Layne, Robert Lawrence, Sr. ("Bobby")
LAYNE, Robert Lawrence, Sr. ("Bobby")
(b. 19 December 1926 in Santa Anna, Texas; d. 1 December 1986 in Lubbock, Texas), professional football quarterback, who—by sheer force of will—drove teams to championships, and who is remembered as the first and leading proponent of the "two-minute drill."
Layne began life in Texas in the hardscrabble days of the Great Depression. Things worsened when his father, Sherman Cecil Layne, a farmer, died in 1935. Layne's mother, Beatrice Lowe, known as Bea, was not able to keep her four children together as a family. Layne went to live with his father's sister "Mimi" and her husband Wade Hampton in Fort Worth, Texas. They later moved to the Highland Park section of Dallas.
The move to Dallas was a fortuitous one for the tow-headed youngster. Layne's life took on a certain stability, and he blossomed as an athlete. He was a star passer in football, star pitcher in baseball, and a more than adequate basketball player. At Highland Park High School, Layne met and became friends with another talented athlete, Doak Walker. The pair formed a mutual admiration society that lasted until Layne's death. More than just friends, the lives of Layne and Walker are intertwined with each other and with football history. Except when they chose different colleges, Layne and Walker were in the same backfield from high school through championship seasons in the National Football League (NFL).
Layne was actually a year ahead of Walker in school, and went off to the University of Texas at Austin (UT) in 1944, where he had a successful freshman season. It was assumed that Walker would follow. However, World War II intervened, and in January 1945 Layne and Walker entered the U.S. Maritime Service or "merchant marine." Discharged after a year of service together, Layne and Walker were in New Orleans before both were to head to UT, when they met Rusty Russell, who had coached the boys at Highland Park High. Russell was now an assistant coach for the Southern Methodist University (SMU) football team, and somehow Walker never made it to UT, attending SMU instead. The close friends would become rivals for the next three seasons, as both teams were members of the exciting Southwestern Conference (SWC).
Layne's team, the Longhorns, won two of the three head-to-head encounters, and Layne established himself as one of the SWC's all-time greats. He was a consensus All-American and set school career records for pass completions (210), passing yards (3,145), touchdown passes (35), and total yardage. He also became an outstanding pitcher, throwing two no-hitters in 1946, and never lost an SWC game (28–0) in a career that included a college championship and an overall pitching record of 39–7. While at the University of Texas, Layne and the former Carol Ann Krueger married on 17 August 1946; they later had two sons.
In spite of his success at baseball, football was the swash-buckling Layne's sport. The six-foot, one-inch, 201-pounder was drafted by, and signed with, the Chicago Bears for the 1948 season. The Bears quarterback position was crowded. Sid Luckman, a future Pro Football Hall of Famer, was winding down a stellar career, but Notre Dame Heisman Trophy–winner Johnny Lujack was also on the roster. Layne played little, completing only sixteen passes as a rookie, but three of them were for touchdowns. Before the 1949 season, Layne was traded to the New York Bulldogs where he became the starting quarterback. The team was owned by Ted Collins, the agent of popular singer Kate Smith. Layne once remarked, "Every time Kate got a sore throat we worried about getting paid."
Layne thought about retirement after being battered while directing the hapless Bulldogs, but he was traded to the Detroit Lions before the 1950 season, and reunited with Walker. By 1952 Layne had the Lions in the NFL Championship game. The Lions won, giving Detroit its first NFL championship since 1935. In 1953 he led his team—and there were no doubts that it was "his team"—to a thrillingly late come-from-behind win over the Cleveland Browns with a score of 17–16. In 1954 the Lions made another appearance in the championship game, although the Cleveland Browns won the rematch.
By now Layne had a reputation as a fiery leader with a genius for strategy on the field. He famously instilled confidence in tight spots by simply saying to his offensive line, "Y'all block an' ol' Bobby'll get us six points." They would block, and Layne often would come through a touchdown. He was a fierce competitor, who once said, "If it doesn't matter who wins or loses, why do they keep score?" One of the last players to play the game unprotected by a face-mask, Layne also wore only skimpy shoulder pads—no flak jacket, no hip pads, no thigh pads, no knee pads. Off the field, Layne loved music, and it was nothing for him to get on stage and start jamming on a saxophone at a late-night jazz club. Layne rationalized his party-boy image by saying, "I'm no different from a lot of other pro athletes and celebrities, except I always go in the front door. Some use the back door or side door." Fellow Texan and teammate Harley Sewell summed up Layne's attitude by saying, "Bobby and I went out for toothpaste Thursday evening and never got back until game-time Sunday."
When Detroit Lions coach Buddy Parker quit in disgust right before the start of the 1958 season, he was hired by the Pittsburgh Steelers. At the time, the Steelers were the dregs of the NFL, but Parker improved the team immediately by bringing in Layne. Together they cajoled the team into respectability for a few years. After the 1962 season Layne retired to Lubbock, Texas, with his family. When he did hang up his cleats for the last time, he held NFL career records for passing attempts (3,700), pass completions (1,814), touchdown passes (196), and passing yards (26,768). Layne was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967, and the College Football Hall of Fame in the following year.
Layne turned his attention to his real estate holdings in Lubbock, but there was always a welcome sign hung out for friends, old and new. Layne advised them, "Bring a clean shirt and a five-dollar bill, and I guarantee you won't change either one." Layne was a notorious check-grabber and big tipper. A friend once mused, "If there's reincarnation, I want to come back as Bobby's taxi driver." Layne's personal philosophy was "to run out of money and breath at the same time."
The high times caught up with Layne in 1986. A heavy smoker, he developed throat cancer and chronic liver disease that eventually caused a cardiac arrest. His well-attended funeral was held in Lubbock, where he is buried at Lubbock Memorial Cemetery.
Layne was a dashing figure on and off the field. His teammates would follow him to hell and back. He never quit trying. Doak Walker summed up Layne best in Sporting News, "Bobby never lost a game—sometimes time just ran out on him." If for nothing else, Layne will be remembered for the efficient way he used the clock late in each half of a football game. He was the first to really manage time on the field. As the Los Angeles Times sportswriter Jim Murray wrote at the time of Layne's death, "For Bobby, life was all fast Layne."
Layne, with Bob Drum, wrote an excellent autobiography, Always on Sunday (1963). A full-length biography of Layne is Bob St. John, Heart of a Lion (1991). Layne's life and career are discussed in Don Smith, The Quarterbacks (1963); George Sullivan,Pro Football's All-Time Greats (1968), and Gamemakers (1971); Lou Duroska, ed., Great Pro Quarterbacks (1972); and George Allen, Pro Football's 100 Greatest Players (1982), written with Ben Olan. Obituaries are in the Chicago Tribune, New York Times, and Washington Post (all 2 Dec. 1986).