clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Know Your KU History: Otto Schnellbacher

With football and basketball season converging, what better athlete to profile than Otto Schnellbacher who was a star on the gridiron and the basketball court.

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

The "Double Threat from Sublette" was quite the athlete. By many accounts, Otto Schnellbacher was one of the best two sports athletes of his era and he played an awful lot of games in a short time frame.

He came to the University of Kansas in 1942 from Sublette, Kansas on a basketball scholarship offered by the legendary coach of the Jayhawks, Forrest C. "Phog" Allen. Schnellbacher played the 1942-43 season for KU, averaged 10.9 points per game, was named to the first team All-Big 6, and promptly left KU to serve America in World War Two.

He returned to KU in 1946 and was awarded three more years of eligibility on the basketball court. He played all three years, averaged 11 points per game during that stretch and added three more All-Big 6 credentials to his name, making him one of only three KU players to earn the distinction of being All-Conference four times (bonus points for any commenter that knows the other two). He was quite the basketball player, and if he were playing in modern times, there is absolutely no way that his hoops coach would not just allow, but urge him to play football. It just wouldn’t happen.

But Phog Allen did in fact urge Schnellbacher to take the field for the footballing Jayhawks, and Schnellbacher led the 1947 Kansas team to the Orange Bowl. He was also named to the All-American team as a wide receiver, and he amassed over 1,000 career yards receiving in the air for KU. That year was a good one for KU and was the first time a Kansas football player was ever honored as an All-American. His teammate Ray Evans also joined him on that list in 1947 giving Kansas two of the 11 offensive players on that squad.

Schnellbacher was drafted by the Chicago Cardinals in 1947 but played his first two seasons of professional football for the New York Yankees of the All-America Football Conference. In 1948 he played safety, and he totaled 11 interceptions for the Yankees. At the end of that season, "The Double Threat from Sublette" lived up to his nickname as he took the court for the Providence Steamrollers and St. Louis Bombers of the Basketball Association of America. In his only year in pro hoops, Otto averaged 6.4 points per contest.

He returned to the gridiron and played in 1949 for the Yankees before moving to the NFL’s New York Giants in 1950. He played two seasons in the NFL, earning All-Pro status in each season. In 1951, he led the NFL with 11 interceptions. Schnellbacher probably could’ve played many more seasons in the NFL and certainly if he preferred, he could’ve moved to the newly formed NBA. He was only 29 when he retired from football to become an insurance executive back in Kansas.