From fan to candidate, former Cowboys security Danny McCray is a ‘survivor’ – Dallas Cowboys Blog
FRISCO, Texas – Despite the beaches, clear waters and warm temperatures, traveling to Fiji was not on Danny McCray’s bucket list following his 2015 NFL retirement.
“I couldn’t find him on a map either,” said the former security, who played six seasons in the league with the Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears.
Yet for at least a week in March – perhaps much longer – McCray found himself in Fiji, an archipelago of more than 300 islands in the South Pacific. He wasn’t staying in a fancy resort, enjoying the best food and drink with his wife, Kiki, and maybe a few friends.
No, he was with 17 complete strangers, living off the land, foraging for food, doing his best to complete challenges while leaving all the comforts of his previous life in Texas.
The 33-year-old was a contender on CBS’s “Survivor” – now in his 41st season.
McCray, who last played in the NFL in 2016, is not allowed to release details of how he did it. His wife claims she doesn’t even know it.
“I’m going to watch with everyone,” she said. “One thing about Danny is like a walking safe.”
Only his immediate family knew he would be on the show, although former teammate Barry Church knew he was trying to compete because the show’s producers called him out for a reference.
“I got him excited all the time,” said Church, also a former security.
Growing up in Houston, McCray did not watch the early episodes of “Survivor”. It wasn’t until he retired and found himself with too much free time that he immersed himself in the show.
“I wasn’t in Netflix or anything yet and I’m scrolling and just started watching. I think it was season 15 or 16, ”he said. “I watched the first episode and then I watched it excessively all day and night. My wife came home from work and started to watch but fell asleep. I stayed awake until 5 a.m.
An idea was born. McCray wanted to be a candidate. He was never the outdoor enthusiast type. He wasn’t the type to go camping. But the competitive spirit that drove him to go from an undrafted free agent out of LSU in 2010 to a starter in the NFL left him intrigued.
“Funny story, while I was watching I told her, ‘I’m going on the show,’ and she kept saying no,” McCray said. “We got married in 2019 and she was like, ‘I’m ready. I want you to go do it.
McCray – who serves as Young cowboy academies manager, helping run clinics and camps – is the fourth former cowboy to appear on “Survivor”. Former quarterback Gary Hogeboom was on Season 11 in 2005; Hall of Fame coach Jimmy Johnson appeared in Season 21 in 2010; and Alan Ball, a former McCray teammate, was in season 35 in 2017.
McCray was originally scheduled to leave in 2020, but the coronavirus pandemic postponed the show, which was somewhat of a blessing, since Kiki was pregnant with the couple’s daughter, Zoe. He was there for the birth, helped with morning feeds and everything that comes with a newborn baby.
Before leaving, he recorded videos for his wife and daughter and asked his mother to send them to Kiki.
“For my first Mother’s Day, things like that,” Kiki said. “It was hard [having him away] but the videos helped. I was excited every time. He even made a video for Zoe and she watched it over and over and was really horny. I think it helped her remember him.
When it came time to leave for Fiji, he realized what he was going to miss.
“It was excitement but also like ‘Oh my God this is really about to happen,’” McCray said. “Until they called and told you that you were successful, my mindset was not, ‘I have to leave my family. No TV. No phone. No contact with the outside world. But then it all hits at the same time and there is a bit of anxiety.
When he found out he had been chosen, he began to prepare for the show as if he was preparing to play football. He was put through workouts by former Cowboys strength coach Mike Woicik. He ran three miles a day and lost about 20 pounds, maybe a little more.
“I ate a large bowl of oatmeal with bananas, pecans and brown sugar [for breakfast], “he said.” Then I was going to work and I wanted to see how my body would react by running on E for a whole day. It was a way to train my appetite. … My attitude changes when I’m ‘hungry. Hangry is a real term in my house. I wanted to avoid that on the show.
McCray bought a kit for learning how to make a fire, a must-have given the elements and the need to cook food and boil water.
And there was also some mental preparation. McCray was a leader with the Cowboys, serving as special teams captain. He led with his work more than with his voice, but he also learned to listen, which can be a plus on a show like “Survivor”.
It also helped that Kiki, whom he met at LSU, was a psychotherapist. She has her own practice.
“Football has helped him in different ways,” she said. “Not necessarily football, but more so the way he had to go to different locker rooms of different teams and be connected with his teammates, especially the special teams guys. You have guys who are thrown together for a few hours and days and weeks and months and are close and trust each other. They come from different backgrounds, from different backgrounds and you have to put everything aside and work as a team.
“It’s very similar to ‘Survivor’. The members of your tribe may be completely different, have strong and opposing beliefs, but at the end of the day you want the tribe to win the challenges. Being a good leader also means knowing when to support. Obviously, you need to be led by someone, but you also need to be prepared to accept suggestions from other tribesmen. For Danny, I’m sure he found that balance between support and support. I’m sure he did an amazing job.
Remember that her husband is a “walking safe” and kept the results to himself. Friends and family gathered for an evening vigil for the first episode.
Church and McCray co-host the Player’s Lounge podcast on the Cowboys website and are closest friends, but he hasn’t said anything.
“Every day, I see him, I try to make him understand: ‘What place did you have? Did you win any solo missions, ”Church said. “He kept giving me the political answer, ‘Oh, I can’t tell you.’ He holds it near the waistcoat.
McCray is interested to see how the series plays out and how his family and friends are reacting.
“As far as the grind goes, it’s one of those things. I mean, you take your clothes off and you have nothing, ”he said. “These are bare bones. The spectacle is real. You don’t get anything. No toothbrush. No toilets. No soap. Physically it’s hard and mentally it’s hard. You have to find a way to survive. It was super fun. It was everything I thought it would be.