Jim Saccomano takes readers on a trip into football’s history in Texas, where Doak Walker is amongst the best to ever play.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — With the Denver Broncos playing our last two preseason games vs. Texas teams, first Houston and then closing out at Dallas Thursday night, it got me to thinking about all the Pro Football Hall of Famers from the Lone Star state.
Texas has given birth to 23 members of the Hall of Fame, the fourth highest total among states. California, Pennsylvania and Ohio are the first three on that list.
I had a chance to sit down and visit before practice with two of the NFL’s greatest referees of all-time, Red Cashion and Jim Tunney, and I read the list to them.
I asked who they thought the greatest of the greats were, and Red said, “Yes.” That’s all. He and Jim agreed it was impossible to choose, with the criteria becoming so subjective as the merits of each is discussed.
The 23 native Texans in the Hall are (no explanations of positions given by me, as I suspect that mostly great pro football fans are reading this):
Sammy Baugh, Sweetwater
Raymond Berry, Paris
Earl Campbell, Tyler
Eric Dickerson, Sealy
Darrell Green, Houston
Joe Greene, Fort Worth
Forrest Gregg, Sulphur Springs
Ken Houston, Fort Worth
Tom Landry, Mission
Dick (Night Train) Lane, Austin
Yale Lary, Fort Worth
Bobby Layne, Dallas
Bob Lilly, Throckmorton
Don Maynard, Colorado City
John Randle, Hearne
Mike Singletary, Houston
Charley Taylor, Grand Prairie
Emmitt Thomas, Angleton
Thurman Thomas, Sugar Land
Y.A. Tittle, Marshall
Clyde (Bulldog) Turner, Sweetwater
Gene Upshaw, Robstown
Doak Walker, Dallas
When two guys the likes of Red and Jim cannot separate the greatest, that is quite a list.
But they did talk about two guys in particular: Baugh, the first alphabetically, and Walker, the last alphabetically.
“Sammy Baugh pretty much invented the modern passing game,” Red said, with Jim Tunney adding that “he set the first great records and also was a tremendous safety and punter.”
Doak Walker, of course, is revered as just this side of magic.
“I can remember that he stayed at our house for some reason when he made his recruiting visit to Texas A&M,” Red said, “and he seemed so small. But he was one of the greatest players who ever lived.”
Jim Tunney added that “Walker played at Highland Park High School in Dallas as the halfback with Bobby Layne at quarterback. Can you imagine what kind of backfield that high school had!”
Walker was one of just two consensus three-time All-Americans at halfback in college history (that is, he made first team on every All-American team selected by every organization during his college career).
Doak was an assistant in coaching and player personnel for the Denver Broncos in 1966, and one of his tasks was to scout the only other consensus three-time All-American halfback—he scouted and recommended Floyd Little, and of course, in the annals of Hall of Fame players and great Broncos, the rest is history.
Both Red and Jim have spent a week in Denver, watching practice and more or less mentoring young officials who have worked the Broncos-Texans practice, and both men were in awe of the Hall of Famers from Texas.
One could make a case for anyone on that list as the best, but I thought the electric Walker was worthy of special citation, especially considering his Bronco/Floyd Little ties.
Award-winning Sports Illustrated writer Rick Reilly said of Walker shortly before Doak’s death:” . . . He was as golden as golden gets. He had . . . A jaw as square as a deck of cards and a mop of brown hair that made girls bite their necklaces. He was so shifty you could not tackle him in a phone booth, yet so humble that he wrote the Associates Press a thank you note for naming him All-American. . . . “
Doak, who made Steamboat Springs his retirement home, appeared on 47 magazine covers while at SMU, including Life, Look and Collier’s.
He won the Heisman Trophy in 1948 and for years allowed a now-defunct Denver restaurant, Emerson Street East, to display it in the lobby.
His impact on SMU football and football in the Dallas area led to the Cotton Bowl being referred to as “The House that Doak Built.”
Jim Tunney added that for years John David Crow, the great running back, would come out to Doak’s Colorado golf tournament and visit with Walker and his wife, Skeeter. Crow, himself a Heisman Trophy winner at Texas A&M, was about as tough a back as any state ever produced, but he was a Louisiana native—another direction, another column.
That is a great list of some of the most significant players in the entire annals of football, and it was a pleasure to casually chat about those guys with two of the greatest referees in pro football history.
Thanks to Red Cashion and Jim Tunney for sharing some moments, and happy trails to both until next time.