He was an all-American defensive tackle at TCU. He went on to become the first draft choice of the Dallas Cowboys in 1961, later enshrined into the Ring of Honor in 1975 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame (1980) – the first Cowboy to earn those distinctions. But former Horned Frog great Bob Lilly isn’t among those who have had their number retired at TCU.
However, TCU athletic administration plans to retire two former football players’ numbers next year. This will add to a collection that consists of former quarterbacks Sammy Baugh and Davey O’Brien as well as former Frogs and current San Diego Charger running back LaDainian Tomlinson. Former baseball head coach Frank Windegger also has his number retired.
Jack Hesselbrok, associate athletics director for internal relations, has hinted that the future retirees will be a defensive end and a running back.
While I won’t speculate on the identity of the running back, I am hoping the university is about to reward Lilly for a tremendous career, both collegiately and professionally. At 23, I am too young to have ever seen Lilly play, but his accolades speak volumes.
A two-time All-Southwest Conference player, Lilly went on to become an 11-time pro-bowler for America’s Team. But before he became an integral part of a dominant Dallas defense that was nicknamed “Doomsday,” he helped TCU put the clamps on its opponents. In Lilly’s sophomore season of 1958, the defensive tackle helped stake TCU to a record of 8-2-1, including a scoreless tie with Air Force in the Cotton Bowl. The next season, he anchored a defense that allowed only 75 points in 11 games. In 196 NFL games, Lilly collected 94.5 sacks and was selected to the NFL’s all-decade teams of the 60s and 70s, as well as the league’s 75th Anniversary All-Time team. The College Football Hall of Fame retired his jersey, no. 72, in 1981.
Now I don’t know every detail that goes into selecting an honoree, but I imagine the school wants to keep the honor saved for only the best of the best. Well, Lilly’s number was the first called by the Cowboys and Canton, so maybe TCU is just waiting for the right time.
All of the players with retired numbers put up huge offensive numbers for the Frogs. Tomlinson’s number was retired in 2005 after graduating from the university in 2000. In his senior year, he rushed for 2,158 yards and scored 22 touchdowns while taking home the Doak Walker Award to the nation’s best running back.
Great offensive players should be recognized by the school, but great defensive players, while not always as flashy as their counterparts, deserve just as much praise. TCU has had great defensive teams over the seasons. If the country views the Horned Frogs as a stout defensive team, they should have a face to represent them.
When fans think of great offensive players of TCU past, they see LaDainian Tomlinson churning defenses into butter in his purple no. 5 jersey.
But when fans think of the Frogs’ defense, in terms of historic players, the man to come to mind should be Bob Lilly.
Reese Gordon is senior broadcast journalism major from Longview.