Walt Garrison, who played for Cowboys in college and NFL and was a real rodeo cowboy, dies at 79

FILE - Walt Garrison, running back for the Dallas Cowboys, is shown in this 1974 photo. Walt Garrison, who led the Big 8 in rushing as an Oklahoma State Cowboy, won a Super Bowl with the Dallas Cowboys, and in the NFL offseason competed as a rodeo cowboy, has died. He was 79. The NFL team said in a story posted on its website Thursday, Oct. 12, 2023, that Garrison died overnight. (AP Photo/File) (Uncredited, Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

DALLAS – Walt Garrison, who led the Big 8 in rushing for the Oklahoma State Cowboys, won a Super Bowl as a fullback with the Dallas Cowboys and competed as a rodeo cowboy, has died. He was 79.

The NFL team said in a story posted on its website Thursday that Garrison died overnight. It did not give a cause of death.

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A fifth-round draft choice out of Oklahoma State, the 6-foot, 205-pound Garrison played nine years in Dallas and retired in 1974 as the No. 3 rusher and No. 4 receiver in franchise history. He's still fourth on Dallas’ career list with 4.32 yards per carry and ninth with 3,491 yards rushing.

But it was Garrison’s rodeo career — which he called his first love — that made him the ultimate cowboy. He also was a longtime spokesman for U.S. Tobacco and its Skoal smokeless brand, with the catch-phrase “Just a pinch between your cheek and gum is all it takes” a staple of his 1970s television adds.

As a little-used backup during his rookie season, the Cowboys said he would go out after team meetings and compete in local rodeos as a steer wrestler, then get back to the hotel before 11 p.m. curfew.

“I wasn’t starting,” Garrison was quoted as saying. “I was returning punts and kicks and covering on the kamikaze squad, that’s all I was doing. And hell, you could get hurt worse on them than you can rodeoing. I didn’t think much about it, but the Cowboys did.”

Dallas coach Tom Landry soon prohibited the moonlighting during the season. But Garrison continued in the offseason.

“Coach Landry pointed out that there was a clause in my contract that if I got hurt doing another sport, that my contract would be null and void,” Garrison said. “And I said, ‘OK.’ I didn’t think rodeo was that dangerous.”

Garrison ran for 65 yards in a 16-13 loss to Johnny Unitas, Earl Morrall and the Baltimore Colts in the fifth Super Bowl, after the 1970 season, and ran for 74 yards the next yea in the Super Bowl, when Roger Staubach led Dallas to a 24-3 victory over Miami. In 1972, Garrison made the Pro Bowl after running for 784 yards and seven touchdowns and adding 390 yards and three more scores receiving.

Garrison did tear up his knee in 1975 while steer wrestling during an exhibition run at the U.S. Tobacco-sponsored national college rodeo in Bozeman, Montana, forcing him to retire from the NFL at the age of 30.

“There’s a lot of similarities between rodeo and football,” Garrison said, comparing the three or four seconds it takes to wrestle a steer to the ground to the typical length of an NFL play. “And the amount of energy and the amount of focus you need to have in bulldogging is the same as in football.”

Born in Denton, Texas, Garrison splayed football, basketball and baseball at Lewisville High School. He arrived at Oklahoma State as a linebacker, but soon moved to running back. He led the Big 8 in rushing in 1964, beating out Kansas' Gale Sayers, and had 924 yards and five touchdowns in 10 games in 1965.

He's a member of the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame and the Oklahoma State Athletics Hall of Honor. He was named to the Dallas Cowboys’ 25th anniversary team, the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame and the Texas Sports Hall of Fame.


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