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Ralph Neely, longtime stalwart on Dallas Cowboys’ offensive line, dies at 78

FARMINGTON, N.M. — Longtime Dallas Cowboys great Ralph Neely died this week at the age of 78 in his home near Dallas.

The Cowboys announced Neely’s death on social media on Wednesday evening.

Born Sept. 12, 1943 in Little Rock, Arkansas, Neely played 13 seasons in the NFL, all with the Cowboys. He started his football career in high school playing for Farmington High School before attending the University of Oklahoma.

Neely made one appearance in the New Mexico state championship football game in 1960. The undefeated Scorpions met the Clovis Wildcats in the AA championship game. Clovis won that game by a final score of 20-14.

“I have so many fond memories of him,” said younger brother Richard Neely. “A lot of things you never forget.”

Ralph Neely, who spent 13 years in the NFL - all with the Dallas Cowboys - died this week at the age of 78.

Ralph Neely, who spent 13 years in the NFL – all with the Dallas Cowboys – died this week at the age of 78.

Richard, current president of the American Amateur Baseball Congress, recalled growing up and seeing his older sibling play in the NFL.

“Always a tremendous amount of support we had for each other,” Richard recalled. “Going to the games and seeing them as a family were great times.”

In addition to football, Neely played baseball and basketball and was a shot putter on the school’s track and field team. After graduating in 1961, Neely attended the University of Oklahoma and excelled on the football team, playing for coaches Bud Wilkinson and Gomer Jones.

Listed at 6-foot-6 and weighing in at over 245 pounds, Neely was one of the bigger players in college football during that time.

“(Ralph) was the biggest player in the school’s history when he got there in 1961,” Richard said.

Neely received Big Eight Conference honors and All-American titles in 1963 and 1964, playing both ways, as a dominant performer on defense and an excellent blocker on offense.

In 1965, prior to the merger between the National Football League and American Football League, Neely was drafted to both leagues. He was selected in the second round by both the Houston Oilers of the AFL and by the Baltimore Colts of the NFL.

The Dallas Cowboys later obtained his rights from the Colts, and a settlement between the leagues allowed his contract to be agreed upon.

“(Ralph) knew he didn’t want to play for the Colts,” Richard recalled. “There was a huge settlement between Houston and Dallas and the rest was history.”

Neely was named to the NFL’s all-rookie team in 1965 as an offensive right tackle and went on to have a stellar career. It included trips to four Super Bowls and two championships, playing alongside Roger Staubach and a litany of other Pro Football Hall of Famers.

Neely also spent playing time with the Cowboys alongside Dan Reeves, who died last week at the age of 77. The two came into the NFL at the same time.

Neely was named to the Pro Bowl in 1967 and 1969 and was named NFL First Team All-Pro three times from 1967 to 1969. He retired from the Cowboys following their 1977 victory over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XII.

Ralph Neely as an offensive lineman at the University of Oklahoma with head coach Gomer Jones in 1964.

Ralph Neely as an offensive lineman at the University of Oklahoma with head coach Gomer Jones in 1964.

In 2016, Farmington High School hosted a ceremony honoring Neely’s career and time as a Scorpion. Neely presented the school with a a golden football as part of the NFL’s Super Bowl High School Honor Roll, which recognizes high schools that have contributed to Super Bowl history. Neely was inducted into the Farmington High School sports Hall of Fame in 1987.

“That was a very special honor,” Richard said of the ceremony. “He loved it because he was with the football team, talking to the team. He was all about the football team.”

During his long career in the NFL, Neely started in 19 of the 26 playoff games in which he appeared. Neely currently ranks 11th in Cowboys history with 168 games started and was recently voted as the second-best former Sooner to don a Cowboys uniform, behind only defensive back Roy Williams, according to the Cowboys official website.

Neely was also named as part of the NFL All-1960s team and is a 2014 inductee into the New Mexico Sports Hall of Fame.

The family has no memorial services planned for Neely. At his request, his body will be donated to the University of Texas for study on the effects of traumatic brain injuries.

Steve Bortstein can be reached via email at, via Twitter @DTSBortstein or on the phone at (505) 635-2680.

This article originally appeared on Farmington Daily Times: Ralph Neely, longtime Cowboys offensive lineman, dies at 78

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