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1950’s Rookies

Football players whose careers began in the 1950s 

Yale Lary (HOF) – Yale is often mentioned as one of the greatest defensive backs to put on shoulder pads. He was also one of the best punters ever, even when matched up against Ray Guy. His Detroit Lions won three championships in the 1950s. Like Ted Williams, Yale interrupted his career to serve in the Korean War.

Frank Gifford (HOF) – Frank played offense and defense even when the rules didn’t require it, and he played alongside Tom Landry in the Giants secondary early in his career. Frank states that a high school guidance counselor encouraged him to play football, otherwise he likely would have spent his life working in the oil field. We’re glad he wound up on the proper field and broadcast booth instead.

Johnny Lattner – Johnny won the 1953 Heisman Trophy, and is one of only two two-time Maxwell Award winners. He had only one pro season, earning a trip to the Pro Bowl after scoring seven touchdowns for the Pittsburgh Steelers. That off-season, he tore knee ligaments in an Army exhibition football game. In 1954, that meant the end of your career.

Cotton Davidson – Cotton is football’s Wally Pipp and then some. The 1954 first-round draft choice was to be the only quarterback in Baltimore’s 1955 training camp, but a draft notice showed up in Cotton’s mailbox instead. The Colts responded by drafting George Shaw and signing a guy named Unitas. Cotton moved on to the Dallas Texas, but despite being MVP of the 1961 AFL All-Star Game, Cotton was traded to the Raiders to make room for Hank Stram’s college protegee, a guy named Len Dawson. Cotton and Tom Flores platooned as the Raiders quarterback for several years, until Cotton’s teammate injured Cotton during training camp, putting him out for the season. The Raiders compensated by trading Tom Flores for a guy named Dayrle Lamonica, who led the Raiders to the Super Bowl that year.

Bob Skoronski – Bob protected Bart Starr’s blindside throughout Vince Lombardi’s championship run, and he helped both Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor achieve MVP honors as ground gainers. As offensive captain, Bob stood at the coin toss of Super Bowl 1.

Bart Starr (HOF) – Bart needs no introduction. He’s the only quarterback to win five NFL championships, and the only one to win three consecutively. He worked hard as a seventeenth-round draft choice to make the Packers, and his impeccable work ethic made him the perfect quarterback for Coach Lombardi.

Paul Hornung (HOF) – Paul’s 176 points in 1960 was a record that stood over 45 years – longer than both Babe Ruth’s and Roger Maris’ single-season home run records. He led the NFL in scoring for three consecutive years, and also led the league in rushing touchdowns and yards per carry.

Sonny Jurgensen (HOF) – Sonny led the NFL in passing yardage five times, in completions four times, passing touchdowns twice, and completion percentage twice. Yet his college head coach recommended him as* a defensive back to pro scouts. Ace Parker turned the Eagles on to Sonny’s passing skills, and the road to Canton, Ohio began. (Bonus points if you knew Sonny attended Duke University.)

Jim Taylor (HOF) – Jim’s “hit first” mentality gave him a reputation, but there really was a method to the madness as he describes in The Game Before the Money. Jim won the 1962 MVP award, and is the only man to post a rushing title over Jim Brown.

Don Maynard (HOF) – Don originally attended Rice, drawn by his desire to study petroleum engineering. He transferred to Texas Western (UTEP) and was drafted by the New York Giants. A bit of trivia about the man who retired as pro football’s all-time leading receiver: he returned kicks in the 1958 NFL Championship (“The Greatest Game Ever Played”), and tricked out cars with air conditioning units and alternative fuel engines decades before Detroit engineers.

* HOF denotes Pro Football Hall of Fame Inductee