As part of our 100 days until Kansas football (maybe) series, we’re doing another countdown. This one features the best players to wear certain numbers for the football Jayhawks. Just as a side note, there is no way that we’re going 1-99 (although any suggestions in the comments are always welcome), so we’re going to highlight the very best from a certain number set. We’ve already examined 1-20 and 21-39. Today, we’ll look at the next batch, 40-70.
The Best of the Best
#48 Gale Sayers
Well, this goes without saying. The Kansas Comet tops every list of KU football greats, and he tops this one too. Sayers was named the 22nd best player in NFL history despite the fact that he only played seven years in the league, and his last two were cut extremely short due to injury - he only played a total of 4 games and had 36 carries combined in those final two seasons with the Bears. Oh, he also returned kicks and punts and was a valuable receiver as well. If he could’ve stayed healthy, he would’ve owned several NFL records by the time he retired.
#60 Willie Pless
You can read all about Willie Pless right here, but the best way to briefly describe him is as a tackling machine. In 33 games at KU, Pless averaged over 19 tackles per game, racking up a grand total of 633 - that would also be an NCAA record, but tackles weren’t an official statistic until the 2000 season.
He was first team All-Big 8 in 1983, 1984, and 1985. He is the career tackles leader at Kansas and a CFL Hall of Famer, where he spent 14 seasons, was an 11 time All-Star, a 5 time Defensive Player of the Year, and left the league as the all time career leading tackler.
Pless never really got a shot in the NFL for some reason, but the guy destroyed Canada. He is in the Canadian Football League Hall of Fame and won the Grey Cup in 1983.
Some More of the Best
#42 Ray Evans
Old time football can’t be discredited, but let’s be honest, that was a different game back then. So when Wikipedia and various KU outlets hype Evans as “possibly the greatest overall athlete to ever attend KU,” it’s probably quite unrealistic to believe that to still be true. But, anyone that can go off to war, return, and play both football and basketball was probably a pretty great athlete for his era.
#47 LeRoy Irvin
I just discovered that LeRoy Irvin existed, and that is a shame. Irvin played CB for the Jayhawks from 1976-79. He is still tied for 5th in the KU record books in career INT’s and is sixth in career tackles. He was the only freshman on the 1976 squad to get a starting spot. He led the team in tackles his sophomore year, and led KU DB’s in tackles during his junior campaign. His senior year saw him have a team high tackles against Missouri with 21.
Irvin played ten years in the NFL for the Los Angeles Rams (and one more for the Detroit Lions) and racked up 34 interceptions in that time (and one more for the Lions). He also returned kicks and set an NFL record at the time by returning two kicks in one game for touchdowns with a total of 207 yards returning in that game against the Atlanta Falcons. I’m using number 47 as his number here as that’s the number that he wore for LA.
(Editor’s Note: Irvin confirmed through Twitter DM after publication that he did indeed wear #47 at Kansas.)
#70 Larry Brown
No, not that Larry Brown. This one was tight end for Kansas and then eventually for the Pittsburgh Steelers. His stats don’t jump out at you, but his longevity proved that he was an important asset to those great Steelers teams of the 1970s. Can there be any other Jayhawk that has four Super Bowl rings?
#40 Mike Rivera
Mike Rivera bounced around the NFL for a while before eventually getting into real estate, but his KU career is why he’s on this list. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that he was on the greatest KU team ever, that magical 2007 squad. Statistically, that was also his best year where he totaled 96 tackles including 10.5 for a loss. He also snatched his only career interception that year. His senior year of 2008 was almost as good as he made 93 tackles.
What Number was he?
I honestly couldn’t find out what number Otto Schnellbacher was. I tried. Oh well, it doesn’t really matter. He was another two sport athlete from the 1930’s and 1940’s. Nicknamed “The Double Threat from Sublette,” you can read more about him here.
(Editor’s Note: One of our commenters found this picture of Otto wearing #66.)
Can you think of anyone else? The fifties and sixties are pretty bare, at least from my research. Add your suggestions below because there is definitely someone that we’ve forgotten.