Legendary Longhorn and Atlanta Falcons linebacker Tommy Nobis passed away this morning at the age of 74.
Coming to Texas from Jefferson High School in San Antonio, Nobis’ 6’3”, 240-pound frame and shocking athleticism seemed ported in from 30 years in the future while his attitude and approach to the elegant violence of football were throwbacks to the sport’s leather-helmeted roots. In his day freshmen didn’t play with the varsity, so he had to wait until his sophomore season to start writing his name in Longhorn lore as a two-way starter at offensive line and linebacker on Darrell Royal’s first National Championship squad in 1963. Named by Coach Royal as “the finest two-way player I have ever seen,” Nobis made life easier for running backs wearing Burnt Orange and sheer hell on those in any other shade. He averaged nearly 20 tackles per game over his three-year career while playing both ways. Despite a knee injury in his senior season, he made one of the great defensive plays in Longhorn history when he dumped Alabama’s Joe Namath on 4th and goal in Texas’ 21-17 Orange Bowl victory. Following that game would take home the Knute Rockne Award, the Outland Trophy for best interior lineman and the Maxwell Award as college football’s best player.
The Atlanta Falcons selected Nobis first overall in the 1966 NFL Draft, and it was only that franchise’s continued moribundity that kept him from landing in the NFL Hall of Fame following a pro career that saw him selected to five Pro Bowls, two All-Pro berths and the 1960s’ All-Decade Team. Fortunately Longhorn Nation wouldn’t stint in its recognition of his greatness, as wearing the number 60 jersey became a badge of honor for a procession of outstanding Texas linebackers before the program retired the number in his honor in 2008.
As longtime BC readers can probably guess…this one hits pretty close to home. My own in-pads football career stalled out in Junior High and I shifted to the sandlot, but when I arrived at Texas I knew that before my first home game I wanted to go attired as the baddest defender who ever strapped them on for the Longhorns. Even in the days before Google (or hell, before Alta Vista) it didn’t take much checking around to figure out who that was. I marched right into Rooster Andrews’ on Guadalupe and purchased myself a #60 jersey, and wore it to every Longhorn game I attended in school as well as in countless Sunday sandlot scraps from LBJ to Austin High to McCallum to a couple of memorable Mud Bowls on the old Clark Field outside of Jester. I was never that big and never that fast, but never shied from a big hit and always wanted to do what I could to do the legacy of #60 proud whether it was on a field or on the Longhorn interwebs. My own success may be in doubt, but Tommy Nobis’ never was.
Rest easy, Mr. Nobis – we will not see your like again.