Professional football player, business executive
The life and work of Rayfield Wright focus primarily on two things: his religious faith and football. He is best known for his thirteen seasons in the National Football League (NFL) with the Dallas Cowboys, from 1967 to 1979, appearing in five Super Bowls. Wright was such a superior and versatile athlete that he started out as a basketball player in high school, played both basketball and football in college, and played a variety of positions for the Cowboys during his pro-ball years. Most prominently, however, "Big Cat" Wright played tight end, from 1967 to 1968, and right tackle, from 1969 to 1979. After Wright's retirement from professional football, Dallas Cowboy coach Tom Landry paid homage to this football legend and wrote to the State of Georgia Hall of Fame, as excerpted on Wright's Web site, that Wright was "the most honored offensive lineman in Cowboys history."
Larry Rayfield Wright was born in Griffin, Georgia, in 1945 and was raised by his mother and grandmother. His grandmother was a significant influence in his life, teaching him at a young age about respect, faith, and prayer. Although he had few material things during his childhood years, he had something much more precious to him—a deep love of God and family. The influence that God and family had in Wright's life was made apparent in his speech during his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006. As he reflected on his life and career, Wright described "God's plan" for him and referred to family members as "angels here today that are enshrined in the heavens' Hall of Fame."
As a student at Fairmont High School in Griffin, Georgia, Wright—amazingly—did not make the football team in his first three years at that institution. But the six-foot-seven-inch Wright did make the basketball team. His brother Lamar had taught him the basics of sports, and he practiced on the streets with others in the neighborhood.
Wright played basketball so well, in fact, that Loyola University extended him an invitation to play basketball for them, but Wright declined due to financial hardship. As an alternative, he decided to enter the military and motivated some of his friends do the same. A turn of events, however, changed Wright's decision to enter military service; instead he took an athletic scholarship offered to him by Coach Stan Lomax of Fort Valley State College, a historically black institution in Georgia. While there, Wright played both basketball and football, but admits he liked playing basketball the most. The Cincinnati Royals recognized Wright's basketball passion and skill and offered him a place on their team. Only a junior, Wright declined the offer to play pro ball, because he was committed to completing his college degree.
During his senior year, unbeknownst to Wright, Dallas Cowboys' scouts were looking for football talent in historically black colleges and universities. Gil Brandt of the Cowboys noticed Wright and phoned to tell him that the Cowboys were interested in drafting him. In his 2006 Hall of Fame enshrinement speech, Wright refers to this moment as "a God given opportunity," one that he would not turn down. Wright mused that if he did not match the Cowboys' expectations during training camp, he could still capture a slot in the National Basketball Association (NBA) with the Cincinnati Royals. But Wright did not have to worry; he was one of only five players picked by the Cowboys to join the team out of the 137 who had been invited to attend training camp that year.
Wright started his career with the Cowboys as a tight end, but he was also used as a defensive lineman and offensive tackle. In 1969 Dallas Cowboys' right tackle Ralph Neely suffered an injury, and Wright was given his starting position for the 1970 season because of stellar performance on the team. Wright kept that position through 1979 and his retirement from pro football.
During his thirteen seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, Wright was cocaptain for seven seasons and played in 166 games, five Super Bowls, and six NFC (National Football Conference) Championship games. Wright's excellent blocking on the field and his leadership as cocaptain of the team are said to have helped the Dallas Cowboys win ten division titles and six conference crowns. Wright won personal accolades as well, including making All Pro Selection (NFL best players of each position) in 1971, 1972, 1974, and 1975; being named Offensive Lineman of the Year in 1972 and 1974; and being chosen for the All-Decade Team for the 1970s. He was inducted into the Fort Valley State College Hall of Fame in 1983, the State of Georgia Hall of Fame in 1988, the Texas Black Sports Hall of Fame in 2002, the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 2005, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006. Wright retired from the Dallas Cowboys and pro football at the age of thirty-four due to a knee injury.
Since his retirement, Rayfield Wright has led an entrepreneurial and philanthropic life. He is president of PetroSun, a company that provides products and services to the oil industry. He is also CEO of Rayfield Wright Sports and Nutrition, a company that sells health-related products such as vitamins, minerals, and skin-care creams.
At a Glance …
Born Larry Rayfield Wright on August 23, 1945, in Griffin, GA; son of Sam and Opel Wright; raised by his mother and grandmother; children: La Ray, Anisha, Larry, Arial. Religion: Christian. Education: Graduated from Fort Valley State College, Georgia, 1967.
Career: Dallas Cowboys football team, various positions, 1967-79; Arizona Rattlers (Arena Football League), assistant coach, 1992; Wright's Sports and Nutrition, CEO; PetroSun LLC, president; Rayfield Wright Foundation, president; Kids 4 Tomorrow, cofounder and president; appointed to the Arizona Juvenile Supreme Court; works as a motivational speaker.
Memberships: NFL Alumni, president, mid-1990s; NFL Alumni, Arizona chapter, director.
Awards: All Pro Selection, National Football League, 1971, 1972, 1974, and 1975; Offensive Lineman of the Year, National Football League, 1972 and 1974; Hall of Fame, Griffin GA, 1974; National Football League 1970s All-Decade Team; Hall of Fame, Fort Valley State College, 1983; Hall of Fame, State of Georgia, 1988; All Super Bowl Team, National Football League, 1990; Legends Award, National Football League, 1990; Hall of Faith Award, Athletes International Ministries, 1997; Texas Black Sports Hall of Fame, 2002; Alumni "Ring of Honor," Dallas Chapter, National Football League, 2003; "Ring of Honor" at Texas Stadium, Dallas Cowboys football organization, 2004; Texas Sports Hall of Fame, 2005; Pro Football Hall of Fame, 2006.
Addresses: Offices—R.Wright Enterprises and Rayfield Wright Foundation, PO Box 1865, Weatherford, TX 76086; Wright Sports and Nutrition, 2008 E. Randol Mill Rd., Ste. 109, Arlington, TX 76011. Web—http://www.rayfieldwright.com.
Wright's philanthropy concentrates on helping children. Wright told E. M. Swift in Sports Illustrated in 2006 that he "work[s] with a lot of young kids who feel they don't have the opportunity to make it in this world." Wright's work shows his focus on this goal. Shortly after his retirement from football, Wright directed the Arizona chapter of the charitable organization NFL Alumni, which operates by the motto "Caring for Kids." Because of his work with at-risk, inner-city children, Wright was appointed to the Arizona Juvenile Supreme Court. Wright is also the founder—with other retired NFL players—and president of the not-for-profit organization Kids 4 Tomorrow. In this group, retired professional athletes work with school children of all ages. Furthermore, through the Rayfield Wright Foundation, Wright helps students obtain college educations by raising funds for scholarships.
(With Jeanette DeVader) Wright Up Front (autobiography), EmeraldPress, 2005.
Sports Illustrated, July 26, 2006, pp. 62-63.
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Mosley, Matt, "Rayfield Wright: Hall of Fame Tackle, Respected Voice," ESPN.com, April 18, 2008, http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/print?id=3349461&type=story (accessed September 14, 2008).
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