Gold Jacket Spotlight: Long jumper James Lofton was no long shot in football
James earned a spot on the roster of the U.S. Track and Field Team, finishing fifth in the long jump at the 1976 Olympic Trials. He was also an accomplished sprinter and, by the way, a successful football player who was selected as MVP of the 1978 Senior Bowl and an Academic All-American.
A true multisport athlete, James this week jumps into the Gold Jacket Spotlight.
After a stellar senior collegiate football season under first-year head coach and future Pro Football Hall of Famer BILL WALSH, James was the Green Bay Packers’ first of two first-round selections (sixth pick overall) in the 1978 NFL Draft.
Fellow first-rounders EARL CAMPBELL and OZZIE NEWSOME were the only other future Pro Football Hall of Famers selected in that year’s draft.
During James’ initial training camp, Green Bay receivers coach Lew Carpenter observed, “He’s about everything our Scouting Department said he was. He’s going to be a super football player. He’s got size, great jumping ability and outstanding speed. And he’s got toughness; he’s not afraid to catch the ball over the middle.”
In a Packer Feature written in 1978, James asked rhetorically, “Why do anything half-hearted when you have an opportunity to do it well? As far a recognition is concerned, you don’t have to be conscious of people watching you for you to excel. But for yourself, you should serve the goals that you have. You’re the only true judge of your performance.”
James continued, setting a simple but impressive goal for himself: “I’d like to be one of the better players (in the NFL).”
He achieved that goal.
During an NFL career that spanned 16 seasons, James amassed 14,004 receiving yards which, at the time of his retirement, ranked atop the NFL’s all-time list and still hold the 12th position three decades later. Those yards came via 764 receptions.
James tallied 76 touchdowns, was selected to eight Pro Bowls and, as a member of the Buffalo Bills, played in three Super Bowls: XXV, XXVI, XXVII.
While a member of the Packers, James broke Pro Football Hall of Famer DON HUTSON'S 40-year-old Packers record for career receptions.
Throughout his career in Green Bay, James consistently was compared to Hutson. In addition to breaking Hutson’s receptions and yardage records, his yards-per-catch average, 18.2, topped Hutson’s 16.4.
During his induction into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1999, James humbly declared, however, “Without a doubt, Don Hutson is the greatest receiver to have ever played here.”
In 1987, after nine seasons in Green Bay, James was traded to the Los Angeles Raiders, and he would spend two seasons playing for the Silver and Black prior to moving onto Buffalo after being a late training camp cut by the Raiders in 1989.
“Lord knows how that came about,” the Bills’ appreciative general manager and future Hall of Famer, BILL POLIAN, said at the time. “I’m just grateful it worked out for both the team and James.”
Bills coach and Hall of Famer MARV LEVY noted James’ physical abilities and leadership qualities declaring, “He’s an amazing physical specimen. He’s been blessed physically. And he conditions himself wonderfully. He’s unique. He’s the epitome of what a conditioned athlete can do. He’s just a tremendous asset to us that goes way beyond whatever number of passes he has caught for whatever number of yards.”
Levy added, “He has magnificent coaching qualities and the promise of being an outstanding coach.”
James’ conditioning resulted in a reputation for impressive durability. He played 246 games (counting playoff appearances) and holds the distinction as the first NFL player to score a touchdown in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s
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