January 08, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Norm Van Brocklin

Known simply as “The Dutchman,” Norm Van Brocklin was one of college football’s best passers in the post-World War II era. 

After serving in the Navy during World War II, Van Brocklin enrolled at the University of Oregon and quickly found the bench.  The Ducks were still using the single-wing offense, an attack that did not suit his abilities as a passer.  Even worse for “The Dutchman” was that of the nine passes he threw in the 1946 season, he completed only three – all to the opposing team!

The following year, Oregon had a new coach (Jim Aiken) and a new offense (T-formation).  Van Brocklin earned the starting job by the third game of the season, though he was greeted to a less than inspiring start in a 13-6 loss to Nevada (though he did throw his first touchdown pass). Another loss followed the next week, but Van Brocklin and the Ducks then won the final six games of the year.  For the year, he finished as the nation’s sixth-ranked passer.

In 1948, Van Brocklin earned the first-team All-America honors, led Oregon to a 9-1 regular season record, a No. 9 national ranking and a co-championship of the Pacific Coast Conference.  A favorite target of Van Brocklin was future Hall of Fame coach John McKay. Despite Oregon having one more conference win, a vote of PCC athletic directors sent undefeated California to the Rose Bowl while Oregon accepted a bid to play Southern Methodist in the Cotton Bowl.  The Mustangs prevailed 21-13, though Van Brocklin outplayed Heisman Trophy winner Doak Walker (Van Brocklin placed sixth in the Heisman vote).

Van Brocklin passed up his final year of eligibility to enter the NFL Draft where he was selected in the fourth round by the Los Angeles Rams.  For many years he shared the starting quarterback role with Bob Waterfield.  In 1958, he was traded to Philadelphia where he led the Eagles to the 1960 NFL title beating Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers in the title game. After retiring as a player he was the head coach of both the Minnesota Vikings and Atlanta Falcons.  He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1966.

Kent Stephens is the curator and historian at the College Football Hall of Fame and Chick-fil-A Fan Experience. Kent has been a part of the Hall staff since 1990 when it was located in Kings Island, Ohio. He relocated with the Hall to South Bend, Ind., and moved to Atlanta in 2013, becoming the only member of the staff to serve at all three locations.

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