There’s simply no way an NFL player can do what Walt Garrison did when he was the Cowboys’ star linebacker from 1966-74.
Garrison played 119 regular season games and 13 playoff games over nine seasons for the Cowboys, and his yards per carry average (4.32) still ranks fourth on the club’s all-time list for career rushing yards. Ranked ninth in yards (3,491). Literally performing at rodeos the night before home games in the offseason and even as a rookie.
Originally from nearby Denton, Texas, Garrison became enamored with rodeo at a young age, particularly wrestling (or “bullfighting” in the vernacular). In fact, Garrison, who died last night at age 79, was almost as good at rodeo as he was at football, and actually enjoyed playing football more.
With the high-risk money involved in the NFL these days, there’s no way any team would allow its players to pursue such a pursuit. No player wants to do this due to the sheer amount of money involved now.
Of course, that’s not to say the Cowboys were too happy with Garrison’s extracurricular activities at the time.
“I rodeoed in the offseason. I did rudder wrestling. I roped some calves, but mostly rudder wrestling,” Garrison once said. “Coach Landry pointed out that there was a clause in my contract that would void my contract if I got injured while competing in another sport, and I said, ‘Okay.'” I didn’t think rodeo was that dangerous. ”
While Landry didn’t stop Garrison from attending rodeos in the offseason, he did end Garrison’s attendance at nearby rodeos during his rookie season in 1966 when he discovered the situation. Even though Garrison was the Cowboys’ fifth-round pick (79th overall) in the 1966 draft out of Oklahoma State University, he returned kickoffs for 445 yards on 20 returns (22.3 average) code). He figured since he was a bit player, attending the rodeo wouldn’t be a problem.
Garrison explained how players check into a local Holiday Inn the night before a home game. After a brief team meeting at 6:30 p.m., they were free to do their own thing until the 11 p.m. curfew. So he would drive to nearby Mansfield, attend the rodeo, and be back in time for 11 o’clock.
“This has worked well a few times,” Garrison said. “Then someone called Coach Landry and said, ‘We think it would be great for the Cowboys to have Walter here the Bulldogs the night before the game.’ So I met with Coach Landry the next day and he told me, “Don’t do it again. “
“But instead of me starting, Don Perkins started. I was returning kicks and kicks and covering the kamikaze, and that’s all I did. Heck, you could get hurt more on them than at a rodeo. The injury was worse. I didn’t think too much about it, but the Cowboys certainly did. “
The irony, of course, is that Garrison injured his knee in a wrestling match in 1975, ultimately ending his NFL career. But Garrison wasn’t bitter or apologetic about it. Instead, he believes it made what could have been a difficult decision easier.
“That injury effectively ended my football career – and it probably had a lot to do with my ability,” said Garrison, who was only 30 when he retired. “Nine years is a long time to be a running back in the NFL, but I did hurt my knee bullfighting at a college rodeo. I had a bullfight with a college kid and I hurt my knee. But it gave me the opportunity. It was a great way to retire without someone saying, “Well, you’re too old, you’re too slow. “I can say, ‘Well, if my knee hadn’t hurt, I would still be playing.’
“This was probably one of the best things that ever happened to me because it gave me the opportunity to go work for another company and start a new career instead of hanging on to a career that would only last another year at most. Years… turned out to be a good thing.”
Shortly thereafter he began working with the American Smokeless Tobacco Company, so this injury set the stage for the rest of his life, although interestingly it was his football career that led to this opportunity.
“The weird thing is, NFL Films offered me my first job, and that’s not a lie,” Garrison said. “NFL Films made a movie about the weird careers of people in the NFL offseason. So they came to Mineral Wells, Texas for the PRCA rodeo, and I did the bullfight, and they filmed me for a few days. They had me brushing the horses and doing all kinds of stuff they do at rodeos.
“During the filming, I took snuff. I’ve been taking snuff since college. It made me take snuff and make me talk about the spittoon in my truck. Anyway, one of the ad agencies in New York – American Tobacco The company was looking for a spokesperson because they had never been on TV – they saw the NFL film and they called me and asked me to do a commercial for them. So the NFL brought me into television. It’s weird how that happened. of.”
While they appear to be very different sports, Garrison’s favorite event, wrestling, isn’t that far removed from football. The cowboy rides a horse, rides alongside a young bull, jumps off the horse, and essentially grabs the young bull and pins it down. Speed is important, so the fastest person to get all four feet off the ground wins.
“There are a lot of similarities between rodeo and football,” Garrison said. “Depending on the size of the bull, a wrestling match can take anywhere from three and a half to six seconds. A football match lasts much longer, but if you have an individual match in football, a regular match is three or four seconds. Bullfighting requires The energy and focus is the same as football.”
Garrison freely admits that rodeo is indeed his first love, and if it were a nationally televised sport that paid performers more money, he might have stayed with it full-time.
“I didn’t make a lot of money playing football, if you can make money, but it made more money playing football than rodeo,” Garrison said. “Yeah, that was my first love. I’ve been doing it longer than I’ve been playing football. Football is a lot longer. And I still do that. I still ride horses, I still do a little bit of team roping.”
He earned a reputation in the rodeo world as a driving wrestler, not just as an NFL star trying out rodeo.
“I know how competitive Walt is, and whenever there’s competition, he loves to do it,” said Neil Gay, founder of the Mesquite Championship Rodeo. “But playing football and wrestling were his two favorite sports. Of course, he made a lot more money playing football than he did wrestling. He was in wrestling because he loved it. He loved doing it and he loved it. This sport.” Good at. “
Garrison deserves credit for his character and ability as a football player, and even though it’s not his primary passion, he was so effective with the Cowboys. Simply put, Garrison was more successful on the gridiron than in rodeo.
Garrison, 6-foot, 205 pounds, is a versatile back who can block the ball as effectively as he can run it or catch it. In fact, he led the Cowboys in 1971 with 40 catches for 396 yards and one touchdown. In 1972, his only Pro Bowl selection, he rushed for 784 yards and seven touchdowns (averaging 4.7 yards per carry) while also completing 37 catches for 390 yards and three touchdowns.
As expected, he pointed to Dallas’ victory in Super Bowl VI, a 24-3 victory over Miami following the 1971 season, as the highlight of his NFL career.
“We were in the Super Bowl the year before last and Baltimore beat us with a field goal in the last seconds,” Garrison said. “I think it makes a big difference. I mean, getting to the Super Bowl is great, but our goal has been to get to the Super Bowl since I was a rookie and this is my fifth year. Well, we It definitely got there, but we should have a goal of winning the Super Bowl.
“So the next year our goal was to get to the Super Bowl and win the Super Bowl. It made people focus a little harder, a little longer. The first year, you were all caught up in the media attention, the glamor and the glitz, everywhere. It’s all people. But the next year, the week before the Super Bowl was serious. We didn’t want to get beat again, so I think we were more focused that year and Miami maybe wasn’t as focused. And the next year, I’m sure they were That’s because they went 17-0.”
As for his rodeo career, his peak in the sport may not sound like much to the rest of the world, but Garrison seems to be talking about his stellar performance at the 1973 Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo. than talking about a Super Bowl win.
“Every year Cheyenne is held the last week of July, so I rodeoed, went to the rodeo, and then went to the bullfight,” Garrison said. “I competed in two rounds and averaged third place. Five. It was a highlight of my rodeo career. I mean, I won a few rodeos, but going to what they call “the daddy of them all,” which is the Cheyenne frontier, for a few days, at the rodeo To compete against the best bullfighters, actually win some money, place in a few rounds and win something on average – I couldn’t be happier.”
Needless to say, he remained a cowboy at heart to the end—and a cowboy at that.