Doug Atkins originally went to the University of Tennessee on a basketball scholarship, but once Gen. Robert R. Neyland, the football coach, saw his combination of size and agility, he was recruited for the grid team. After he earned All-America honors, the Cleveland Browns selected him as their first choice in the 1953 National Football League Draft.
After two seasons in Cleveland, he was traded to the Chicago Bears and there he developed into one of history's most awesome defensive performers. Exceptionally strong and agile, the 6-8, 257-pound Atkins earned legendary acclaim as a devastating pass rusher who would often leapfrog blockers to get at the passer. That was a skill that carried over from his collegiate days when he won the Southeastern Conference high jump title.
An All-NFL choice four times and a veteran of eight Pro Bowls, Atkins wound up his career with three successful seasons with the New Orleans Saints. For 17 years and 205 games, Doug wrecked absolute havoc on opposing linemen, quarterbacks, and ball carriers. Linemen who faced Atkins usually had just one thought in mind: “Don’t make him mad.” It was common knowledge among players that as tough as Doug was, he was even tougher when angered. An outspoken free spirit, Doug often clashed with the Bears’ fiery head coach George Halas. Atkins’ easy-going approach to practice particularly annoyed the coach.
But still, the two developed a mutual respect. Although their relationship was at times tumultuous, it lasted for 12 seasons and Atkins was a key part of the great Bears defense that won the league championship in 1963. However, in 1967 Atkins demanded to be traded and Halas sent his star lineman to the Saints, where he finished his career. After Atkins finally retired following the 1969 season, Halas openly admitted, “There never was a better defensive end.”