Bob Lilly was born in Throckmorton, Texas, and moved with his family to Pendleton, Oregon, for his senior year in high school where he was an Oregon All-Stater in football and basketball. Bob returned to Ft. Worth, Texas, to attend Texas Christian University on a football scholarship.
Lilly was a two-time All-South West Conference pick and a consensus All-America choice at Texas Christian before the Dallas Cowboys’ selected him as their first-ever draft choice in 1961.
For the next 14 seasons, his play on defense was so outstanding that he became popularly known as “Mr. Cowboy.” Bob starred as a defensive end in 1961 but then moved to a defensive tackle spot in his third season with even more sensational results. As a tackle, Lilly was a first-team All-NFL choice every year from 1964 through 1969, then again in 1971, and 1972. The only years he missed first-team honors was his final two seasons in the league and in 1970 when he was a second-team choice.
Equally effective as both a pass rusher and a rushing defender, Lilly continually battled double-team and even triple-team opposition but he rarely was delayed in his pursuit of the ball carrier. Quick, agile and coordinated, he even scored four touchdowns in his career. One came on a 17-yard interception return in 1964 while the other three came on fumble recoveries. Altogether, he returned 18 fumbles for 109 yards.
Extremely durable, Bob played in 196 consecutive regular-season games. His only career “miss” came in the 1973 championship game with Minnesota, when a leg injury put him on the bench. Post-season play became a way of life for the 6-5, 260-pound Olney, Texas, native. The Cowboys played in seven NFL/NFC title contests in an eight-year period from 1966 through 1973 and also in Super Bowls V and VI. Bob also was selected to play in 11 Pro Bowls.
Lilly was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1980, his first year of eligibility, and was the first player who spent his entire career with the Cowboys to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Sporting News named him a member of the All-Century NFL Team and “the greatest defensive tackle in NFL history”. Tom Landry said of Lilly: “As I’ve said before, another Lilly won’t come along in my time. We’re observing a man who will become a legend”. This comment is from the 1972 Street and Smith’s Pro Football Yearbook. He also said that “Nobody is better than Lilly”. He is a member of the National Football League 1960s All-Decade Team and National Football League 1970s All-Decade Team.
After his retirement from pro football, Bob moved to Waco, Texas, where he successfully operated a business until 1982. After he sold his business, he launched his landscape photography career. In 1983 Bob co-authored a book called Reflections with sportswriter Sam Blair. Bob lived in Las Cruces, New Mexico, from 1984 to 1989, where he opened a photo art gallery, complete with both color and black & white darkrooms. In 1989 Bob moved back to Texas, settling in Graham, two hours west of Dallas.
Bob’s interest in photography began when he was selected to the Kodak Coaches’ All-American Team in 1961 and was given a 35 mm camera plus a year’s supply of film. He has experience using various cameras, including Leica, Nikon, Hasselblad, Mamiya, Canon, and 4 x 5 field cameras. His latest interest, sparked by the need to retouch old pictures, has taken him into the computer world of digital imaging. His lab now includes the latest in digital imaging equipment, such as Macintosh computers, hi resolution scanners and printers.
In 1999, Lilly was ranked number 10 on The Sporting News’ list of the 100 Greatest Football Players, the highest-ranking defensive lineman and the highest-ranking Cowboy. The only two other defensive players ahead of him were Dick Butkus and Lawrence Taylor. Sports Illustrated named him one of the ten most revolutionary defensive players.
He is the only Dallas Cowboy to wear the #74, and is the only number unofficially retired by the team.