Kansas is a basketball school. But the Jayhawks have produced arguably the greatest thunder-and-lightning backfield tandem in NFL history in Gale Sayers and John Riggins. Maybe Syracuse with Jim Brown and Floyd Little – but you can count the schools in this discussion on a couple of fingers.
Sayers and Riggins both have busts in Canton, as does offensive tackle Mike McCormack. They provide the backbone of an all-time Kansas NFL team. But NFL scouts are wise to check out the defensive backfield talent at Kansas each fall. There have been some real gems that have been found.
The Jayhawks have a history of producing ballhawks – players who can find the football and know what to do when they find it.
It all started with Otto Schnellbacher, a 25th round draft pick in 1947. He played only four NFL seasons but intercepted 37 passes, returning three of them for touchdowns. He had 11 interceptions in both 1948 and 1951.
Seven defensive backs from Kansas since Schnellenbacher have intercepted NFL passes and returned them for touchdowns. Aqib Talib is a five-time Pro Bowl cornerback who has intercepted 35 passes and returned 10 of them for scores. Leroy Irvin became a three-time Pro Bowl selection who intercepted 35 passes and returned five of them for touchdowns. He also returned four punts for scores.
Nolan Cromwell was a 1980s NFL all-decade safety who went to four Pro Bowls, intercepted 37 passes and returned four of them for scores. Denver cornerback Chris Harris also is a four-time Pro Bowler with the Denver Broncos. He has 19 interceptions in his eight seasons and scored touchdowns with four of them.
Alvin Walton won two Super Bowls with the Washington Redskins and returned two of his 12 interceptions for touchdowns. Safety Kwamie Lassiter also returned two of his 25 interceptions for touchdowns. He had an eight-interception season in 1998 and a nine-theft season in 2001. Safety Kurt Knoff also returned an interception for an NFL touchdown in his six-year career.
Only Talib was a first-round draft pick – and neither Harris nor Lassiter were drafted.
Here’s the all-time Kansas NFL team:
QB John Hadl, 1973 NFL MVP
HB Gale Sayers, Hall of Fame
FB John Riggins, Hall of Fame
WR Ron Jessie, Pro Bowl, 265 catches, 16.1-yard average
WR Isaac Byrd, 7 seasons, 93 receptions
TE Larry Brown, 4 Super Bowls rings, 2 as TE, 2 as OT
OT Mike McCormack, Hall of Fame
OT Ollie Spencer, 8 seasons, 73 starts
G Steve Lawson, 7 seasons, 39 starts
G Paul Fairchild, 7 seasons, 38 starts
C Justin Hartwig, 8 seasons, 95 starts
DE John Zook, Pro Bowl, 11 seasons, 73 sacks
DE Mike Butler, 7 seasons, 43 sacks
DT Dana Stubblefield, 2-time NFL Defensive POY
DT Gilbert Brown, 10 seasons, 1996 Super Bowl champion
OLB Galen Fiss, 2 Pro Bowls, 11 seasons, 13 INTs
MLB Terry Beeson, 6 INTs, 1 INT
OLB Don Goode, 8 seasons, 10 INTs
CB Aqib Talib, 5 Pro Bowls, 35 INTs
CB Chris Harris, 4 Pro Bowls, 19 INTs
S Nolan Cromwell, 1980s NFL all-decade team
S Alvin Walton, 12 INTs, 2-time Super Bowl champion
K Bill Bell, 3 seasons, 30 FGs, 154 points
P Bucky Scribner, 5 seasons, 330 punts, 41-yard average
ST Gerald McBurrows, 9-year ST ace with Rams and Falcons
KR Leroy Irvin, Led NFL in PR with 13.1-yard averages in 1981