Steinmark, Freddie Joe (1949–1971)

By: Eldon Stephen Branda

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: July 19, 2016

Freddie Joe Steinmark, University of Texas football player who became a national symbol of courage and determination, was born on January 27, 1949, in Denver, Colorado, the son of Fred Gene and Gloria (Marchetti) Steinmark. His father had been a professional baseball player and encouraged him in all sports, so that Freddie had an early introduction to football, playing during his elementary and junior high school years on the Rough Riders team of the citywide Young America League in Denver. At Wheat Ridge High School there he lettered in football, baseball, and basketball; throughout his entire sports career, Steinmark's teams rarely lost a game. He ranked twenty-fifth scholastically in his high school graduating class of 530, and in his senior year he received the Golden Helmet Award from the Denver Post as the outstanding scholar-athlete in Colorado; he also received the Colorado Hall of Fame award as the state's outstanding high school athlete. In 1967 he received a football scholarship to the University of Texas at Austin. Despite his relatively small size, 5 feet, 10 inches, about 160 pounds, Steinmark was a valuable addition to the Texas Longhorn team. He, played defensive back on the freshman team and started in that position on the varsity during his sophomore and junior years. As a sophomore he was the team's leading punt returner and was named an All-Southwest Conference athlete-scholar while majoring in chemical engineering. On December 6, 1969, when Texas and Arkansas were rated first and second teams in the nation, respectively, he played in the game at Fayetteville, called the "Big Shootout," that gave the national championship to the Texas Longhorns. The game was important in sports annals because it determined the national football champion on the one-hundredth anniversary of college football and was witnessed by one of the largest television audiences in history. President Richard M. Nixon was in attendance and congratulated the team personally.

Six days later Steinmark was hospitalized at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Hospital and Tumor Institute at Houston; what was thought to have been a deep bruise on his left leg turned out to be a tumor, a bone sarcoma, originating from the bone itself, and not the result of a football injury. His left leg was amputated. When just twenty days later he attended on crutches the Texas-Notre Dame football game in the Cotton Bowl, he gained national recognition for his determination and stamina and became an inspiration to thousands of cancer victims. The game, won by Texas, was dedicated to Steinmark by his teammates. The university's board of regents took on responsibility for Steinmark's medical and educational expenses, and friends and fans were invited to contribute. The response to Steinmark's illness was nationwide. He continued his education almost immediately in the spring semester of 1970, and he helped coach the freshman defensive backs in that year. He changed his major to liberal arts and planned to enter law school. On April 13, 1970, he and his coach, Darrell Royal, met with President Nixon at the White House to mark the annual education and fund-raising drive of the American Cancer Society. Steinmark received a special citation from the president for "steadfast faith in God, his country and himself." He traveled and spoke at various meetings and fund-raising dinners, but returned to Houston every few months for additional checkups. Despite extensive therapy the disease continued to progress. With the help of Blackie Sherrod, sports editor of the Dallas Times Herald, he wrote his autobiography, I Play to Win (1971), a lively account of his years as a starting defensive football safety and a personal story of his faith in God, which became his greatest ally against despair. He was a Catholic. He entered the Anderson Hospital for the last time on April 20, 1971, supposedly for influenza. He died on June 6, 1971, in Houston, and was buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Denver, Colorado, with his coach and many of his teammates in attendance. A personal message by special envoy was sent to the family by President Nixon. A new forty-seven-foot-high scoreboard at the remodeled Memorial Stadium on the University of Texas at Austin campus was dedicated to Freddie Steinmark on September 23, 1972. The Fred Steinmark High School Athlete of the Year Award is presented annually by the Denver Rocky Mountain News to high school students in Colorado for excellence in athletics, academics, and citizenship.

Austin American, June 7, 1971. Daily Texan, June 8, 11, 1971, September 23, 1972. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Bower Yousse and Thomas J. Cryan, Freddie Steinmark: Faith, Family, Football (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2015). 

  • Sports and Recreation
  • Sports (Football)

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

Eldon Stephen Branda, “Steinmark, Freddie Joe,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 28, 2022,

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July 19, 2016

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