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HomeGrown: Bill Bates, former Tennessee Vol and Dallas Cowboy safety

Known for tackling and slobberknocker hits, Bill Bates is a gridiron legend. He started and finished his football career wearing a star on his helmet.
Bill Bates was a star UT football player as well as a star on the Dallas Cowboys.

(WBIR - KNOX COUNTY) Known for fierce determination, tough tackling and slobberknocker hits, former Tennessee Vol and Dallas Cowboy great Bill Bates is a legend in the game of football.

"Wearing that star on my helmet, I dreamt about playing for the Dallas Cowboys," says Bill Bates.

And, it all began on Farragut High School's football field.

"A lot of dreams were put in motion here. There's some things that look different, but the bottom line, that football field is the same."

Bates started for the Admirals as a freshman and also excelled in basketball and track.

"Just had a great time learning how to be an athlete."

Bates helped take the Farragut Admirals to the state semifinals in 1978, but came up short.

"I can remember being on my hands and knees crying in the end zone right there."

He was highly recruited.

"Pretty much everybody in the SEC and throughout the country."

Interest included Alabama, but they had an important question for the East Tennessee native.

"What color does your blood run?" remembers Bates. "And I said, 'Well, it's not crimson!'"

Ultimately, his decision came down to Tennessee and UCLA.

"It was a great school. I could see myself going there. But, as I was flying back, I thought if I leave home some of the people in Knoxville will burn down my house."

Bates chose the home team and started the very first Tennessee game his freshman year.

"I think the coaches knew I was the freshman and I was the guy they could pick on. It was a tough time."

There are many highlights of Bates' college career including meeting his wife of 30 years, Denise, who cheered for Tennessee.

However, there's one highlight he'd like to forget.

"I still remember it like it was yesterday."

It was the Tennessee vs Georgia game September 1980. A freshman named Herschel Walker made quite the first impression.

"I looked into Herschel's eyes and saw this mean, bloody streak. And, next thing I know foot print here, foot print here. I roll over and see Herschel Walker score his first collegiate touchdown. You know, it changed my life in a positive way. After that, I made sure that I was going to work my butt off so I could be the best I could be and I would never let that happen again."

And he didn't. Bates signed as a free agent with the Dallas Cowboys.

"They said if there were 13 rounds in the draft, Bill Bates would've been the 13th round draft pick for the Dallas Cowboys. Woohoo, that's so great! My dream's going to come true. I signed my contract. Didn't read it, didn't need to read it. I just knew that my dream was going to come true."

However, training camp was a harsh reality.

"I find out there's 180 13th round draft picks for the Dallas Cowboys."

But Bates had a locker.

"My high school jersey is sitting there - basically my jersey from Farragut. And, I just got down on my hands and knees and prayed."

Bates dug in his heels and got to work. He made the Pro Bowl his second year and was a team leader on and off the field. Bates' 15-year NFL career includes three Superbowl rings, all with the Dallas Cowboys.

While he dreamed of coaching in the NFL, after a brief stint Bates called an audible and chose to coach his sons' high school team.

"This quarterback named Tim Tebow happened to be on the team and it was pretty awesome for me to coach my boys. They were on a pretty good football team there."

Family has always been Bates' center. He and his wife have five adult children, including triplets. Bates' only daughter was a Florida Gator, so he was thrilled when his youngest, Dillon, chose Rocky Top.

"They recruited him very hard and I'm fortunate that he chose home for us. And, I will never do that Gator chomp again!"

These days, he splits his time between Dallas, Jacksonville and Knoxville. Of course, on game day, he's front and center.

"I'm sitting down there, four seats from the field, and I'm talking to my wife, saying we were just out there. You were cheering and I was playing. Now our son is out there playing. We realize how blessed we are."

Bill Bates.

"Knoxville will always be home."

HomeGrown in Tennessee