His nickname was well-earned. If you could play it at Sublette High School, he was there. And chances are, he was really, really good. He graduated in 1942 and headed east to Lawrence.
Upon his arrival on Mount Oread, Schnellbacher hit the ground running
– literally. “Snelly” continued to play
both football and basketball, and he continued to do both at a high
level. He was a two-time all-Big 6 football selection and an
all-American under coach George Sauer and a four-time all-conference
basketball pick under the legendary Phog Allen, despite having his
career interrupted by two years in the military.
In 1947, he and teammate Ray Evans were named captains by their
football teammates and lead Kansas to the 1948 Orange Bowl against
Georgia Tech. Both were also named all-Americans that year, the first
two Jayhawks to ever receive the honor.
Schnellbacher finished his college football career as Jayhawk career
leader in receptions (58) and receiving yards (1,069) – both
marks which stood until the 1969 season.
On the basketball floor, he was a member of two Big 6 championship
teams and averaged 11 points a game. He was selected team captain for
his senior campaign and wrapped up his career as the number two scorer
in KU history with 913 points.
He was drafted by the NBA’s St. Louis Bombers and split the
1948-49 season between St. Louis and the Providence Steamrollers.
Schnellbacher returned to football in 1950 to play for the New York Giants. He was a three-time all-pro defensive back for the New York
Giants and lead the league with 11 interceptions in 1951.
Schnellbacher stayed close to the KU athletics programs as a donor, fan
and a longtime member and officer in the Topeka Jayhawk Club. His name
resides in KU’s Memorial Stadium Ring of Honor. He was
inducted into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame in 1972.
No one cared more about KU athletics than Otto Schnellbacher. He once
said in a Topeka Capital-Journal article, “I love basketball
so much, I’m not sure how my wife stands me.”
He was always willing to share his favorite KU sports stories, and he
was always willing to sign autographs for children, even if it was
their parents who sent them over. Any time my sons and I would go to
Forbes to welcome back the basketball team from a postseason tournament
venue, Otto was already there, arranging the alumni band and making
sure a raucous crowd would greet the team.
Those who knew Schnellbacher will always remember him as a
man’s man. He served his country proudly and bravely during
WWII and, until recently, he still looked like he could strap on a
helmet (probably leather), jog his 6-3, 190-pound frame onto the turf
at Memorial Stadium and knock a Missouri Tiger into the middle of next
week. Had his wife been looking the other way, he probably would have
In a time of corporate sponsorships, scholarship suites, rotating
scoring table advertisements and priority seating points, we can
remember guys like the Double Threat fondly as a symbol of a more
innocent age. They did it for the competition and the camaraderie and
less for the gift bags, the PlayStation 3’s, energy drinks
and free shoes.
That was then, and this is now. Times may not be better;
they’re just different. But today, it’s so much
more specialized. One coach feels like he has too much invested in a
young man to risk him getting hurt playing for another. Back then, a
great athlete could simply transition from one sport to another without
missing a beat. He didn’t have to have a posse. He
didn’t have to have a trainer who helped him perfect his
passing motion. He didn’t have to have an AAU coach
“advising” him or play 112 tournament games every
summer. You could be successful coming out of a small town out west of
Dodge City with talent, some competitive fire and immense pride in
having the opportunity to wear the K.
Next fall, at the first Phog.net tent, I hope you’ll join me
in raising a glass to the Double Threat from Sublette. KU athletics and
the University will miss him.
KU Legend Passes Sunday
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