THE SBC COTTON BOWL CLASSIC REMEMBERS SMU GREAT KYLE ROTESMU All-American halfback Kyle Rote, who teamed up with Doak Walker to lead the Mustangs to the 1949 Cotton Bowl crown, passed away early Thursday morning. He was 73.
Rote earned All-American honors in 1950 before being selected in the first round by the New York Giants in 1951. He finished his SMU career as the school’s all-time leading rusher with 2,049 yards.
The 1949 Classic matched SMU against an Oregon squad led by quarterback Norm Van Brocklin. Rote led the Mustangs with 93 yards rushing. He tacked on another 55 receiving yards en route to being named one of the game’s Outstanding Players and leading SMU to a 21-13 victory.
In addition to his impressive rushing and receiving stats, Rote’s punting ability was what put him into the Classic record books. In the second quarter, with the ball resting on the SMU 4-yardline, Rote took the snap and launched an 84-yard punt, booming it all the way to the Oregon 12. To this day, Rote’s punt ranks as the longest in Cotton Bowl history.
Rote became a household name, when in 1949, he rushed for 115 yards and completed 10 passes for 146 yards in a 27-20 loss to national champion Notre Dame. Rote, who was filling in for an injured Walker, nearly led SMU, a 28-point underdog, to a huge upset.
Texas sportswriters voted that game the single-greatest performance by a Texas athlete in the first half of the 20th century.
During his senior year at SMU, Rote appeared on the cover of Life magazine’s Nov. 13, 1950, edition. That was the only season SMU’s football team has ever been ranked No. 1 in the nation. Later that season, SMU dropped a game to Texas, ending the Mustangs’ impressive run.
Rote died of complications from pneumonia at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, where he was admitted Aug. 4 for emergency hernia surgery. He is survived by his wife Nina of 30 years and four children: Kyle Jr., Gary, Chris and Elizabeth.