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Texas | Columns | "Letters from Central Texas"

Bobby Layne's
(alleged) curse

by Clay Coppedge

Bobby Layne did a lot of things that nobody else ever did, which is one good way to have people remember what you did. We remember Bobby Layne for the way he played football - and baseball - and for the play-hard, party-hard attitude that he maintained on and off the field.

Name another baseball player who sipped 10 beers over nine innings as a pain killer because he'd cut his foot badly on broken glass the night before and didn't want his coach to know. Now name someone who did that while pitching a no-hitter. Bobby Layne did that when he was a University of Texas baseball player.

Layne was also named to the All Southwest Conference first team eight times - four time for baseball and four for football, something no one else has ever done. (The NCAA made an exception to its rule against freshmen playing varsity ball during World War II, making Layne one of a handful of college athletes of the era with four years of eligibility. After the war, freshmen didn't play NCAA varsity sports again until 1972.)

Bobby Layne, circa 1950, 1960
Bobby Layne,
circa 1950, 1960

Wikipedia

Bobby Layne's legend started at Highland Park High School in Dallas, where he paired with classmate and teammate Doak Walker, who was so good the NCAA named its annual award for the best running back in college football for him. The two parted ways when it came time to play college ball. Walker went to SMU and Layne went to UT. Alums from both schools and a certain breed of sports historian like to speculate about the records and legacies the dynamic duo might have coauthored for either school if they had been in the same backfield for four years. We'll never know, of course, but we do know that in the 1946 Cotton Bowl, Layne ran, passed and kicked for every point in 40-27 rout of Missouri. Nobody else has ever done that either.

Layne began his pro career with the Chicago Bears and spent a year with the New York Bulldogs, who traded him to the Detroit Lions. He was the heart and soul of the Lions teams - both on and off the field - that won three NFL championships in six years. As teammate Yale Larry once said, "When Bobby said block, you blocked. When he said drink, you drank."

Layne was the first in a long line of playboy quarterbacks who got almost as much attention for what he did and said off the field as he did for his play. Caught in a prostitution sting, Layne pleaded "extreme entrapment." The judge asked him to explain what he meant and Layne said, "Well, your honor, if you set a trap for ol' Bobby, you're going to catch him every time."

The Lions traded Layne to the Pittsburgh Steelers early in the 1958 season, and he - allegedly - placed a curse on the Lions, vowing that they wouldn't win another championship for 50 years. They've exceeded that dire prediction by almost another decade. The year the curse was supposed to expire - 2008 - the Lions went 0-16. We don't know if Layne actually decided to hang half a hundred years of bad football voodoo on the Lions or not. He might have, but no one recorded it or noted it at the time. But as Detroit's football fortunes floundered, fans might have started looking for an explanation.

"It was a whisper once and then it was like, maybe this thing is really happening," Detroit columnist and best-selling author Mitch Albom told ESPN a few years ago. "And then it just became an explanation as to why we're going through this heartbreak."

But there may be hope for the Lions. They have a quarterback from Texas named Matt Stafford, who broke Bobby Layne's 55-year old team record for passing yardage. And here's the kicker. Stafford played for Layne's high school alma mater, Highland Park, and even grew up on the same street that Layne did. If there is a curse to break, Stafford might be the guy to do it.


Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas"
October 2, 2017 column



Clay Coppedge's "Letters from Central Texas"

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  • Saltpeter and Bat Bombs 9-3-17
  • Dangerous Al Jennings 8-17-17
  • The Earl of Excess 8-2-17
  • Bombing of Desdemona 7-16-17

    See more »



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