built, that was the stadium. That was the hole in the roof where God could watch his team and all those things. That was the premier stadium. You had the show Dallas and that was the glitz and glamour of Dallas. The Cowboys were right in the middle of it. It's at a point where it's past (its prime for) games being played there. It's had a bunch of great ones and I was fortunate enough to play in some of those games. It's sad but it's also something to be cherished because it's not going to be there. The Cowboys are going to move on to a new, even more special place but the memories will always be there. I've got a lot of blood and sweat sitting in the middle of that field, a lot of effort and a lot of memories that I will always cherish.

The Ranch Report: Talk about your involvement with coaching and how that has worked out for you.
Bates: I coach my kids. I coached for five years with the Cowboys and then became a coach with Jack Del Rio here in Jacksonville. That didn't work out. So, instead of getting in the coaching carousel and moving my family, I did something else. I got an offer from the Seahawks to fly up there and coach with them but I just couldn't do it. I've been blessed to coach at Nease High School. I got to coach my boys, the triplets and now I'm coaching my middle son. Nease High School is where I got to coach Tim Tebow, the Florida Gator quarterback and my boys got to play with him. We won the state championship and went to state three out of four years I was coaching there. Those were great memories, great people, great family and great support.

There's a new school now. Nease got kind of big and they split the school. Ponte Vedra High School is really close to my house now, so my middle son is a junior there and I'm out there coaching them. I'm back and forth to Dallas all the time with my air-cooled shoulder pad business and the other businesses that I do have there in Dallas. I've got so much going on there that I'm back and forth so much. It's great that you can travel and be able to be back and forth, I almost feel like I'm there. Every time I'm there in Dallas, everybody makes me feel right at home. I still have the Cowboy Ranch and a big, orange pumpkin farm that's going on right now through the first poart of November. It's exciting. The things that are going on in my life, hopefully I will be able to influence high school players in a positive way and hopefully give them that dream that they can dream and shoot for the stars. You never know, they may just reach for a star like I did. That's pretty neat for me right now. I've been blessed to stay in football.

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