Bill Bates doesn’t remember the date or even the opponent, but he vividly recalls being stunned as he came to the Cowboys’ sideline and saw blood trickling out of the gash on special teams coach Joe Avezzano’s forehead.
Avezzano brushed it off when Bates asked what happened, saying he’d tell the special teams captain about it after the game. Avezzano got bandaged up and coached the rest of the game.
“Don’t worry about it, but you head-butted me,” Avezzano told Bates in the locker room later, explaining that it happened while celebrating a big play and adding that he didn’t want Bates to be distracted by having injured his coach.
Bates told that story after Avezzano’s sudden death Thursday because he thought it epitomized what made Coach Joe special. Players simply loved playing for Avezzano, who won three Super Bowl rings during his 13-year tenure as the Cowboys’ special teams coach.
It’s one thing to motivate Bates, who was established as one of the NFL’s elite special teams players before spending his last eight seasons playing for Avezzano, to cover punts and kickoffs and do other dirty-work tasks on special teams. Avezzano was such a master motivator that key starters, such as safety Darren Woodson and linebacker Ken Norton Jr., lobbied to stay on special teams.
“Joe had that ability to have everyone’s attention,” Bates said. “Not only have their attention, but they wanted to play for him, wanted to succeed for him, wanted to give their best for the coach.
“He was able to be an old-school coach, kick your ass, cuss at you. Then next time you saw him, he’d hug your neck. You knew he cared about you and wanted to get the best out of you. … He had the ability to motivate players to want to play for him and want to make his special teams the best in the league.”