Crazy Canton Cuts : Pete Retzlaff

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Crazy Canton Cuts : Pete Retzlaff

Pete Retzlaff
6'1"  211
Tight End
Philadelphia Eagles
1956-1966
11 Seasons
452 Receptions
7,412 Receiving Yards
47 Touchdowns
5 Pro Bowls
1965 Bert Bell Award

Palmer Edward Retzlaff was drafted in the 22nd round of the 1953 draft by the Detroit Lions, where he was the 265th player chosen overall. He attended college at South Dakota State University after spending a year at a community college in his home town.

While with the Jackrabbits, Retzlaff was also a record-setting track star who twice won NAIA championships in both the shot put and discus. As a football player, he played fullback and set a school record by rushing for 1,053 yards his senior year.

Despite all of his accolades, he never caught one pass as a collegiate athlete. Retzlaff is a member of the SDSU Athletic Hall of Fame.

The Lions cut Retzlaff in training camp, so he went back to college and worked as an employee of the school for a year. He then enlisted in the United States Army for almost two years before coming back to again try out with the Lions.

Detroit sold his contract to the Philadelphia Eagles in 1956, where he would spend the first two seasons of his career as a reserve fullback. Though he did not have a rushing attempt over that time, the Eagles coaching staff noticed his excellent receiving skills.

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Moved to wide receiver in 1958, Retzlaff exploded onto the NFL scene. He went to his first Pro Bowl after leading the team with 56 receptions. After a solid 1959 season, Retzlaff became part of Philadelphia lore.

The 1960 season is the last year the Eagles have won an NFL title. There were eight Pro Bowlers on that squad, which included Retzlaff, and four future Hall of Famers in Norm Van Brocklin, Sonny Jurgensen, Tommy McDonald and Chuck Bednarik.

While all three Eagles receivers went to the Pro Bowl that year, Retzlaff led the team in receptions and receiving yards. He would catch 80 passes over the next two years, but he got hurt in 1962 and missed six games.

The Eagles asked Retzlaff to move to tight end in 1963, where he excelled immediately. Making the Pro Bowl until the 1965 season, he led the team in receptions and receiving yards each season.

The 1965 season is considered by many as his finest year in the NFL. Retzlaff set career-best marks of 66 receptions for 1,190 yards and 10 touchdowns. Not only was he given his only First Team All-Pro nod, Retzlaff was the recipient of the Bert Bell Award for NFL player of the year.

 

He was 35 years old in 1966, an advanced age for an NFL tight end. Despite having another productive season, Retzlaff decided to retire at the end of the season.

 

Dubbed "The Baron" and "Pistol Pete" by his teammates, Retzlaff bled Eagles colors. He loved his peers so much, he was the second ever National Football League Players Association president.

He was also the second general manager in Eagles history. Not only has the franchise retired his jersey number, Retzlaff is a member of the Eagles Honor Roll.

Retzlaff still ranks second in Eagles history in career receptions and receiving yards. He also ranks fifth in touchdown catches. His five Pro Bowls is tied with McDonald and Mike Quick as the second most ever by a Philadelphia receiver.

Philadelphia got real lucky Retzlaff came along when he he did. Pete Pihos, the legendary Hall of Fame end of the Eagles, had just retired in 1955. Buck Shaw and his coaching staff also deserve credit for switching his position.

His experience as a fullback made him an exceptional blocker and a threat once he caught a pass. Retzlaff averaged over 16 yards per catch in his career, never averaging less than 15.4 yards in the last eight years of his career.

 

While the spectacular and diminutive McDonald got most of the press, which was also shared with Pro Bowl tight end Bobby Walston, Retzlaff was consistent. He led the Eagles in receptions six times throughout his career.

 

Not only could he split the seam of a defense by being a deep threat, Retzlaff went and got the tough passes over the crowded middle of the field. He missed just 12 games in his career, showing the toughness and durability he exemplified.

His was a career appreciated by Philadelphia, yet underrated by the league and media. His peers thought enough of Retzlaff to vote him onto five Pro Bowls, but perhaps his serving as an NFLPA president held back further accolades.

He was not named to an NFL All-Decade Team, most likely because he began to excel in 1958. It should also be noted these teams had no second units to vote for until the 1970s team. If the 1960s team had one, it is likely Retzlaff would have been placed on it.

The question of a quota could be the reason Retzlaff has not been inducted. While seven of his teammates went on to Canton, there is no doubt Retzlaff, and his teammate Maxie Baughan, also should have been inducted long ago.

Time tends to forget greatness as it marches on. Retzlaff is among a slew of legendary receivers who belong in Canton, over modern players who benefit from rules helping to improve their numbers.

 

Maybe the seniors committee of the Hall of Fame will one day be allowed more than two candidates annually, thus allowing deserved players like Pete Retzlaff to obtain their rightful respect.

 

 

Notable Players Drafted in 1953 ( * denotes Hall of Fame )

 5. Ted Marchibroda, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers

11. Doug Atkins, DE, Cleveland Browns *

18. John Henry Johnson, FB, Pittsburgh Steelers *

54. Stan Jones, G, Chicago Bears *

79. Jim Ringo, C, Green Bay Packers *

85. Joe Schmidt, LB, Detroit Lions *

321. Rosey Brown, OT, New York Giants *

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