Monday, April 15th, 2002
SBC Cotton Bowl Legend, Ex-Supreme Court Justice Byron White DieRetired Supreme Court Justice Byron R. White, a football legend, who spent three decades on the nation’s highest court, died Monday. He was 84.
The name Byron Raymond White will forever be associated with the SBC Cotton Bowl. A celebrated college and professional athlete, White was poetry in motion. So gifted, he was dubbed in the media as “Whizzer” White, a nickname he quickly grew to detest.
When questioned about the spelling of his pet name, White’s associates were instructed to reply “B-Y-R-O-N.” White insisted he had the misfortune of being christened “by some sportswriter who didn’t like me.”
White excelled on both sides of the ball for Colorado. He led the nation in rushing and scoring as a senior and was regarded as one of college football’s most aggressive defensive players.
Sensational in the 1938 Cotton Bowl against Rice, the Heisman Trophy runner-up led the Buffaloes to the end zone on their first possession of the game with a nine-yard pass play. Minutes later, he electrified the crowd with a 47-yard interception return, a mark that stood for 49 years as the Classic’s longest. On top of all that, he kicked two extra points and was a unanimous choice for MVP honors despite Colorado’s 28-14 loss to the Owls.
While he may have been regarded as “the most popular football player in the United States,” Byron White was destined for fame far beyond the playing field.
He was a Phi Beta Kappa, valedictorian and president of his 1938 graduating class at Colorado, and earned a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford University. White continued to play football professionally for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Detroit Lions, but only as a means to further his education at the Yale Law School.
When World War II arrived, he served as a Naval intelligence officer before returning to Denver to practice law. In 1962, “Whizzer” White became “Justice” White when President John F. Kennedy chose him as his first appointment to the United States Supreme Court.