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Know Your KU History: Mike McCormack

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Hey, it's football season, so we'll delve into some of the greats in the history of the Kansas program. Today, we start with Mike McCormack.

When you’re one of only three Kansas players to be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame (Gale Sayers and John Riggins are the others), you are a legend. When you replace a Hall of Famer and then become one yourself, you are a legend. When you forgo two seasons at the beginning of a bright NFL career to instead serve in the US military, you are a legend. When you win not one, but two championships for the Cleveland Browns, you will forever be a legend. This is the story of Browns star Mike McCormack, a tackle at the University of Kansas from 1948 to 1950.

Until recently, when offensive linemen started going number one in the NFL draft, becoming valuable commodities to protect a franchise’s most valuable commodity, tackles and guards were probably the most unheralded men on the football field, in the trenches, but without the glory of the bringing down the ball carrier like their counterparts on the other side of the line of scrimmage. They move human beings around so other, better-paid human beings could run through the holes they created. Before there were twenty instant replays from various angles to dissect every play, to play offensive line was glory free, a man’s-man kind of job, where the credit never came from the press, but instead was given by the very men who benefitted from the holes they created and the valuable seconds they manufactured. Even now, an offensive lineman rarely gets credit for the innumerable great blocks he makes. Instead, he is vilified for the one block he misses. Offensive linemen are not taken in fantasy drafts, but if they were, a player like Mike McCormack would be a top selection.

McCormack had three good seasons in Lawrence, making the first team All-Big 7 and honorable mention All-American team in 1950, but the NFL is where he really shined. The De LaSalle High School (Kansas City, MO) graduate went 32nd overall in the 1951 NFL draft and promptly made the NFL Pro Bowl that year. But instead of building on that first year success, McCormack entered the military and spent two years in Korea. When he returned, he found out that he had been the key part of a 15-player trade that sent him to Cleveland to play under legendary head coach Paul Brown. Brown called McCormack, "the finest offensive lineman I have ever coached" and it’s easy to see why. He earned five more Pro Bowl honors, won two championships in Cleveland, often blocked the opposition’s best defensive lineman, protected Hall of Famer Otto Graham, and opened up holes for the legendary Jim Brown. McCormack was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1984.

After his playing days were over, McCormack went on to coach in the NFL with the Eagles, Colts, and Seahawks. He wasn’t much of a success there, so he transitioned to the front office. He started working for the Carolina Panthers before the Carolina Panthers existed and was instrumental in bringing the expansion franchise to Charlotte. He was the President and General Manager of the franchise for the first two years of its existence, and upon his death in 2013, Carolina owner Jerry Richardson said, "It is safe to say that we would probably not have a team in the Carolinas if it were not for Mike McCormack. He had the contacts in the National Football League and was universally respected by everyone associated with professional football."

Mike McCormack: Kansas legend, Cleveland legend, and Carolina legend.