Bill Bates

For the Southwestern College Moundbuilders coach, see Bill Bates (football coach).
Bill Bates
No. 40
Position: Safety
Personal information
Date of birth: (1961-06-06) June 6, 1961
Place of birth: Knoxville, Tennessee
Height: 6 ft 1 in (1.85 m)
Weight: 213 lb (97 kg)
Career information
High school: Farragut (TN)
College: Tennessee
Undrafted: 1983
Career history
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
Tackles: 676
Sacks: 18.0
INT: 14
Player stats at
Player stats at PFR

William Frederick "Bill" Bates (born June 6, 1961) is a former American football safety who played for fifteen seasons in the National Football League, all of which were spent with the Dallas Cowboys. A fan favorite, he was a Pro Bowl selection in 1984, played in Super Bowl XXVIII and Super Bowl XXX, and was on the Cowboys' roster for Super Bowl XXVII. He played college football at Tennessee.

Early years

Bates attended Farragut High School in Farragut, Tennessee, where he played under rising head coach Ken Sparks. He recorded over 1,000 return yards, 14 interceptions, and nearly 200 tackles during his high school career.[1] He helped lead the Admirals to the state semi-finals in 1978, in which the Admirals lost to Red Bank by one point. He was all-state in football and basketball his senior year. He also practiced track and field. He was considered the 4th best high school recruit in the state in football.[1]

College career

Bates played college football at the University of Tennessee from 1979 through the 1982 season, where he was a four-year starter, the first two at free safety and the last two at strong safety. As a freshman in 1979, he registered 55 tackles (35 solo), 3 sacks, an interception, and 2 fumble recoveries. In 1980, he had 43 tackles (24 solo), including 3 tackles for a loss, to go along with an interception and 2 fumble recoveries. In 1981, he tallied 71 tackles (48 solo) and a team-leading 4 interceptions. During his senior year in 1982, he registered 86 tackles (61 solo), including 2 tackles for a loss, and 3 interceptions.[2]

On October 20, 1979, Bates recorded 8 tackles, a sack, and 2 fumble recoveries against Alabama, who were ranked number one and would go on to win the national championship that year.[3] At the end of 1979 he was honored by being named to the Freshman All-American team. He also won the team's "hardest hitter" award on several occasions throughout his career. He was named second team All-SEC as a junior and senior.

During Tennessee's 16-15 loss to eventual national champion Georgia on September 6, 1980, Georgia running back Herschel Walker and Bates met on the 5-yard line in a play that still lives in many college football highlights. Walker ran over Bates to score the first touchdown of his college career.[4] The two would later become teammates for several seasons with the Dallas Cowboys.

Professional career

Bates went undrafted in the 1983 NFL Draft after he ran the 40-yard dash in a disappointing 4.8 seconds during the NFL Scouting Combine. He was selected by the USFL's New Jersey Generals in their territorial draft, but he decided to sign as an undrafted free agent with the Dallas Cowboys, which had been his favorite team growing up. He was a long shot to make the team but his heart and hustle earned him a roster spot on the team and a place in the hearts of all Cowboy fans. From the start he excelled on special teams, being named NFC special teams player of the year as a rookie.

In 1984 he was selected to the Pro Bowl in just his second year, causing the NFL to create a first-time roster spot for special teams players, making Bates the first such player to receive that election. He was also elected All-Pro that season.

In 1986, Bates became a starter at strong safety and remained there until 1988, after which he was used only in the Nickel defense packages. At the end of the 1989 season, Jimmy Johnson informed Bates that he was going to be left unprotected on the team’s Plan B free agency list. Although the Minnesota Vikings were interested in him, just before the deadline, the Cowboys decided to protect him.

In 1989, he was the leader in special teams tackles with 19. The next year he led the team again with 23 tackles, becoming the first player in franchise history to do it in consecutive years.

Bates received the team’s Bob Lilly Award four consecutive seasons from 1990 to 1994. This award is selected by a vote of the fans and annually goes to the Cowboy player who displays leadership and character on and off the field. In 1992, he suffered a season-ending knee injury. After the 1993 season, he was selected by his teammates to receive the Ed Block Courage Award for successfully overcoming his injury and leading the team in special teams tackles (25).

Bates is tied with Ed "Too Tall" Jones and Mark Tuinei for the most seasons playing in a Cowboys uniform with 15. Upon his retirement after the 1997 season, he was considered one of the most beloved Cowboys of all time. Over his 15-year career, he had 14 interceptions and 122 return yards.

Bates earned three Super Bowl rings with the Cowboys, playing in Super Bowl XXVIII and Super Bowl XXX. He was on injured reserve during the 1992 season, when the Cowboys played in Super Bowl XXVII.

Tom Landry once said, “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”.[5] He described Bates and Cliff Harris as "the hardest hitters I ever saw."[6] Referring to Bates' reputation as a hard hitter, John Madden stated, "Every game starts with a kick. With Bill Bates on the field, every game begins with a bang!"[6]

Personal life

Bates spent one year with the Jacksonville Jaguars as Special Teams Coach in 2001. He was an assistant coach for Nease High School's football team, which won the 2005 Florida State Championship led by Tim Tebow. He is currently an assistant coach for Ponte Vedra High School. He is also a motivational speaker and runs a cattle ranch in North Dallas.

Bates and his wife Denise have five children: Dillon, Tanner, Graham, Brianna, and Hunter. Graham, Brianna, and Hunter are triplets, and Graham and Hunter are currently playing college football at Arkansas State University and Northwestern University, respectively. Dillon followed in his father's footsteps to play for The University of Tennessee.[7]

In 2005, Bates was inducted into the Greater Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame. He was also named to the 100 Year All Tennessee Team. In 2011, Bates was awarded the Tom Landry Legend Award.



  1. 1 2 1979 Tennessee Volunteers Football Program (University of Tennessee, 1979), p. 56. Retrieved: 3 July 2013.
  2. Tennessee Career Football Statistics, Retrieved: 3 July 2013.
  3. 1980 Tennessee Volunteers Football Program (University of Tennessee, 1980), p. 38.
  4. Tim Hix, "Vol Profile: Bill Bates," Tennessee vs. Washington State Football Program (University of Tennessee, 1982), pp. 47-48.
  5. ESPN 50 Greatest Dallas Cowboys. Retrieved: 3 July 2013.
  6. 1 2 Editorial Review for Shoot for the Star, Retrieved: 3 July 2013.
  7. Patrick Vint, "Dillon Bates Commits to Tennessee Over Alabama, Florida," SBNation, 3 July 2013. Retrieved: 3 July 2013.
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