Tobin Rote might have been as physically gifted as any quarterback who ever played for the Packers, but he didn’t become a winner until later in his career and with other teams. Blessed with a big-time arm, and also rare speed and power, Rote could out-throw and out-run just about every other quarterback in the NFL during his time in Green Bay. In fact, the Packers once described him in a news release as “the quarterback who runs like a fullback.”
Rote led all NFL quarterbacks in rushing yards six times, including four times while he was playing with the Packers. He also led the NFL in passing yards in 1956 and in touchdown passes in 1955 and ’56, his final two seasons in Green Bay.
His first coach, Gene Ronzani, installed an early version of the shotgun formation in 1951, partly to take advantage of Rote’s all-around skills. Lisle Blackbourn, Rote’s second coach, seemed to be even more fond of him. Blackbourn once described Rote as “the greatest competitor I ever saw.”
Some of Rote’s teammates felt the same way. “He was a gutsy quarterback, probably as gutsy as I’ve ever seen,” said fullback Fred Cone, a teammate for six years. “Big-time player,” was how Pro Football Hall of Famer Forrest Gregg, who played with Rote as a rookie, described him.
To be sure, Rote could take over a game.
On Thanksgiving Day, 1956, for example, he rallied the Packers, who were 14-point underdogs, to a 21-point fourth-quarter outburst and a 24-20 victory over Detroit, which finished 9-3 and a half-game out of first place in the Western Conference. Rote climaxed the victory by engineering an 82-yard drive in the closing minutes.
On Nov. 18, 1951, Rote rushed for 150 yards in 14 carries, although the Packers lost to the Chicago Bears, 24-13. Three weeks later, Rote set a Packers’ team record by passing for 335 yards on 20 completions in 40 attempts, but, again, the Packers lost to the Los Angeles Rams, 42-14.
In his seven years in Green Bay, Rote never played on a winning team. He had his faults – inconsistency and a stubborn streak, among them – but he also never had much of a supporting cast.
Later on, Rote won two championships in two different leagues and almost a third in yet another league. When Detroit won the 1957 NFL championship, Rote split time with Pro Football Hall of Famer Bobby Layne and then took over full-time when Layne broke his ankle in the next-to-last game of the regular season. In the NFL Championship Game, Rote started and threw for 280 yards in a 59-14 rout over Cleveland.
In 1960, he led the Canadian Football League in passing and Toronto to the Eastern Conference title, but fell short of winning the Grey Cup. In 1963, Rote directed the San Diego Chargers to the American Football League championship and was named the league’s most valuable player by the Associated Press.
Vince Lombardi, who took over as Packers coach two years after Rote was traded, was among those impressed with his sheer talent. “I would have liked to have had a chance to coach Tobin Rote,” Lombardi once said. “He has as much potential as any quarterback I ever had.”
“He’s great,” legendary Cleveland Browns coach Paul Brown said of Rote in 1955. “He didn’t have the help any quarterback needs. But when he is given any time or openings at all, watch out. He’s the combination runner and passer that is hard to contain.”
The Packers selected Rote in the second round of the 1950 NFL Draft. He was their usual starter at quarterback for most of his first four seasons, but also shared time with Paul Christman in 1950, Bobby Thomason in 1951, and Babe Parilli in 1952 and ’53. Nevertheless, Rote led the Packers in passing three of those four years.
The quarterback job was all his from 1954 to 1956, and his best season in Green Bay was his last. In ’56, Rote threw 18 touchdown passes and ran for 11 more, accounting for 29 of the Packers’ 34 offensive TDs.
In a blockbuster trade, consummated on July 26, 1957, the Packers shipped Rote and defensive back Val Joe Walker to Detroit for tackles Oliver Spencer and Norm Masters, halfback Don McIlhenney and guard Jim Salsbury.
In all, Rote played in 84 games for the Packers and when he left, he held the club record for career passing yards with 11,535. He also rushed for 2,205 yards in 419 carries, a 5.3 average.
Rote played for the Lions from 1957 to 1959; Toronto of the CFL from 1960 to 1962; San Diego of the AFL from 1963 to 1964; and three games with Denver of the AFL in 1966.
Born Jan. 18, 1928, in San Antonio, Texas. Given name Tobin Cornelius Rote Jr. Died June 27, 2000, at age 72.
- Quarterback: 1950-56
- Height: 6-2; Weight: 211
- College: Rice, 1946-49
- Years selected to an all-pro first team: 1955
- Pro Bowl Selection (game played since 1950): 1956