In 1951, SMU legend Kyle Rote did something no other SMU player has done in history when he became the first overall pick in the NFL Draft by the New York Giants. Former Giants quarterback Y.A. Tittle said of Rote, "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 selection as the No. 1 pick in the 1951 NFL Draft places him at No. 44 on our countdown of the 90 Greatest Moments in SMU Football History.
Rote lettered at SMU from 1948-50 and shared the same backfield with Doak Walker. He was an All-SWC selection in 1949 and 1950. His 44.4-yard punting average in 1949 was the second-highest average in the nation and is the fourth-highest single-season average at SMU.
Because of his toughness and willingness to do whatever was asked of him, he earned the nickname "The Mighty Mustang." That name was never more appropriate than for the 1949 season finale against top ranked Notre Dame. With Walker injured, Rote rushed for 115 yards and completed 10 passes for 146 yards, scoring all of the Mustangs' points in a 27-20 loss. His performance made him a national superstar.
As a senior in 1950 and SMU's feature back, Rote ran for 762 yards, passed for 490 and scored 13 touchdowns. During October of 1950, Rote led the Mustangs to their only No. 1 ranking since the 1935 National Championship team. He was then honored by being placed on the cover of Life Magazine in November. He was an All-America and played in three postseason All-Star games. His 2,049 yards rushing rank eighth on the SMU career list.
In the spring of 1951, the New York Giants made Rote the top pick in the draft. A knee injury forced him to switch to receiver, a position at which he quickly excelled. He was very popular in New York, serving as captain of the Giants for more than a decade. In 11 seasons with the Giants, he caught 300 passes for 4,797 yards and 48 touchdowns. He also rushed 231 times for 871 yards, a 3.8 average, and 4 touchdowns. He retired after the 1961 season and became a sportscaster, serving for several years as an analyst on NBC for college and professional football. During his career, he was also the first elected president of the NFL Players Association. He was inducted into the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame in 1964.
"The Mighty Mustang" is without question, one of the greatest players in SMU history. He was a great athlete and an even better man. His son, Kyle Rote, Jr., the former pro soccer star, offered some interesting perspective on his father's life. He said, "To me the most remarkable thing about him from a football standpoint was that he had 14 teammates who named sons after him." Kyle Rote's selection as the No. 1 pick in the 1951 NFL Draft takes its place on our countdown of the 90 Greatest Moments in SMU Football History.