As a wide-eyed kid lucky enough to hitch a ride to Dallas Cowboys games at the Cotton Bowl and later Texas Stadium atop dad's shoulders, one of the highlights of any given Sunday was the good guy wearing the black hat. You could hear his piercing whistle -- a product of a missing front tooth and years of practice -- all over the stadium. And when Wilford Jones came bounding down our aisle, football instantly became a sideshow. Back then he was Whistlin' Ray, and, though I knew it was coming, I never got tired of reaching out to shake his hand only to be doused with a spurt of water from the faucet on his "RAY" bowler hat.
Crazy Ray died Saturday in Irving. Age: 76. Spirit: 6. His rags-to-only-slightly-better-rags story began as a balloon artist generating a couple bucks and a million smiles working for SMU, the Mavericks, Rangers and Dallas Blackhawks, the old hockey team around these parts. For decades he was the unofficial mascot of the Cowboys, getting face time on national TV games, accompanying the team to its eight Super Bowls and missing only three games in 43 seasons.
He was funny, innovative, friendly and human. Everything, in other words, that this embarrassing ass-whip who wears a foam head and routinely, ridiculously waves off opponents' obviously good field goals isn't.
But Ray's fourth quarter wasn't pretty. Diabetes took a leg. Multiple heart attacks stole his vision and his energy. And late last year, thieves even swiped his car. (Pack some sun block for your eternal destination, punks, you're going to need it.) Unable to attend games last year, the only thing that perked Ray's interest was hanging on long enough to attend the Cowboys' first game in the new Arlington stadium in 2009.
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Ray won't be there. But his name should be. Alongside the franchise's other icons -- in the Ring of Honor. Thanks for being crazy. Now rest in peace. --Richie Whitt