Walt Garrison, the Cowboys’ cowboy, has died at 79. The gritty, hard-nosed, tough running back who bridged the gap between Don Perkins and Tony Dorsett and played well in both of the Cowboys’ first Super Bowls; the “aw, shucks” friendly and funny rodeo star who slipped out of the Cowboys’ hotel after team meetings the night before home games to wrestle steers in Mansfield; the Skoal brother who made “just a pinch between your cheek and gum” part of our cultural vernacular in the 1970s; the Denton native who played football as a Cowboy at Oklahoma State and in Dallas, and lived as one off the field — passed away last night. Garrison is one of those “characters” who captured the hearts of football fans and the curiosity of everyone else, and helped make those Cowboys “America’s Team.”

The two times I was lucky enough to encounter Walt personally — once on the sidelines at a Cowboys game in 2003 and once in a Texas Stadium suite six years later — he was everything you want your childhood heroes to be. Down to earth. Friendly. Genuinely pleased to meet you. Really dry and witty sense of humor.

The same guy who answered the reporter’s question, “Did you ever see Tom Landry smile?” with “No. But I was only there nine years.”