Over the years, William & Mary has firmly established itself as a hotbed for new and emerging 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.
Perhaps one name you’ve never heard is one that should be mentioned at every Tribe football recruiting visit: Lou Creekmur — who 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 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.
Creekmur’s Career at William and Mary
While in Williamsburg, Creekmur primarily played along the offensive line, but he also played defense for the then-named 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. During his career, Creekmur would lead the Indians to a sparkling combined record of 27-10-3 over four years, and to the program’s first two bowl games.
When Creekmur returned to campus as a sophomore following his military service, William & 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 heartbreaker. 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, W&M 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 — shocking the nation at the time. Following the Delta Bowl Game (the season finale), William & Mary ranked #17 in the nation.
The Indians defeated Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State) 20-0 in that 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 earned 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 (his senior year) — an annual college football all-star game held in Alabama.
Creekmur also participated in the Senior Bowl in 1949, as well as in the NFL-College All-Star Game, where the nation’s top college players faced off against the reigning NFL Champion. Boy, we wish they still played that game. Can we make it happen?
When it was all said and done, Creekmur was remembered for his performance and grit on the field. Former 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 should 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 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 from these incredible Indian teams to make the NFL Hall of Fame, he should 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, following his junior season. Creekmur turned it down to return to William & Mary and finish his Masters degree — a true scholar athlete.
Following his senior season in 1949, Creekmur vaulted up NFL draft boards and was selected in the 2nd round by the Detroit Lions during 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 Lions, while also coming in as a defensive tackle on opposing teams’ short yardage plays.
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 sonofagun, playing through injuries such as dislocated shoulders, knee injuries, and a full season with a crushed sternum. A crushed sternum. Brett Favre who?
Creekmur was named to the Pro Bowl for eight consecutive seasons, starting his rookie year, from 1950-1957. He was 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 Lions career overlapped entirely with Creekmur’s; we think it’s safe to say that Walker’s success depended in large part on Lou’s dominance along the offensive 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 year 0-4). Creekmur played the final 8 games of the season for them 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 — we’re talking about an NFL All-Pro player here!
Back in the day, before the NFL really took off, players had to take second jobs to make ends meet. However, this experience may have actually served Lou well, as he would eventually go on to work for a company called Ryder Trucks, making his way up the ladder to become their VP of Labor Relations. Good thing he got that Masters degree from W&M, right?
Post NFL Career Accolades: NFL Hall of Fame
Lou started 165 consecutive NFL 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 & Mary as perhaps the greatest football player to ever don the Green and Gold.