Calvin Hill is the first running back in Dallas Cowboys history to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season.
In 12 NFL seasons, Hill played in two Super Bowls [winning one] and rushed for over 6,000 yards, averaging 4.2 yards a carry. A remarkable athlete, he also caught 271 passes and scored 42 touchdowns. Hill gained over 1,000 yards in two of his six seasons as a Dallas Cowboy and played in four Pro Bowls. A quarterback in high school, Hill played running back, tight end and linebacker collegiately, where his coach, Carmen Cozza, insisted Hill was so good he could have played all 22 positions.
Born in Baltimore on this date in 1947, Calvin G. Hill is the son of a sharecropper who moved from South Carolina to Maryland to become a construction worker. Henry and Elizabeth emphasized education, and their son Calvin earned a scholarship to Riverdale Country School in the Bronx, New York. Riverdale was an all-boys college preparatory institution that was attended by John and Robert Kennedy. A few decades later, actor/comedian Chevy Chase and singer Carly Simon matriculated to Riverdale. An honors student, Hill competed on his high school’s football, basketball, baseball and track and field teams. He earned the starting quarterback position as a sophomore and, running the Falcons’ T-formation offense, did not lose a game in three varsity seasons and earned All-American honors as a senior. Despite offers from Division I colleges around the country, Hill decided to play in the Ivy League and narrowed his choices to Harvard and Yale. “I just knew I wanted to play in a big stadium,” recalled Hill. “When I visited Yale, they were playing Dartmouth in front of 70,000 people. I fell in love with the school.” He chose Yale, determined to become the first black quarterback in school history.
On the second day of freshman football practice [frosh did not become eligible to play varsity until 1972], the Yale coaches moved Hill to linebacker, giving the quarterback job to Brian Dowling who, as a senior, would go on to post the highest passer rating in the country. Four days later, he was moved to fullback, where he remained for the rest of his career. As a freshman, Hill scored five touchdowns in one game, kicked a 52-yard field goal in another, and threw six touchdown passes off the running back option pass during the season. After leading Yale to an undefeated season and league title as a junior, Hill was named All-Ivy League. A two-sport star, he was also conference champion in the long jump and triple jump. In Hill’s senior year, Yale came into week nine—their annual season finale against archrival Harvard in a matchup simply known as “The Game”—undefeated, highly touted, and ranked 16th in the nation. Harvard was also undefeated, meaning the winner would claim the Ivy League title. After miraculously scoring two touchdowns and making both two-point conversions in the final 42 seconds, Harvard tied the game, 29-29, prompting the Harvard Crimson to publish the next day’s headline: “Harvard beats Yale, 29-29.” Hill was again named All-Ivy League and graduated as Yale’s all-time leading scorer. He also successfully defended his titles in long jump and triple jump at the conference track and field championships. One of the greatest athletes in Yale history, Hill still owns the school record for the outdoor triple jump.
The Dallas Cowboys selected the 6’4”, 227-pound Hill with the 24th pick of the 1969 draft, making him the first Ivy Leaguer ever taken in the first round of the NFL draft. In those days, the draft was not on television and no one at Yale had much experience with the process. When the Cowboys’ director of player personnel, Gil Brandt, called, Hill thought it was a practical joke. Sensing Hill did not believe him, Brandt put Cowboys head coach Tom Laundry [Daily Dose, 2/26/16] on the phone. “Tom Laundry had a distinctive voice and, when I heard it, I realized it was true,” said Hill. “I couldn’t believe it.”
As a rookie, Hill earned the starting halfback spot during training camp and never relinquished it. Through the first nine games of the season, he led the NFL in rushing and was dominant, drawing comparisons to the great Jim Brown [Daily Dose, 10/20/15]. He missed two games late in the season with a broken toe and lost the league rushing title to Gayle Sayers [Daily Dose, 12/12/16]. After finishing the season with 942 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, Hill was named 1969 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and earned a trip to the Pro Bowl. Two seasons later, Hill helped Dallas beat the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VI for the first league title in team history. In 1972, he set a franchise rushing record while becoming the first Cowboy to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season. The following year, he gained 1,142 yards to break his own mark.
In 1975, Calvin Hill signed a contract for “significantly more money” to play for the Honolulu Hawaiians of the World Football League, which was in its second season of existence. Three weeks into the season, he tore the MCL in his right knee and was out for the year. The WFL folded two months later. Hill signed as a free agent with the Washington Redskins for the 1976 season. After spending two seasons as a backup in Washington, Hill retired in August 1978. An excellent receiver, the Cleveland Browns signed him as a third-down running back, and Hill spent four seasons with the Browns before retiring permanently at the end of the 1981 campaign.
Calvin Hill and his wife, Janet—who was a suite-mate of Hillary Clinton’s at Wellesley College, married in 1970. Two years later, they had their only child—a son—who was not given a name until Calvin’s good friend and Cowboys hall of fame quarterback Roger Staubach named the child “Grant” when he was three days old. Grant Hill played college basketball and appeared in three Final Fours, winning two national titles in four seasons at Duke. He went on to play 18 NBA seasons, won an Olympic gold medal as part of Team USA in 1996, and is a member of the College Basketball Hall of Fame. In 1995, Grant Hill was named NBA co-Rookie of the Year, 26 years after his father earned the same honor in the National Football League.
After his playing days ended, Calvin Hill became a vice-president for the Baltimore Orioles, where he hired Theo Epstein [Daily Dose, 12/29/16] as a summer intern. He has also worked in the front offices of the Cleveland Browns and Dallas Cowboys. Mr. Hill is a member of the Maryland Hall of Fame and was voted 1998 Walter Camp Football Foundation Man of the Year.