Kyle Rote was one of the best wide receivers in New York Giants’ history. In fact, when he retired after the 1961 season he led the team in career pass receptions, receiving yardage and touchdown catches, was fifth in career scoring and was four-time Pro Bowl choice.
But that’s not the only reason I propose him as a Hall-of-Fame candidate. This is: In addition to his accomplishments as a player, he made indelible history off the field.
And, yes, it’s history that changed the game.
That’s because Rote was one of the founders and the first president of the NFL Players Association, a union that was created in the 1950s and that today is behind the collective-bargaining agreements that protect and promote players with free agency, minimum salaries and retirement benefits.
He was also the Giants’ team representative for years.
Granted, Rote wasn’t alone. Then-Cleveland GM Crieghton Miller was behind the drive to start a union, using Browns’ players as a nucleus before contacting others across the league to join the new association. It wasn’t easy, with the NFLPA snubbed by owners before the Supreme Court in 1957 declared the league subject to anti-trust laws (Radovich vs. NFL) in a decision that was more than an important step.
It was a giant leap that changed the face of the NFL … and maybe it happens without Kyle Rote, I don't know. What I do know is this: It didn’t happen without him.
And so that is part of his legacy.
But so is this: Kyle Rote was one of the most important … and most talented … members of a Giants’ team that went to four NFL title games during his tenure, including three in four years. He was also one of its most popular, named the team captain in 10 of his 11 years with the Giants.
“To me,” said son Kyle Jr., one of the United States’ first soccer stars, “the most remarkable thing about him from a football standpoint was that he had fourteen teammates who named their sons after him.”
Rote had everything. He was talented, an All-American running back at SMU who was a Heisman Trophy runner-up, the first overall pick of the 1951 NFL draft and the cover photo story in Life magazine. His greatest moment, however, occurred in 1949 when he was a junior tailback and SMU played then No.1-ranked Notre Dame, a team that was 35-0-2 in its previous 37 starts.
Rote ran for 115 yards, threw for 146 and scored all three SMU touchdowns in a 27-20 loss.
So impressed were the Irish that 25 years later they made him an honorary member of their championship team, while the Texas Sportswriters Association voted Rote’s performance the finest by any Texas athlete in the first half-century.
But Rote was more than accomplished. He was versatile, switching from running back to wide receiver after a knee injury in his first Giants' training camp forced him to change positions. The results speak for themselves.
“He was a great receiver without having that much speed anymore,” former Giants’ owner Wellington Mara told the New York Times. “But he made some great moves on people. We had many pictures of him going one way and the defender the other way.”
That’s not all. He was smart, too. In fact, he was so knowledgeable that the Giants once sent him – during his playing days -- on the road to scout a game between Chicago and Green Bay.
“Kyle Rote was one of the smartest football men of that era,” Hall-of-Fame quarterback Y.A. Tittle said. “Everybody liked Kyle Rote. Fans like him. Sportswriters liked him. Players liked him. He was just a good person and an outstanding football player.”
After he retired, Rote became a successful and popular sportscaster – again breaking ground by doing what is believed to be the first locker-room report by an athlete, a show he did from Yankee Stadium.
But it’s his football achievements that make him such an attractive Hall-of-Fame candidate. Kyle Rote simply was a marvelous talent who left an impression on the NFL as a player and as a player rep.
He’s a member of the Cotton Bowl Hall of Fame, the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, the College Football Hall of Fame, the Texas Pro Football Hall of Fame, the San Antonio Hall of Fame, the Texas High School Hall of Fame, the Texas High School Basketball Hall of Fame and is a member of the Southwest Conference All-Time Team and a wide receiver on the Giants’ 75th anniversary team.
It’s time the Pro Football Hall of Fame gets in line and gives Kyle Rote what he deserves – a chance to reach Canton … and not because he was a marvelous football player. But because he was an unforgettable one.
Follow on Twitter clarkjudge@TOF