Rudy is one of the best sports movies of all time. Small kid from nowhere, going nowhere, works his way onto the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team. Much like Rudy Ruettiger, Bill Bates has a similar story. What this man lacked in pure talent, he made up for with heart and hustle.
William Frederick Bates was born on June 6, 1961 in Knoxville, TN. A three-sport athlete, he excelled in football, basketball, and track at Farragut High School. His team, the Admirals, went to the state semi-finals in 1978, where they lost a heartbreaker by one point. After high school, he enrolled at the University of Tennessee, just like fellow Cowboy, Jason Witten. As a four-year starter, Bates played free and strong safety. Accolades include Freshman All-American, second team All-SEC his junior and senior seasons, named to the 100 Year All Tennessee team, and proudly owns the title of “hardest hitter.”
After graduation, Bates went undrafted in the 1983 NFL draft. While he was not considered by the professional league, he was drafted by the USFL’s New Jersey Generals. That was not in his plans. He rejected their offer and signed as an undrafted free agent with the Dallas Cowboys, his favorite team. For the next 15 years, he would become one of the most loved of all Cowboys. His hard work and will to never give up earned him a spot in the hearts of his teammates and fans alike. His rookie season, Bates earned the title of NFC special teams player of the year. In his second year, he was selected to the Pro Bowl, as well as All-Pro for the season. Tom Landry on the man with the big valentine:
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
For the 1986-88 seasons, he started at strong safety for the Cowboys. In 1989 when Jimmy Johnson took over as head coach, he just about made a huge mistake by letting Bates go to free agency. Cooler and smarter heads prevailed and the Cowboys protected Bates. Each year from 1990-94, Bates received one of the top awards for every Cowboy player, the Bob Lilly award. The fans vote on the player that displays leadership and character on and off the field. Bates deserved this award each year he wore the Cowboy uniform. Due to a knee injury in 1992, he sat out the season. In 1993, his teammates awarded him the Ed Block Courage award for overcoming his injury. Over his 15 year career, tied with Ed “Too Tall” Jones and Mark Tuinei, he won three Super Bowls, had 14 interceptions, 667 tackles, and 122 return yards. Better than all of his awards is the fact that this man endeared himself to the fans and continues to be a fan favorite worldwide. Six players wore the #40, but the greatest and most loved is Mr. Bill Bates.
One thing Bates seemed to have trouble with was head-butting people on his own sidelines. Once when he ran into this old man in the video below and the other his own coach, Joe Avezzano. Bates had run to the sidelines and saw blood running down the coaches face. He wouldn’t tell him what happened during the game, but later Bates learned that he had delivered the blow during a celebration. Avezzano did not want Bates to be distracted during the game, so he acted like it was nothing. Both of these men were that type of person; always looking out for others.
After retirement in 1997, Bates coached for a few years with the Cowboys, then the Jacksonville Jaguars. He and his wife, Denise, have five children, including the triplets who attend college around the country. He also coached his son’s (and Tim Tebow) high school team to the 4A Florida state championship. His inspiration and hard work is a testimony to college athletes across the nation. Despite being told he wasn’t big enough or talented enough to make a professional team, he showed them he could. Life is good for Bates and his family. Living in Florida, coaching one of his younger son’s high school teams, he now volunteers much of his time to the United Way, Children’s Medical Center, Scottish Rite Hospital, FCA, Campus Crusade and Young Life. He also founded The Bill Bates Foundation For Children and The Bill Bates High School Football Classic to help children in need.
You are missed #40.