Ralph Neely, former Oklahoma All-American footballer and longtime standout for the Dallas Cowboys, died this week at the age of 78 at his home in Dallas, Texas.
The Cowboys announced Neely’s death via social media on Wednesday night.
Neely was born in Little Rock, Arkansas but grew up in New Mexico. He was a star in three sports at Farmington (New Mexico) High School: a two-time all-state tackle on football, a center on the basketball team, and a shot putter on track.
He was recruited by Bud Wilkinson to play football in Oklahoma. At 6 feet, 6 inches and nearly 250 pounds, Neely was one of the tallest players in college football at the time he played.
Just like back then, Neely played both ways for the Sooners, both offensively and defensively. He was a two-time All-Big Eight selection and a two-time All-American at OU (1963 and 1964). In 1964 he was a consensus All-American.
Despite his All-American status, Neely was one of three Oklahoma stars to miss the 1965 Sooners’ Gator Bowl game against Florida State. Neely, fullback Jim Grisham and receiver/running back Lance Rentzel were all ruled ineligible for signing with professional teams prior to the bowl game. Florida State All-American’s Fred Biletnikoff (namesake of the annual best collegiate receiver award) caught four touchdown passes and Oklahoma lost to FSU 36-19.
Neely was drafted in the second round of the 1965 AFL Draft by the Houston Oilers and in the second round of the NFL Draft by the Baltimore Colts. He signed with the Oilers before the Dallas Cowboys bought his trade rights. Neely returned his check to the Oilers, sided with the Cowboys, and the Oilers filed a lawsuit against the Cowboys. The lawsuit was settled a year later when the AFL and NFL merged.
Neely played all 13 of his NFL seasons with the Cowboys, including two Super Bowl championship teams (VI and XII). He received All-Rookie honors in 1965, was a four-time NFL All-Pro, and was named to the NFL 1960s All-Decade Team.
He played right tackle for the Cowboys in his first five seasons in the NFL and switched to left tackle for his last eight pro seasons.
In 2014, Neely was inducted into the New Mexico Sports Hall of Fame.