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The Drought That Changed Bob Lilly’s Life

This story is from the Texas Sports Hall of Fame Podcast, hosted by Jackson Michael.

In the early 1950s, a severe drought hit Texas and lasted for several years. The drought stands as one of the worst in American history. Nearly 100,000 Texas ranches closed during the drought as ranchers sold off livestock.

Farmers left rural areas and moved to larger communities. During the drought, all except 10 of Texas’ 254 counties were declared federal drought disaster areas.

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The drought affected future NFL legend Bob Lilly in a big way. When Bob was in high school, the drought forced his family to move from Throckmorton, Texas to Pendleton, Oregon. The move also affected Lilly’s high school football career, as he transferred high schools.

Lilly recalled the drought, his father’s concerns, and the family’s move to Oregon.

“We did have a big drought starting in 1950 and lasted through 57,” Lilly said on the Texas Sports Hall of Fame Podcast. “So our farming business went downhill. It was wasn’t quite as bad at first but it got worse. So we were doing more work building pads or drilling rigs to drill for oil and building gravel roads for them to get their equipment up there. We were bulldozing mesquite trees, which were a real headache out there because they soak up all the water. The government had a program to eliminate them and that’s one thing we did. I think it was in about ’55, ’56. The cheap oil from the Middle East started coming in. It was cheaper than we could produce it.”

Lilly stressed the urgency of the matter. “We could foresee — Dad could — that we were going to starve to death.”

The Dallas Cowboys legend spoke about the move. “(My parents) got on the phone and called kinfolks all over. We had a V8 Studebaker four-door. We put what furniture we could get in there and we gave the rest of it away.”

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Bob continued playing high school football in Oregon on Saturdays. After games, he’d help his friends’ families on their farms. Bob credited a lot of his tremendous strength as a teenager to farm work that he did growing up in Texas and in Oregon.

Bob was offered football scholarships at Washington and Oregon. He was also recruited by Bear Bryant to play at Texas A&M. Bob Lilly eventually chose to attend TCU.

The Dallas Cowboys selected Bob Lilly as the first draft choice in franchise history in the 1961 NFL Draft.

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PHOTO: Bob Lilly at TCU

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