Eddie LeBaron, the College Football Hall of Fame quarterback at the University of the Pacific who went on to a lengthy pro career, died Wednesday in Stockton, the university announced. He was 85.
University officials said Mr. LeBaron, who also worked as a lawyer in Sacramento for nine years before retiring in 1997, died of natural causes.
“The Pacific family will miss Eddie LeBaron dearly, but he will remain in our hearts and memories forever,” UOP athletic director Ted Leland said in a written statement. “He led then-College of the Pacific to national prominence in football and brought great honor and recognition to the university throughout his life and especially during his distinguished college and pro football career as a player and administrator.”
Mr. LeBaron stood only 5-foot-7 and weighed 160 pounds, but he starred at the Stockton campus when it was still known as the College of the Pacific. He was known as a deceptive ball-handling quarterback who tricked opposing defenses with his spinning moves in the backfield.
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He led the Tigers to an 11-0 record in 1949, finishing sixth in the balloting for the Heisman Trophy, on a team that finished the season ranked No. 10 in the final Associated Press poll. He starred at a time when smaller West Coast colleges such as UOP, the University of San Francisco, Santa Clara, St. Mary’s and Loyola of Los Angeles produced standout players such as Mr. LeBaron, Ollie Matson and Gino Marchetti of USF, Herman Wedemeyer of St. Mary’s and Don Klosterman of Loyola.
As a pro, Mr. LeBaron played 11 years in the National Football League. His professional career, however, was delayed for two years when he served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Marines during the Korean War. He was wounded twice and was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for heroism, according to a UOP news release.
Drafted by the Washington Redskins, Mr. LeBaron played seven years in the nation’s capital and four with the Dallas Cowboys. He also played one season with the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League. He retired from the Cowboys following the 1963 season with 13,339 career passing yards in the NFL and 104 touchdown passes.
His passing yardage puts him 149th among all quarterbacks in NFL history – better than names such as Super Bowl starters Vince Ferragamo and Tony Eason, of Walnut Grove, and San Francisco 49ers star Frankie Albert. Currently ranked one notch below Mr. LeBaron at No. 150 on the all-time list is Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck.
Four times, Mr. LeBaron was selected to play in the Pro Bowl.
Mr. LeBaron’s oldest son, Edward “Wayne” LeBaron III, said his father “had a wider variety of friends and experiences than anybody I’ve ever known. He was a guy who had a lot of talent, but he was also a very down-to-earth guy who knew how to treat friends and people well.”
“He was proud of what he did, the people he met, the fraternity that existed when he played,” LeBaron III said. “He always had fond memories of the legends of the game he knew and met that made the NFL.”
Among them, the son said, were his friends Sammy Baugh, the Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback whom Mr. LeBaron succeeded in Washington, and championship coaches such as Paul Brown, Tom Landry and Bill Walsh.
“He admired those guys,” LeBaron III said.
When his playing career ended, Mr. LeBaron worked his way to become the general manager of the Atlanta Falcons from 1977 to 1982. He was named NFL Executive of the Year in 1980. Three Falcon teams during those years made the playoffs.
While he was still playing, Mr. LeBaron earned his law degree from George Washington University in 1959. He later moved to California in 1988 where he became a partner in the Pillsbury, Madison and Sutro office in Sacramento.
Mr. LeBaron is survived by his wife of 61 years, Doralee, their three sons Wayne, Richard and William, five grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
Call The Bee’s Andy Furillo, (916) 321-1141. Follow him on Twitter @andyfurillo..