COUNT QB ROTE AS ONE OF RE­GION’S BEST

Har­lan­dale su­per­star stood out in ’40s and ’50s, helped teams cap­ture ti­tles in NFL, AFL and CFL

San Antonio Express-News - - FROM THE COVER -

Lawrence Lane was a sixth-grader when Har­lan­dale’s Tobin Rote burst into the spot­light as a junior in 1944. Watch­ing from the stands, Lane re­calls mar­veling as the 6-foot-4, 200pound quar­ter­back raced past de­fen­sive backs.

When Rote wasn’t throw­ing over them.

“A lot of peo­ple don’t know how good he was be­cause Tommy Kramer and some oth­ers came later,” said Lane, who is a for­mer prin­ci­pal at MacArthur High School and also has been a coach. “But truth­fully, he was the best.”

The leg­endary player, who cap­tured cham­pi­onships as a player in the old South­west Con­fer­ence, NFL, Amer­i­can Foot­ball League and Cana­dian Foot­ball League, is in both the Texas Sports Hall of Fame and the San Antonio Sports Hall of Fame.

“He may have been the best quar­ter­back to have ever played foot­ball in San Antonio,” said Gary De­Laune, who has been broad­cast­ing high school foot­ball games for nearly six decades. “But be­cause of the era in which he played, there’s not much we know about him.”

Rote died in Sag­i­naw, Mich., in 2000 at age 72.

The San Antonio na­tive led Har­lan­dale to re­gional crowns in 1944 and 1945. He ran a de-facto sin­glew­ing of­fense with a scat­back named Vir­gil Tope.

Rote burst into the na­tional spot­light when he spear­headed Rice’s charge to the SWC ti­tle in 1949. For­mer Har­lan­dale stand­out Ernie Den­ham, who grad­u­ated in 1942, re­calls sit­ting in the stands when Rote led Rice, then ranked ninth na­tion­ally, to a 17-15 win over Texas at Austin that year.

“He was com­ing into his own then,” said Den­ham, who went on to serve as an ad­min­is­tra­tor with the Har­lan­dale In­de­pen­dent School Dis­trict. “On the field, he could sure pass that ball.”

Rote, whose first cousin was leg­endary foot­ball star Kyle Rote, went on to play 11 sea­sons in the NFL with the Pack­ers, Lions and Bron­cos. He led the NFL in pass­ing in 1956 with 2,203 yards, end­ing with al­most 18,000 yards in league play for his ca­reer.

In the NFL, he’s best known for throw­ing four touch­down passes and run­ning for an­other in the Lions’ 59-14 win over Cleve­land in the 1957 ti­tle game.

He also won crowns in later stints with the AFL and CFL, be­com­ing the only quar­ter­back in his­tory to do so.

Done with play­ing, he tried coach­ing for a while, re­turn­ing at one point to Rice to work with quar­ter­backs, in­clud­ing Kramer’s brother, Mike.

“My brother told me that Tobin could still kneel down on one knee and throw the ball 40 yards,” said Tommy Kramer, who’s also in the Texas Hall. “I met him sev­eral times and, man, he had some big ol’ fore­arms.”

“I met him sev­eral times and, man, he had some big ol’ fore­arms.”

Ex­press-News file photo

Har­lan­dale’s Tobin Rote won ti­tles in the old South­west Con­fer­ence, NFL, Amer­i­can Foot­ball League and Cana­dian Foot­ball League. He was with the NFL in 1958, right.

File photo

Tobin Rote in 1965, with the San Diego Charg­ers.

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