February 9: Celebrating college football’s history

Oklahoma - Bud Wilkinson
Oklahoma’s Wilkinson with U.S. President John F. Kennedy

College Football Hall of Fame coach Bud Wilkinson hailed from Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he played college football for the University of Minnesota from 1934-1936. He helped establish the great Minnesota dynasty of the mid-1930’s leading the Golden Gophers to three straight national championships during his time as a quarterback there.

Despite his team’s success, Wilkinson wasn’t given a shot at the pros instead turning to a career in coaching not long after his graduation. He started with a four-year stint as an assistant at Syracuse (1938-1941) before returning to his alma mater for a single season in 1942. With World War II raging, Wilkinson joined the Navy and then served as an assistant for the Iowa Pre-Flight service team under former Missouri legend Don Faurot. Both Faurot and another assistant, Jim Tatum, at Iowa Pre-Flight would also be enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame.

Wilkinson then headed off to war where he served on the U.S.S. Enterprise and was out of coaching during the 1944 and 1945 seasons. At the conclusion of the war, Tatum was hired as the head coach at Oklahoma, and he brought Wilkinson along with him. Tatum lasted just one season in Norman before being lured away by Maryland, and the Sooners handed the reins to Wilkinson.

He would end up becoming a legend during his 17 seasons as the head coach of the Sooners from 1947-1963 leading the team to three national championships in 1950, 1955 and 1956. Despite the success, Wilkinson had even bigger ambitions, and he retired at the conclusion of the 1963 season and immediately jumped into the race for the U.S. Senate in 1964 on the Republican ticket. Ultimately, he lost to the Democratic candidate, and in 1965, he joined ABC Sports as a color commentator.

At the age of 62, Wilkinson made one more run as a head coach this time with the NFL’s St. Louis Cardinals. Wilkinson led the team to a 6-10 finish in 1978, and then was fired with three games remaining in the 1979 season with the Cardinals sitting at the bottom of the NFC East with a 3-10 record. He then returned to broadcasting following his stint in St. Louis.

Wilkinson was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1969. He passed away on this date in 1994 at the age of 77 years old.

Another 1969 inductee of the College Football Hall of Fame also passed away on this date in 1998.

A native of West Virginia, George Cafego was a star halfback from 1937-1939 at Tennessee under legendary head coach Robert Neyland who labeled his back ‘a practice bum’ who ‘couldn’t do anything right’ on a practice field. “But for two hours on a Saturday afternoon, he did everything an All-American is supposed to do,” Neyland added.

Cafego was actually an All-American twice for the Volunteers, first in his junior season in 1938 and again as a senior in 1939 despite missing four games. Nicknamed “Bad News,” Cafego was an all-purpose star for the Vols running, passing, returning kicks and even serving as the team’s punter.

Cafego was the No. 1 overall pick by the Chicago Cardinals in the 1940 NFL Draft, but he actually debuted that fall with the NFL’s Brooklyn Dodgers mostly struggling in his opportunities that fall to generate any offense. Like many other football players of that era, Uncle Sam eventually called, and Cafego’s pro career was interrupted by a stint in the Army. He returned to the Dodgers in 1943, but after another average performance in five games, he was dealt to the Washington Redskins for the remainder of the season. By the time the 1944 season rolled around, he was on the Boston Yanks roster where he finished off an underwhelming career following the 1945 season.

Cafego then entered the coaching profession where he would remain for nearly 40 years. He started as an assistant at Wyoming (1949-1952) before moving on to Arkansas (1953-1954) and then finally returning home to Tennessee. He then spent the next 30 years as an assistant at Tennessee serving on the staffs of Bowden Wyatt, James Allen McDonald, Doug Dickey, Bill Battle and Johnny Majors before retiring at the conclusion of the 1984 season. Cafego then briefly returned to coaching, this time in the NFL as an assistant for the Denver Broncos in 1986 and the Minnesota Vikings in 1987 before calling it quits for good at the age of 72.

Cafego passed away on this date in 1998 at the age of 82.




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