Charlie Waters

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Read about former Charlie Waters’ transformation from star wide receiver at Clemson to All-Pro safety for the Dallas Cowboys.

To this day, Charlie Waters remains one of the most respected players in Cowboys’ history. A standout quarterback in high school and wide receiver in college, Charlie was drafted by the Cowboys to play defense.

A two-time Super Bowl winner with the Cowboys, Waters never experienced a losing season in Dallas and missed the playoffs only once during his twelve-year career.

Charlie was never the fastest or strongest athlete at his position, but he was smart and a good athlete.

Although Waters had played offense throughout high school and college, he went on to become one of the greatest safeties in Dallas Cowboys history.

Early life

Charlie Tutan Waters was born in Miami, Florida on September 10, 1948. After the Waters family moved to North Augusta, South Carolina where his father worked as a crane operator, Charlie fell in love with the game of baseball along with his three brothers.

charlie waters

But it was the football players who were getting the girls, so Charlie Waters picked up the game in hopes of dating cheerleaders.

A baseball and football star at North Augusta High School, Waters began his high school football career as a split end.

But when coaches told him he would have a better chance at a college scholarship if he switched to quarterback, Charlie made the position move.

Impressed with Waters’ play in the 1965 Shrine Bowl, Clemson head coach Frank Howard signed the quarterback to a scholarship.

When Billy Ammons suffered a knee injury in spring practice during Waters’ junior season, Charlie took over as the starting quarterback for the Tigers.

After the team sputtered to an 0-3-1 start with Waters under center, Ammons was back in as the signal caller and Charlie moved to split end.

During Waters’ senior season he was named All-ACC finishing his career with 68 receptions for 1,196 yards.  

Charlie finds a home on defense

Scouts for the Dallas Cowboys liked Waters skill-set, but it wasn’t for the reasons Charlie anticipated.

On the day of the 1970 NFL draft, the Green Bay Packers phoned Waters and told him they would be selecting him in the third round. Charlie was excited about the opportunity to catch passes from the legendary Bart Starr.

Charlie Waters
Number: 41
Position: Strong Safety
Personal Information
Date of Birth: September 10, 1948
Place of Birth: Miami, FL
Career Information
College: Clemson
Drafted: 1970 - Round: 3 - Pick: 66
Career History
  • Dallas Cowboys (1970—81)
Career Highlights
  • Pro Bowl (3x) (1976—78)
Career Statistics
  Interceptions: 41
  Interception yards: 584
  Touchdowns: 2

However, the Cowboys were picking two spots ahead of the Packers and had other plans for the Clemson star.  

When Charlie received a second call and it was Cowboys’ vice president of player personnel Gil Brandt on the other end of the line, he asked Charlie, “Can you backpedal?” Waters said “Sure!”, and hung up the phone confused by the strange question.

Charlie Waters hadn’t made a tackle since high school, but head coach Tom Landry had a successful track record of moving players to the other side of the ball.  

The Cowboys intended to groom Charlie to replace former All-Pro strong safety Cornell Green, but the transition wasn’t easy for the South Carolina native.

So much so that Dallas released him early in his rookie season.  

Later that same day, the Cowboys called Waters back after realizing he had a roster exemption from playing in a college all-star game. 

Realizing his spot on the team was in jeopardy, Charlie became a more aggressive player.

His new-found energy and dedication earned him a spot on the All-Rookie Team—starting six games and snagging five interceptions when starting free safety Cliff Harris left the team to fulfill his military duty.

The following season, Waters was moved to defensive back. He spent the next four seasons struggling at the position while the boos from the hometown fans grew louder.

In 1975, Waters finally secured a spot as the starting strong safety. The following season Charlie was named to his first of three consecutive Pro Bowls.

A chronic knee injury forced Charlie Waters to miss the entire 1979 season. He returned in 1980 to play two more seasons before retiring at the age of 33 following the Cowboys’ 1981 NFC Championship game loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

Waters ended his career with 41 interceptions, good for third-most in franchise history.

Coach Waters

With his days as a player over, Charlie took a job with CBS Sports as an NFL analyst. He later tried his hand at private business in Dallas before returning to the sidelines in 1988 as special teams coach for his old pal Dan Reeves in Denver.

After Reeves was fired and replaced with Wade Phillips at the end of the 1992 season, Charlie took over as the team’s defensive coordinator. When the Broncos’ defense slumped to the NFL’s worst in 1993, Waters resigned under pressure. 

Following his ugly departure from Denver, Charlie accepted the role of defensive coordinator at the University of Oregon where he brought an NFL sophistication to the Eugene campus.

To the surprise of many, the former NFL assistant enjoyed coaching in college and his family loved living in Oregon.

But when his 17-year-old son Cody died unexpectedly in his sleep in early December 1995, Charlie decided he had already spent too much time away from his family an an NFL and college assistant coach and decided it was time to leave coaching for good.

Several weeks later, Charlie Waters coached his last game at Oregon in the 1996 Cotton Bowl loss to Colorado.

Alligator shoes

The players on the Cowboys had a saying: “Gil Brandt knew we loved the game so much that we would play for nothing… and that’s what he paid us, nothing.”

In the 1970s, only the first-round picks had agents. Gil Brandt would be dealing directly with Charlie, and he was a tough negotiator. 

Gil had made his way to the Clemson campus in an attempt to sign the team’s third-round pick. and the offer on the table was $12,000.

Brandt was wearing his customary Armani suit with a beautiful pair of alligator tassel shoes which caught Charlie’s eye. After complimenting Gil on his suit and shoes, the two parted ways without reaching an agreement.

Four days later, Charlie received a box from Dallas. Inside… was a pair of those alligator shoes Gil had been wearing during his visit to Charlie’s fraternity house.

Fast-forward three months later, and Charlie Waters had yet to settle on a contract. With the reporting date approaching, Brandt sweetened the deal with a $3,000 signing bonus.

The two agreed over the phone and Gil overnighted the contract to Charlie.

Four days later, Charlie received his signing bonus check along with an invoice for the alligator shoes he thought had been a gift. The cost of the shoes had been deducted from his bonus.

Welcome to professional football son. 

Return to Dallas

Charlie moved his family back to Dallas in 1996 and began working for Energy Transfer Technologies in the electricity and natural-gas delivery business with his old secondary mate Cliff Harris.

In 2006, Charlie Waters returned to the NFL to do color commentary for the Dallas Cowboys Radio Network alongside longtime play-by-play announcer Brad Sham. Waters lasted one season on the job before announcing he was leaving due to his busy schedule outside of football.

Charlie also travels around the country giving motivational speeches with old friend Cliff Harris.

In 2001, Waters was a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame but was not elected.

There are many who feel Charlie deserves to be in the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor. Personally, I’m on the fence about adding Waters to the RoH.

Tex Schramm wanted the RoH to be very exclusive, and I’m not sure if Charlie did enough during his ten-year career to earn a spot in AT&T Stadium.

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