Bill Bates was one of the very few Cowboys that survived the coaching transition from Tom Landry to Jimmy Johnson and Jerry Jones’ hostile takeover of the ownership reigns. Bates, a safety and special teams dynamo, broke in with the Cowboys in 1983 and was an instant star on Landry’s last great Cowboys teams. He remained with Dallas through Landry’s firing, Jimmy Johnson’s hiring, the “rock-bottom” 1-15 season in 1989, the firing of Jimmy Johnson and the hiring of Barry Switzer. By the time he retired in 1997, Bates was an institution in Dallas and something of an alternate logo to that hideous star.
Bates was also, quite possible, the most annoying Cowboy…ever. He was the gnat in your ear, the fly in your ointment, nails down a chalkboard, the constantly present, micromanaging boss and the girlfriend who wants to talk about her feelings or Facebook “adventures” during the game. Bates came to represent anything and everything that irritated you. He was gutsy and gritty and projected an ego that barely fit in the state of Texas. He wanted to ruin your Sunday afternoon. He wanted to knock the snot out of your team’s star player. And most of all, he wanted to will the Cowboys to victory. Between 1983 and 1997, Bates and his Cowboys did a whole lot of all of that.
Had Bates, the classic try-hard and relentless overachiever, played for us, we would have loved him; but he played for “them”, so we hated him. We hated his cockiness. We hated him for being the only symbol of prior Cowboy greatness – and the only hint that they could be good again – during the franchises rebuild under Johnson. We hated him for being the conscience that guided and matured those wildly talented Dallas teams of the 1990s into three…time…champions.
In hindsight, the years between 1983 and 1997 passed in flash. Conversely, it still feels like Bill Bates played forever.