State Your Case: Ralph Neely


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(Ralph Neely photos courtesy of the Dallas Cowboys)

By Clark Judge

Talk of Fame Network

There are two Dallas offensive lineman in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Rayfield Wright and Larry Allen. But there should be a third.

Ralph Neely.

Neely played with Wright on the great Dallas teams of the 1970s, and there was no better pair of tackles. Wright manned the right side; Neely manned the left and together they helped make the Cowboys one of the most productive offenses and most successful teams anywhere.

Neely was a four-time All-Pro and two-time Pro Bowler. Wright was a six-time All-Pro and six-time Pro Bowler. He’s also a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and an all-decade choice. But Neely was an all-decade choice, too. Plus, he’s the guy Hall-of-Fame defensive end Willie Davis called the best tackle he faced.

So why isn’t he in Canton? I wish I knew.

So many deserving players from those Dallas teams belong in Canton: Lee Roy Jordan, Chuck Howley, Cliff Harris and Drew Pearson to name four. Neely is another. Not only was he an all-decade choice for the NFL’s 1960s’ team, but he joined Bob Brown and Forrest Gregg as the club’s tackles. Brown and Gregg are in the Hall. Ralph Neely is not.

And somebody’s going to have to explain that one to me.

“He could slide, he was light on his feet, he had long arms and he was athletic as hell,” said Gil Brandt, former head of player personnel for the Cowboys and now a Sirius XM NFL radio host. “He was just too good coming out of college to be a second-round pick.”

Yet that’s what he was, with the NFL Baltimore Colts and AFL Houston Oilers each choosing him there. The reason: Simple. At the University of Oklahoma, where he starred, the Sooners were so run-centric that Brandt said “if they passed five times (in a game), was a lot.”

Result: Scouts labeled him one-dimensional.

But Dallas saw something in him that others did not, with Brandt saying the Cowboys had him ranked as their fifth-best player that year. After a trade with the Colts, who were convinced they couldn’t sign him, and a series of legal maneuvers, the Cowboys finally gained the rights to Neely and plugged him at tackle – first right, then left — and the difference was immediate.

“If I were talking to Hall-of-Fame voters,” said Brandt, “I’d tell them to look at our record from 1965 when he arrived, and see how the team responded until the end of his career.”

OK, so let’s see: In 1965, Neely’s rookie season, the Cowboys were 7-7. A year later they were 10-3-1 and led the league in scoring with 445 points. Then they were 9-5. Then 12-2. Then 11-2-1, 10-4 and 11-3. I think you get the idea.

In Ralph Neely’s 13 seasons with Dallas the club reached the playoffs 11 times, the Super Bowl four times and won two Lombardi Trophies. They were 131-49-2, and Neely was there for the entire ride, playing every game in 10 of those years and all but two in 12 of the 13.

“I don’t think anyone then had any idea how important offensive linemen were,” said Brandt. “But we did. That’s why we made him a tackle.”

And a damned good one.

“Do I think he’s a Hall of Famer?” said Brandt. “I do.”

I do, too, but I’d like to hear more. That’s why I’d like to see Ralph Neely discussed by the Hall’s board of selectors. For too many years Ralph Neely’s been buried under a pile of yesterday’s forgotten stars, and it’s time we discover just what we missed.

We owe him that. We owe the Hall that, too.

 

 

 

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15 Comments

  1. Rob
    June 28, 2016
    Reply

    Clark, which former Cowboy has the best chance of making the Pro Football Hall of Fame that is in the Senior Pool?

    • June 30, 2016
      Reply

      Better to ask Rick since he’s on senior committee, but I’d guess Howley or Harris. I’m partial to Harris, but asked a guy with the team who said Howley would be first he’d put in.

      • Rasputin
        July 2, 2016
        Reply

        Unfortunately Gosselin doesn’t seem to answer questions like that from fans, much less more challenging ones, hence my question to you below about his views. If you don’t know, could you please ask him?

  2. Rasputin
    June 28, 2016
    Reply

    Thanks for trying Clarke, but with guys like Chuck Howley, Cliff Harris, and Drew Pearson not even able to get in, I’m not sure what chance Neely has. The Cowboys are one of the worst represented teams in Canton in proportion to their success on the field (HoFers per SB title is a quick and dirty metric showing that, though even that understates Dallas success as it doesn’t capture most of the Landry era’s dominance), and a look at individual cases shows they should have several more in Canton as you rightly point out. I’d explain it as a long standing anti-Cowboys bias among selectors, one probably borne out of the divisional rivals being based in the influential urban northeast corridor and broader resentment stemming from the whole “America’s Team” thing. A bunch of the selectors are media types who grew up in cities that watched their teams routinely lose to the Cowboys, and they developed a visceral hatred of Dallas. Unfortunately they didn’t all check those biases at the door like they should have, which is why 10 time Pro Bowler Mel Renfro didn’t get in until his final year of eligibility, why even Bob Lilly wasn’t a unanimous pick, why Darren Woodson got passed over in favor of 4 other safeties on the 90s All Decade team (including some extremely dubious choices), why the Cowboys only had 5(!) HoF players at the turn of the century, and why the infamous 2004 vote saw only the two Cowboys excluded out of the final 6 when all 6 could have been voted in (a third, Cliff Harris had made the top 10, but Dallas fans came away with nothing that year). I think the anti-Cowboys bias has lessened in recent years, though there’s still a clique that has to be overcome. Perhaps a bigger problem now is that Dallas doesn’t seem to have a representative on the selection committee who’s interested in advocating for its players. Forth Worth’s Charean Williams is there, but she doesn’t seem as visible as some of the other members and I’m not sure how much clout she has. Of course Dallas’ “representative” is a Michigan transplant who sits on the senior committee and appears to have enormous clout, but has used his political capital to campaign for his home state Detroit Lions players in recent years. It’s hard for fans to tell if Gosselin even thinks these Cowboys belong in the HoF. It’s like pulling teeth to get him to publicly mention a guy like Howley, and I’ve never seen him lay out a case for him. I’ve seen Gosselin publicly undermine Jason Witten’s case on Sports Day On Air a couple of years or so ago. JASON WITTEN! A guy even many non-Cowboys fans have penciled in for Canton. If Dallas’ own rep isn’t supporting these players, and may even be undermining their cases, it goes a long way toward explaining why those guys aren’t getting a fair hearing. It’s extremely frustrating for fans.

    • June 30, 2016
      Reply

      Trust me, you have no bigger ally in that room than Rick Gosselin. Yes, he’s influential and he uses that influence to do whatever he can to get Cowboys who are candidates in. There is no stronger advocate for Dallas Cowboys’ players — and I mean deserving players — than Rick. If he opposes a player, it’s not because of emotion; it’s because of logic. Few guys in this business are as prepared and as knowledgeable as Rick. Consider yourself fortunate to have him pushing Cowboys.

      • Rasputin
        July 2, 2016
        Reply

        Clark, you know the guy…DOES he think Howley, Harris, and Pearson belong in Canton? If so, does he consider any of them priorities? What sucks as a fan is not even knowing that. Why not be open and transparent? We don’t know what’s happening in that room, only that there are many deserving Cowboys who have been excluded without real reasons given. If Gosselin doesn’t think some Cowboy deserves induction then why not say so publicly and explain why? If people disagree a rational debate could ensue. Maybe people could change his mind or maybe he’d change theirs. Or maybe it would become clear to all involved that Dallas needs a new “representative”. Any of those would be better than what’s happening now. After all, Gosselin co-founded this “Talk of Fame” thing and doesn’t seem to have a problem publicly arguing for or against non-Cowboys. It’s only fair he lets fans in the city that the selection committee claims he represents know where he stands on its players.

        • July 4, 2016
          Reply

          Rick is a huge advocate of deserving Dallas players/coaches, and he’s written about some of them on this site. But he’s one guy. There are 46 in that room. So as passionate as he may be he’s one vote. Count your blessings that he’s your rep.

          • Rasputin
            July 5, 2016

            He did write “state your case” pieces for Harris and Pearson, arguing that they deserve a hearing, though it’s unclear how much he thinks they should be prioritized and he didn’t actually say “X belongs in the HoF” (maybe that’s not his style, I don’t know). The only piece about Howley I’ve seen was in reply to the poll where readers here overwhelmingly voted him as the most deserving Cowboy not yet in, and it was pretty bare bones. He didn’t make much of a case for him. Neither that or the “best OLB” poll mentioned Howley’s 5 AP first team All Pro selections, for example. I wish Gosselin showed some of that passionate advocacy you mention publicly.

          • Rasputin
            July 5, 2016

            For context regarding these concerns, a few years ago Gosselin wrote a column for the DMN basically telling fans it’d be a long wait before any more Cowboys got in, and that they should fee lucky to have gotten what they had, touting the recent spout of inductees. Reading between the lines, he seemed to be taking credit for guys like the triplets and soon to be inducted Larry Allen (some of the easiest presentations ever), despite it being normal for a team of the decade to get at least a few guys into Canton (which is all they’ve got; the losing Bills have more), and announcing that he’s content to rest on his supposed laurels. That rubbed a lot of fans the wrong way, especially given that no Cowboy has had a senior nomination since then and Gosselin’s visible role in shepherding Detroit Lions through. That’s why I and a lot of other fans would feel better if Gosselin made it publicly clear that he views some Cowboys as deserving Canton priorities and made cases for them like he really cared.

  3. bachslunch
    June 30, 2016
    Reply

    Ralph Neely wouldn’t be the worst option for the HoF, though his honors of 3/2/60s are a little thin, and he’s probably behind folks like Jim Tyrer, Winston Hill, and George Kunz at OT. Not to mention Cowboys guard John Niland who has a decent 4/6/none profile.

  4. Janis Neely
    July 1, 2016
    Reply

    I definitely agree he should be on the HOF as well as the Ring of Honor. It just doesn’t make since.

    I wasn’t married to him at the time but my dad and I went to every Cotton Bowl game rain or sine and I definitely saw a great player in #73.

    So someone PLEASE make things right. He belongs with the greats because he was and is one!!

  5. Sam Goldenberg
    July 4, 2016
    Reply

    Clark, I think Rick is very fair minded. The problem is there are so many good candidates. No doubt Howley and Harris are good candidates. I think Pearson falls short. As for Neely, as you know I am a Jerry Kramer advocate, so I think the man voted the greatest guard in the NFL’s first 50 years should be the next offensive lineman to be selected.

    • July 4, 2016
      Reply

      Sam, don’t disagree. Kramer would be the first guy from the senior group I’d put in. Have no idea why he’s not already in. If he was good enough to be on the 50th anniversary team — a team voted on by the Hall — shouldn’t he be good enough for Canton? That one I just don’t get.

  6. Sam Goldenberg
    July 5, 2016
    Reply

    Definitely agree Clark. I hope this is Jerry’s year.

  7. brian wolf
    October 6, 2018
    Reply

    Such passion from Cowboys fans. I am a fan too who believes that Neely belonged. Niland was excellent as well but the Cowboys started losing their luster and toughness along the offensive line as the 80s started gaining momentum. Thats why I have a deep respect for OG Herbert Scott who displayed the tenacity of the 70s Cowboy lineman. He may not be a HOF but he played excellent and I know, I collect old Cowboy games. I believe Charlie Waters was better than Cliff Harris and Drew Pearson, Lee Roy Jordan, and Chuck Howley deserve to be in the Hall as well. Especially because of their postseason success.

    Billy Howton and Buddy Dial should get consideration as well and to me, Don Perkins and George Andrie were two of the most underrated players that ever played in the NFL

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