Bobby Layne: The NFL Hall of Fame Great Who Could Have Starred in the Major League

Snow is snowing and the wind is blowing here in my Pittsburgh hometown. But despite how awful the weather may get, no one cares. We’re all about the Steelers, 24/7. With only a handful of days left until the Super Bowl, no Steelers’ story has gone uncovered.

The most over-analyzed player is quarterback Ben Roethlisberger: Is he really remorseful for his long history of inappropriate off-field behavior? While Big Ben has won over some fans, he’s still got a long way to go. A Hollywood Reporter poll found that Ben is three times as unpopular as any Super Bowl player.

For the most part, Steelers fans are more concerned about how Roethlisberger stacks up against his Green Bay opposite, Aaron Rodgers.

Having heard the Roethlisberger versus Rodgers debate non-stop for nearly two weeks, I’ve added another dimension to the argument. Here’s my version of the big question—Who would you rather have in the biggest game of the year: Rodgers, Roethlisberger or old-timer Bobby Layne?

As every Steelers, Detroit Lions and University of Texas football fan knows Layne, whose college and professional career spanned 18 years from 1944 to 1962 is, a four-time All-Southwest Conference pick, a six-time Pro Bowler, six time All-Pro selection who was chosen for the NFL’s 1950s All Decade team and elected into the Hall of Fame in 1967. In 1995, Sports Illustrated named Layne the “toughest quarterback who ever lived” and in 1999, the Sporting News placed him #52 on its list of the 100 greatest players ever.

Layne remains a Pittsburgh legend not only for his heroic efforts to lift the Steelers out of the doldrums after his abrupt and controversial trade from the Lions but also for his late night, non-stop partying. Compared to Layne, some consider Roethlisberger an altar boy.

His propensity for heavy drinking aside, Layne’s achievements are beyond question. On the University of Texas campus, undergraduates and alums still talk about the 1947 Cotton Bowl game against Missouri where Layne scored every point in the Longhorns’ 40-27 win. For the day, Layne had three running touchdowns, two passing, one receiving and kicked four extra points. (See You Tube video here).

In 1948 when #5 Texas‘ beat #6 Alabama 27-7 in the Sugar Bowl, Layne got the Longhorns off to a quick start with a 99-yard first quarter touchdown strike.

For all of Layne’s football skills, he could just as easily have been an outstanding major league pitcher. During Layne’s three seasons as a Longhorns’ starter, he posted a 39-7 record including two no hitters.

Layne had bids from the New York Giants, the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals to join their staffs. But in the late 1940s, the road to the bigs was long and arduous. Rookies started out in Class D where teams were located in small towns with substandard facilities. From there, players progressed slowly—next stop, Class C, then B, A, AA, AAA and finally for the best of them, the major leagues. By choosing football, Layne went straight to the Chicago Bears.

Without question, Layne would have contributed to those 1950s Giants, Red Sox and Cardinals teams. A quick look at their pitching shows little depth.

While we can only speculate about how effective Layne would have been on a major league mound, it’s safe to say that his competitiveness and no quit attitude would have made him a valuable addition to any team. Just as he did on the football field, Layne would somehow or another figured out a way to slip a fastball past opposing batters.

Getting back to the Super Bowl, I’m willing to go out on a limb. Please take into account that I’ve been barraged for two weeks on talk radio and local television about the Steelers’ greatness.

Nevertheless, I predict that the Steelers will score more points than most people think (many of them on defense) and the Packers will score fewer.

Final score: Steelers 31-Green Bay 17

2 Replies to “Bobby Layne: The NFL Hall of Fame Great Who Could Have Starred in the Major League”

  1. From Texas graduatate and Illinois resident JM, I received the following message: “Great article. Last night, checking through various Layne clips on youtube, I saw the Art Donovan quote. Something like: “…we had three guys laying on top of ‘em. And I said, ‘Bobby, must a been one hell of a night last night, we’re getting drunk just smelling your breath.’ And Bobby says, ‘I had a couple at half time…’”

  2. A good article.
    Just a thought: I doubt that as a collegiate senior, and expensive signee (which he would’ve been) that any team would have started him out with high school kids in Class D. He probably would’ve been sent to Double or Triple A.

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