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Know Your KU History: John Zook

By now you should know the names and accomplishments of Bobby Douglass, John Hadl, Nolan Cromwell, Willie Pless, and some others from KU football’s illustrious past. Today we feature defensive end John Zook.

Many of the field level walls in NFL stadiums have fan or fan club created banners with gimmicky and/or pun ladled phrases on them. Sometimes they promote a charity that a certain player endorses (The Will to Succeed, Will Shields’ Foundation comes to mind), and sometimes these banners proclaim a section of the stadium to be devoted to a certain player. Former Kansas defensive standout John Zook had such a cheering section when he played for the Altlanta Falcons. It was called "The Happy Zookers" and it’s just about the greatest fan-club name ever created.

As for his time donning the famed crimson and blue, Zook enjoyed much success on the defensive side of the football. As a defensive end, Zook finished his career at KU with 202 tackles, an unofficial fourth on the all-time list as far as defensive linemen go. He was an honorable mention All-American during his junior campaign of 1967, but the following year is where the light shone brightest on Zook and the Jayhawks.

The 1968 season was arguably the best in school history. It was the last time KU won the conference and it culminated in the historic 1969 Orange Bowl game. We all know that KU had a twelfth man on the field in Penn State’s failed attempt to win the game in the waning seconds. John Zook was not that player (it was Rick Abernethy) but he played a key role in the ensuing second attempt at two points for the Nittany Lions. Zook played well in that game but will probably be best known to KU fans as the man who almost tackled PSU running back Bob Campbell. Zook had his arms wrapped around Campbell, but it was too late. Campbell had crossed the line and Penn State won the game. No one is blaming Zook, of course, but if you asked him, I bet that would be near the top of the list of tackles that he wished he had an extra yard or two in which to work. With his history of making tackles, perhaps the extra yard gained on the penalty would have been enough for Zook to stop Campbell. We’ll never know.

The Larned (KS) High School graduate would later be named a first team All-America performer and go on to be drafted in the fourth round (99th overall pick) by the Los Angles Rams in 1969. He never played for Los Angeles, and instead, a trade sent him to Atlanta where he spent seven seasons, making one Pro Bowl in 1973. After being a fan favorite in Atlanta, he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals where he played out the rest of his career until he retired in 1979. He tallied up four interceptions and one fumble return for a touchdown in his 12 NFL seasons.