Ralph Neely, former Dallas Cowboys great and Farmington High graduate, dies at 78

Steven Bortstein
Farmington Daily Times
  • Neely was drafted by both the AFL's Houston Oilers and NFL's Baltimore Colts in 1965
  • Neely was inducted into the Farmington High School Hall of Fame and New Mexico Sports Hall of Fame
  • Neely played alongside Cowboys greats like Roger Staubach, Randy White and Dan Reeves

FARMINGTON — Longtime Dallas Cowboys great and Farmington High School graduate Ralph Neely passed away this week at the age of 78 in his home near Dallas, Texas.

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 the Scorpions 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, a 13-year Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman and a Farmington High School graduate, passed away 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-inches tall 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. Neely was drafted 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 Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach as well as Hall of Fame defensive tackles Bob Lilly and Randy White.

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

"(Reeves) and my brother were really good friends for years," Richard said. 

Neely was named to the Pro Bowl in 1967 and 1968 and was named to the 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.

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." 

Ralph Neely, a 1961 graduate of Farmington High School who played 13 seasons for the Dallas Cowboys and won Super Bowls VI and XII, speaks to the 2016 FHS student body while members of the FHS football team and principal Timothy Kienitz look on.

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 SBortstein@Gannett.com, via Twitter @DTSBortstein or on the phone at (505) 635-2680.