Layne, Robert Lawrence (1926–1986)

By: Martin Donell Kohout

Type: Biography

Published: March 1, 1995

Updated: May 12, 2021

Robert Lawrence (Bobby) Layne, football star, was born on December 19, 1926, in Santa Anna, Texas. While he was still very young the family moved to Fort Worth, where he attended elementary school and junior high school. After his mother died when he was eight years old, Layne lived with his uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. Wade Hampton. At Highland Park High School in Dallas, he was a teammate of Ewell Doak Walker, Jr., another future member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In his senior year Layne was named to the All-State team and led Highland Park to the state playoffs. He enrolled at the University of Texas in 1944 and almost immediately became an athletic legend. As a freshman he led the Longhorns to within one point of the Southwest Conference championship. During his sophomore season he spent eight months in the United States Merchant Marine and played in only four games, one of which was a 12–7 victory over Southern Methodist University (and Doak Walker) for the SWC title. In January 1946 Layne led Texas to the Cotton Bowl, where the Longhorns beat the University of Missouri 40 to 27. In that game he completed a remarkable eleven of twelve passes for two touchdowns, and scored four times himself. The legendary Texas coach Dana X. Bible retired before Layne's senior season. After his replacement, Blair Cherry, decided to install the newfangled T-formation offense, Cherry, Layne, and their wives spent several weeks in Wisconsin studying the new offense at the training camps of the Chicago Bears and Chicago Cardinals of the National Football League. In 1947 Layne led the SWC in passing, as Texas cruised to a 9–1 regular-season record, losing only to Walker and SMU. After beating the University of Alabama 27 to 7 in the Sugar Bowl on January 1, 1948, Texas finished the season ranked fifth in the nation by the Associated Press. Layne was an All-SWC selection all four years he played at Texas, and after his senior season was the consensus choice for All-American quarterback. By the time he graduated he held every major school passing record, including most attempts, most completions, most passing yards, most total yards, and most touchdowns.

While at Texas Layne also excelled as a baseball player. In four seasons he compiled a record of thirty-nine wins and seven losses as a pitcher, including a record twenty-eight consecutive wins in SWC play. In 1946 he hurled two no-hitters and struck out eighty-four men, a conference record that stood for thirty years thereafter. After graduating in 1948 with a degree in physical education, Layne joined the Lubbock Hubbers baseball team of the Class C West Texas-New Mexico League, but ultimately decided that his future lay in professional football rather than baseball.

After his senior season he had been drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers of the National Football League, who immediately traded the rights to his services to the Chicago Bears. The Baltimore Colts of the rival All-American Football Conference offered Layne a three-year contract worth $77,000, but he opted to sign with the better-established NFL for less money. He spent the 1948 season in Chicago as a backup before Bears coach George Halas traded him to the lowly New York Bulldogs for $50,000 and two first-round draft choices. Later Halas called the trade "the worst deal I ever made." In 1949 the Bulldogs staggered to a 1–10–1 record, but Layne showed signs of promise. Before the 1950 season the Bulldogs sold him to the Detroit Lions, with whom he spent the next eight seasons. Reunited with his old friend Walker, Layne blossomed into a star. He led Detroit to NFL championships in 1952, 1953, and 1957, and to the title game in 1954, when he was named the All-Pro quarterback. He gained even more notoriety, however, for his off-field carousing, which led one teammate to quip, "I wasn't sure whether it was harder to play football or room with Layne." Once Layne was arrested for driving while intoxicated, but a sympathetic judge let him off, ruling that the arresting officer had simply been unable to understand Layne's drawl. On the following day, a sign appeared in the Lions' locker room reading, "I'm not drunk, I just speak Texan." In 1957 Pittsburgh coach Buddy Parker, who had coached the Lions during most of Layne's tenure with the team, arranged a trade that brought Layne to the Steelers. Layne spent five seasons in Pittsburgh, but the Steelers had fewer quality players than the Lions, and Layne won no more championships. His autobiography, Always on Sunday (1962), contained a number of anecdotes about his exploits on and off the field; in the book he denied that he had been drunk during his notorious collision with a parked Pittsburgh streetcar early one morning. Parker called Layne "the best all-around quarterback who ever played," and by the time Layne retired before the 1963 season, he owned the NFL records for passing attempts, completions, touchdowns, yards, and interceptions.

He married Carol Krueger of Lubbock on August 17, 1946; they had two sons. Layne spent most of his adult life in his wife's hometown, and during the 1950s joined his former coach, Cherry, in the oil business there. After his retirement he served briefly as an assistant coach with the Steelers and then in the 1960s with the St. Louis Cardinals. He also tried unsuccessfully for the head coach position at Texas Tech University in 1980. He devoted most of his time to his business interests in Texas. He was elected to the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 1960, to the Longhorn Hall of Honor in 1963, and to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967. In November 1986 he traveled to Michigan to present the Hall of Fame ring and plaque to his old friend and teammate Doak Walker, but was hospitalized with intestinal bleeding in Pontiac after a reunion dinner with his former Detroit teammates. He returned to Lubbock, but three days later was hospitalized again. He died on December 1 and was buried in Lubbock. Doak Walker and three other members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame were among the pallbearers.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram, December 2, 1986. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

  • Sports and Recreation
  • Sports (Football)
  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas
  • Fort Worth

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Martin Donell Kohout, “Layne, Robert Lawrence,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 22, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

March 1, 1995
May 12, 2021

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