There were 335 men chosen during the 1983 NFL draft. Bill Bates was not one of them.
"After running that 40-yard dash (during an NFL tryout), it wasn't the world's record," said Bates. "I'm not good enough, I guess. Twelve rounds went by and I wasn't drafted.
"My sophomore year in high school, they brought in Ken Sparks [as the head coach]. He loved the Cowboys because of Tom Landry, and Coach Landry's witness to the Lord, and his ability through the FCA [Fellowship of Christian Athletes] to change young men's lives. So he changed the Farragut (Tennessee) Admirals uniforms to the Cowboys uniforms, and so when I was in high school, I had a star on my helmet and No. 40 on my chest."
Bates may have been undrafted but he wasn't unwanted. Offered free agent contracts from Dallas and Seattle, it took him less time to decide to sign with the Cowboys than it took to read this sentence.
"(A day after the draft) scouts from the Cowboys wanted to talk to me," Bates said. "'If there were 13 rounds in the NFL draft, you would have been the 13th-round draft pick.' I said, 'Wow!' I signed that contract. I'm the 13th-round draft pick of the Dallas Cowboys!
"I go to training camp and come to find out there's about 185 13th-round draft picks there. Well, I went into the locker room and there was my high school uniform. So dreams can come true, and they came true at that moment."
Impressing the coaching staff during training camp because of his hustling performance on special teams, Bates not only kept his dream alive and made the team, he excelled. As a rookie, he was named the NFL's Special Teams Player of the Year. He earned the award the following year as well.
"Well, that was as good as it can get," said Bates, who is Dallas' all-time leader in special teams tackles. "To have people like [network TV announcers] John Madden and Pat Summerall notice you and say your name, to have people like that behind you is more than a dream come true. I'm just amazed how fortunate I was while I was playing.
"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."
Wearing "a star on my helmet and No. 40 on my chest" for 217 regular-season games, second all-time in team history, and two Super Bowls, Bates was as versatile as duct tape. While making a name for himself because of special teams, he also saw duty at strong safety, where he was the starter for three seasons (1986-88), cornerback and linebacker.
Selected for the Pro Bowl following the 1984 campaign, he also earned the Bob Lilly Award, which is voted on by Cowboys fans for sportsmanship, dedication, leadership and achievement, four times.
In short, Bates became a lifelong Cowboy before ever setting foot in Dallas.
"It means everything," Bates said. "It gives me the platform to hopefully change other people's lives in a positive way, to give them hope. To be a part of the Cowboys Nation, and be a part of what I consider the Jones family is more than a dream come true."
Bates now makes his home in Florida with his wife, Denise. They have five children: 23-year-old triplets Graham, Brianna and Hunter; Tanner, 21; and Dillon, 17, a high school junior who is among the most heavily recruited football players in the country.
"He's been offered scholarships by everybody. Alabama, Tennessee, Florida, USC, South Carolina, UCLA, it's crazy," laughed Bates. "He's really excited about it. He has worked really hard. The best thing about it is he's got size. He's 6-foot-3½ and 220 and can run. So everybody wants him. He plays linebacker, but I think this coming year he's going to have to play some offense. We're real proud of him."
Known for having a strong work ethic during his Cowboy days, that hasn't changed. Bates is involved with a few businesses. [embedded_ad]
Lealta Media [AboutK12Rewards.com]: "It is a fundraiser for high schools and it's free for schools (and members). Basically what this is is parents and anybody gets rewards from shopping online through the high school's website. (They're) told to shop through (the HS Rewards banner). They get rewards and the school gets rewards. That's what's so neat about it. It's a year-round fundraiser. The school can divvy up how they want the money to go.
"We are probably in 100-plus schools right now (in Texas, Florida, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, New York and California). And we've got 650-plus companies that we are joined with that give rewards. The Dallas Cowboys are one of them."
TMS Sports [TMSSports.com]: "It's a football air-conditioned shoulder pad business. When the guys sit down on the bench, they get hooked up and it blows cold, dry air through the shoulder pads. The University of Florida has the patent for the system and we have the exclusive rights to sell them."
And Bates is also still active on game days at Cowboys Stadium. [BBates40.com]: "This is cool for me and hopefully for the Cowboys fans. Last year I did tailgating events before every home game and this year we're going to do it again, and it's going to be a bigger operation."