Colorado’s White led first stats listing
NCAA Stats at 75: Football star also served on Supreme Court
Byron Raymond “Whizzer” White first made a name for himself while playing for Colorado’s undefeated 1937 football team. The buzz about White started the previous season, but his statistics in 1936 were largely unconfirmed.
However, with the NCAA compiling nationwide statistics for the first time in 1937, there is no doubt that the availability of numbers to compare performances played a role in White becoming Colorado’s first All-American in football.
White had taken over the Buffaloes’ star role from Kayo Lam, who rushed for 906 yards in 1934 and 1,043 in 1935, numbers long presumed – but not validated – to be tops in college football. But with NCAA statistics as proof, White as a senior led the nation in rushing (1,121 yards in eight games), and in total offense (1,596 yards), all-purpose yards (1,970) and scoring (122 points) – marks that lasted until colleges went to 10- and 11-game schedules decades later.
Denver sportswriter Leonard Kahn labeled White “Whizzer” because “he seemed to whiz by people.” For the record, White always felt he was “saddled with a nickname he didn’t want … or like.” White also was a .400 hitter on the baseball team and a standout on Colorado’s basketball squad that made the NIT in 1938.
But he was always modest about his college exploits.
“The only one I really remember,” White said in 1989, “is after we beat Utah my senior year, the president of Utah’s student body came to our locker room after the game with a piece of the goal post. Someone had painted on it, ‘White 17, Utah 7.’ ”
Indeed, White had scored all 17 points against the then-Frontiersmen.
The Pittsburgh Pirates, now known as the Steelers, made White the fourth pick of the 1938 football draft. He led the league in rushing with 567 yards that year and was named All-Pro. He left professional football to attend postgraduate school at Oxford University in England. After Oxford, White played one more season with Detroit and again led the league in rushing. In the offseason, he attended Yale Law School.
White was an officer during World War II, earning a Bronze Star and forming a friendship with John F. Kennedy. After the war, White returned to Yale and graduated first in his class in 1946. After a successful career as a corporation lawyer, he entered the political sphere in 1960, heading the pre-convention Kennedy movement that helped the soon-to-be president win the state of Colorado. White later served as deputy attorney general under Kennedy.
On March 30, 1962, White was appointed an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court at age 44. He served for 31 years, and retired in March 1993. He is known in the college football community for being one of two dissenters in the 1984 antitrust case that deregulated football television rights.
White cherished his time as a college athlete, telling the Rocky Mountain News in 1994: “There is something special about operating in small groups like football teams. You’re all organized and trained for a common end, and you’d better be ready to perform when it is time to. I worked in a lot of small groups, … and of course, I spent 31 years in a very small group.”
White died from complications of pneumonia in Denver at the age of 84 on April 15, 2002. Seventy-five seasons after he last roamed the gridiron for the Buffaloes, White still owns or shares 15 school records.
The NCAA Stats at 75 series will be published weekly through May and will include interesting statistical championship stories and all-time performances. This article first appeared in the Summer 2011 issue of NCAA's Champion magazine.
Video and photographs courtesy of the Colorado athletic department.