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Jethro Pugh - December HOF Member of the Month

By Helen Ross, 12/22/20, 5:00AM EST

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A left tackle known for his pass-rushing ability, the Windsor, North Carolina native...

You could say that Jethro Pugh was the Rodney Dangerfield of his era. He simply never quite got the respect he deserved.

That’s because Pugh played alongside NFL Hall of Famers Bob Lilly and Randy White on the Dallas Cowboys defensive line. Yes, that one. The one they called the Doomsday Defense.

A left tackle known for his pass-rushing ability, the Windsor, North Carolina native finished his 14-year career with the Cowboys ranked fifth in sacks, which was then an unofficial stat category, with 95.5. He led the team in sacks five years running, too, a record that stood until 2010 when DeMarcus Ware made it six in a row. He averaged a phenomenal 12.5 sacks a year during that stretch.

And yet, Pugh never got a Pro Bowl nod.

"He was a terribly unsung person among that bunch of great players he had," said Gil Brandt, who was the player personnel director for the Cowboys in 1965 when Pugh was drafted out of Elizabeth City State University in 1965.  

"He would have been a top 10-type player in the draft today," Brandt told the Associated Press when Pugh died in 2015 at the age of 70. "He was big, long arms, very athletic, very fast. Just a great competitor. Smart. He was well beyond his years."

The 6-foot-6 Pugh was just 20 – a “pup” as Brandt told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram -- when he was drafted in the 11th round with the 145th pick. But Pugh, who had played both ways in college and was a two-time All-CIAA pick at defensive end, quickly became a fixture in the weight room.

“The guy was a tremendous athlete,” Brandt said. “He had speed. ... He could do anything.”

Pugh, who also was drafted by the Oakland Raiders of the American Football League, earned a berth in the starting lineup for the Cowboys by the end of his second season. He was the epitome of a team player and even managed to delay surgery for appendicitis until after the 1971 season was over by taking penicillin shots.

Pugh made a record 23 playoff appearances – more than anyone in NFL history at the time he retired – and competed in Super Bowls V, VI, X and XII, helping the Cowboys to two championships. An injury kept him out of Super Bowl XIII and he retired after it was over, completing 14 seasons with the Cowboys.

“I like to think I’ve had a good, clean, honest career but now it’s time to do something else,” Pugh said at the time. “I simply feel I’ve reached a point where I should discontinue football and pursue another career.”

Pugh, who went on to run a successful company that operated airport gift shops, once said he often thought about giving up the game when he was in training camp. He called it the mundane, 9-to-5 part of his job.

“Game days were different,” he said. “I still got excited when I got to the stadium. That part of it never quit being fun.”

Pugh was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 1980. He is also a member of the CIAA Hall of Fame, the Elizabeth City State University Sports Hall of Fame, the National Black College Football Hall of Fame and the National Black College Alumni Hall of Fame.

"I grew up during the civil rights movement and I know so many great people pushed to open doors for us," Pugh said at the time of his induction into the NBCAHOF.

"I hope young men who are playing football now will realize they can use the discipline from the game of football to build character. Football is like life--you have a game plan, you tweak it here and there and then execute the plan. You can't win every game, but you can learn a lot by playing the game fairly."