Kyle Rote, college and professional football player, was born October 27, 1928, in San Antonio, Texas. He was the son of Jack and Emma Belle (Owens) Rote. He attended Woodlawn Elementary School where he met Betty Jamison, his future wife. As children, Kyle and his brother Jack spent their summers in Rocksprings on their uncle's ranch, the Cloudt Ranch. His family suffered tragedies during World War II, however. His mother was killed in a car accident, and his brother Jack was killed on Iwo Jima.
Rote attended Thomas Jefferson High School where he was an all-state player in both football and basketball. He went on to Southern Methodist University (SMU) and continued to cultivate his athletic talent. His legendary toughness on the football field in an age when manliness was a pedestrian virtue earned him the nickname "The Mighty Mustang" during his years as a halfback at SMU (1948–1950). Sharing the backfield with Heisman Trophy winner and future Hall of Famer Doak Walker in 1949, he nevertheless managed to earn All-America recognition, an honor he enjoyed the next year as well. He also earned a spot on the All-Southwest Conference team those same seasons.
Rote's "triple-threat" resiliency caught the nation's attention during the 1949 season finale against top-ranked Notre Dame, despite the Mustangs' 27–20 loss. Substituting for Walker who was sidelined by a knee injury, Rote scored all three of SMU's touchdowns. His gritty play, in which he rushed for 115 yards, passed for 146, and punted for a 48-yard average, assured that Rote would inherit the spotlight that Walker had enjoyed.
During Rote's final season at SMU, he led the Mustangs to their first number one national ranking in fifteen years and was honored by being placed on the cover of the November 13, 1950 issue of Life Magazine. By this time he had already married Betty Jamison, and the first of their three sons was born. That year he was also runner-up for Heisman Trophy voting.
Rote's 2,049 rushing yards still rank eighth on the SMU career list. As a senior Rote rushed for 762 yards, passed for 490, and scored thirteen touchdowns. Such statistics sound unimpressive by today's standards, but at a time characterized by the cliché, "three yards and a cloud of dust," his output was considered phenomenal. By comparison, Doak Walker won the 1948 Heisman Trophy on the strength of 532 rushing yards and 304 passing.
The spring of 1951 netted Rote another unique accomplishment when the New York Giants made him the only SMU player ever selected as the first pick in the National Football League draft. Rote quickly became a popular player with the Giants, and his teammates made him team captain each year during his eleven-year career. The team utilized Rote primarily as a receiver, and he responded by catching 300 career passes for 4,797 yards and scoring forty-eight touchdowns; he also ran for 871 yards and added four rushing touchdowns to his total. Rote played alongside some of the greatest players of his era, including Frank Gifford, Pat Summerall, and Y. A Tittle, and he was selected to four Pro Bowls. He was also a member of the New York Giant's 1956 NFL Championship team. The respect he gained on and off the field of competition led his peers to elect him first president of the NFL Players Association.
Rote retired after the 1961 season. After retirement he was a backfield coach for the Giants for two seasons. Like his teammates Gifford and Summerall, he became a sports broadcaster, earning distinction as an NBC analyst. In 1964 William Kyle Rote, Sr. achieved a high honor when he was inducted into the National Football Foundation's College Football Hall of Fame.
Although individual awards are most often won on the merits of statistics, the true measure of a player's impact in team sports can seldom be measured in numbers. By this standard, Rote's NFL teammates insisted he was among the league's greats. Giants quarterback Y. A. Tittle, a fellow Texan from Marshall, once remarked: "There has probably never been a nicer person to ever play the game. Everyone liked Kyle Rote. Fans liked him, sportswriters liked him, players liked him. He was just a good person and an outstanding football player. There's nothing negative about Kyle Rote. I've never found anyone who dislikes Kyle Rote." Rote's son, Kyle, Jr., himself an accomplished athlete and soccer superstar, paid homage to his father by pointing out: "To me the most remarkable thing about him from a football standpoint was that he had fourteen teammates who named sons after him."
A lifelong supporter of SMU athletics and a founding member of Doak Walker Associates, William Kyle Rote, Sr., died August 15, 2002, in Baltimore, Maryland, from cardiopulmonary complications following emergency surgery. He was survived by his second wife, Nina, and four children.