Over the years, William and Mary has firmly established a history of producing solid NFL players and coaches. Big names such as Mike Tomlin, Sean McDermott, Adrian Tracy, Derek Cox, Mike Leach, and Steve Christie immediately come to mind and top the list. But perhaps one name you never heard is one that should be mentioned at every Tribe football recruiting visit. That name is Lou Creekmur, and he happens to be William & Mary’s first and only player enshrined in the NFL Hall of Fame.
Creekmur’s story really is one that all Tribe super fans should know. There are few, if any, current students who could tell you his name; we’re betting that 95%< of current students don’t even know that W&M has a player in the HOF! Well, we think it’s about time for a history lesson. In this article, we profile Creekmur’s storied career that saw him wreak havoc in Zable Stadium before launching into a truly spectacular professional football career. Enjoy!
Creekmur’s Career at William and Mary
While at W&M, Creekmur primarily played offensive line, but also played on defense for the William & Mary Indians. Lou’s collegiate career began in 1944, but was interrupted by two years of military service during World War II. He later returned to campus in 1947 and played three more seasons for the Green and Gold. Creekmur would help lead the Indians to a sparkling combined record of 27-10-3 over his four years, and to the program’s first two bowl games.
As Creekmur returned to campus as a Sophomore after his military service, William and Mary’s 1947 football team finished with an incredible 9-2 record. This stellar effort earned the Tribe a bowl game on New Years Day against The University of Arkansas. The Indians took a 19-14 lead in the third quarter before eventually falling 21-19 in a heart breaker. Despite the loss, W&M ended the year ranked #14 in the nation, atop the Southern Conference–which then included teams such as UNC, South Carolina, Duke, Maryland, NC State, and Richmond. Richmond would finish the year 3-7, but that’s beside the point (we couldn’t resist).
The following season, in 1948, William and Mary finished with yet another strong record, this time 7-2-2. This was a season that saw the team get revenge over Arkansas in a 9-0 victory, and tie #3 ranked North Carolina 7-7. Following the Delta Bowl Game (the season finale), William and Mary was ranked #17 in the nation. The Indians ended up defeating Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State) 20-0 in the Delta Bowl, behind Creekmur’s 70-yard interception return for a touchdown. Yes, you read that right. A player whose main position was offensive tackle also played defense. It was a different era. Lou’s era. And he dominated it like few others did. (Check out this moment at the 29:03 mark in the incredible footage below)
The 6’4″ 248 pound Creekmur would go on to earn All-Southern Conference honors in the 1948 season (his junior year) and was one of only three Tribe players to participate in the Blue-Grey Classic following the 1949 season, which was an annual college football all-star game held in Alabama. Creekmur also participated in the Senior Bowl in 1949, as well as the NFL-College All-Star Game, where the nation’s top college players faced off against the reigning NFL Champion from the season prior. Boy, do we wish they still had that game. Can we make it happen?
It’s safe to say that when it was all said and done, Creekmur was remembered for his performance and grit on the field. Current W&M Head Coach Jimmye Laycock has gone on record stating that, “Lou was unquestionably one of the finest players William and Mary has produced in its long football history.” He added, “As one of the best players during one of the program’s greatest eras, his legacy is assured to remain a strong one.”
The 1940s can truly be viewed as the glory years of William & Mary football. This era not only saw the Green and Gold regularly match up against the country’s best football programs, but also saw the program regularly contend with and beat these football powerhouses. In 1948 alone, Lou’s junior season, W&M beat NC State and Arkansas, while tying #3 UNC. As Creekmur was the lone player on these incredible Indian teams to make the NFL Hall of Fame, he can be remembered as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, W&M player of all time.
Lou Creekmur’s NFL Career
Amazingly enough, Creekmur was drafted into the NFL twice. First, he was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 26th round of the 1948 NFL Draft. However, Creekmur turned it down and decided to return to William and Mary to continue his collegiate career and finish his Masters degree–a true scholar athlete. Following his 1949 senior season, Creekmur vaulted up the draft boards and was taken in the second round by the Detroit Lions in the 1950 NFL Draft. To put it lightly: his career with the Lions was nothing short of remarkable.
Creekmur played both offensive guard and offensive tackle for the Detroit Lions, while also coming in as a defensive guard on short yardage plays–though he would play the bulk of the time as an offensive tackle. What was more remarkable, however, was that Creekmur didn’t miss a single game from 1950 (his rookie season) until 1958, a period of 165 games. He was one tough cookie, playing through injuries such as several dislocated shoulders, knee injuries, and a full season with a crushed sternum. A crushed sternum. Need we say more about this guy’s grit?
Creekmur was named to the Pro Bowl in eight consecutive seasons, starting his rookie year, from 1950-1957. He was also named a first team All-Pro selection for seven consecutive seasons from 1951-1957. Under Creekmur, the Lions went to the NFL Championship 4 times and won in 1952, 1953, and 1957. Known as an excellent blocker, Creekmur paved the way for one of the Lions’ all-time great running backs, Doak Walker. Walker’s 5-year career overlapped entirely with Creekmur’s on the Lions, and we think it’s safe to say that Walker’s success depended in large part to Lou’s dominance on the line.
During the 1958 season, Creekmur announced he would retire come season’s end. However, during the 1959 season, the Lions convinced him to return (after starting the season 0-4), and Creekmur played the final 8 games of the season before retiring again at the conclusion of the 1959 season.
Throughout Creekmur’s NFL career, he held a second job as a terminal manager for the Saginaw Transfer Company, where, interestingly enough, he made more money than he did as an NFL player–an All-Pro NFL player! Back in the day, before the NFL really took off, players had to take these second jobs to make ends meet. However, this experience may actually have served Lou well, as he would go on to work for a company called Ryder Trucks, where he made his way up the ladder to become the VP of Labor Relations.
Post NFL Career Accolades: NFL Hall of Fame
Lou started 165 consecutive games, earned 8 Pro Bowl selections, and 7 first team All-Pro selections. As a culmination of his inspiring career, he was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1996. He was also named to the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in 1989. Unfortunately, Lou Creekmur passed away at the age of 82 on July 5th, 2009, but he will be remembered by all at William and Mary as perhaps the greatest football player to ever don the Green and Gold uniform.
Overall, we are in awe of Lou Creekmur and what he was able to accomplish in his lifetime, including taking two years of college off to serve his country in a time of war, getting drafted twice in the NFL draft, holding jobs while playing in the NFL, and getting elected to the Hall of Fame–Creekmur truly did it all. He was one of the hardest workers on and off the field and is someone that all Tribe Athletes should aspire to.
As always, Roll Tribe!!