MULE': Remembering Kenny Konz

The timing of Kenny Konz's passing was somehow fitting, coming as it did on the eve of national signing day.

With the hoopla of Five Star this and all the upside there, all the verbal confetti that engulfs the college football world on this one day, it's always amusing to make note of those can't-miss athletes who miss – or those question marks who turn into exclamation points on the field.

Konz, whose college coaches had to be cajoled into giving him a shot at LSU, would be dubbed "The SEC's All-Around Best" by the Associated Press four years later.

He earned the title. In this age of specialization it seems strange, but in the late 1940s and early '50s, Konz was a jack-of-all-trades for the Tigers – and invaluable. He put in time at safety, cornerback, quarterback, fullback, and end. He kicked off, kicked extra points, punted, and ran back punts. Konz, who was 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, ran the 100 in 9.9, noteworthy for the time.

"He's one of those special men who have made LSU football what it is," said the late John Ferguson, longtime voice of the Tigers who saw Konz play. "Kenny wasn't a big man, but he had a lot of ability and he played with a big heart."

Try telling that before the fact to skeptical coaches.

Before matriculating at LSU, Konz had only played six-man football at Weimar High School in Texas. A fan from Baton Rouge named Rubin Moss used to hunt deer near Weimar, and he would take in local games. Moss was impressed with Konz's speed and skills, as anyone would have been. Konz scored 120 career touchdowns and passed for 40 more. He rushed for over 8,000 yards, passed for 3,800, kicked 160 PATs and averaged 44.6 yards per punt.

Moss eagerly told an indifferent Tiger coaching staff about him.

"I had offers from just about every school in Texas," Konz said. "Six-man football is not 11-man football, but it does require quickness and skill, and I was a good athlete. They could see that.

"But my brother attended Texas A&M, and he was home every weekend, fiddlin' around, not doing his schoolwork. And all those schools were within easy driving distance. I wanted to go someplace where I was really away from home – but not so far that I couldn't get back quickly if my family needed me. LSU fit the bill."

Ferguson, along with sports information director Jim Corbett, was present at Don Lee's Restaurant on Baton Rouge's

Third Street
when then-coach Bernie Moore mulled over the pros and cons of giving a scholarship to a kid who had only played six-man football. "He finally decided to take a chance," Ferguson said. "The rest is history."

Tiger assistant Art Swanson called Konz, informed him that LSU had a spot for him, and told him to get on over. "I had to hitchhike to Baton Rouge," Konz said, "but it was certainly worth it."

The only one of 31 freshmen to make the varsity, Konz made his presence felt immediately in practice by running back a punt against the Tigers' first string. The angry coaches ran the return over again, and Konz again ran the kick back. Then a third time. LSU's coaches were mad, and the first-string varsity embarrassed, but the Tigers had found a weapon.

Konz would go on to All-SEC recognition with the Tigers, then to an All-Pro career with the Cleveland Browns where he played on two NFL championship teams from 1953-59, a period in which the Browns went 59-23-2. He led the NFL in punt returns in 1956 with a 14.4 yard average and is still fourth on Cleveland's career interception list with 30. He was inducted into the LSU, Texas and Louisiana sports halls of fame.

But, by his own accounting, the highest moment of Konz's career came on Nov. 26, 1949, when the Tigers were pitted against mighty Tulane in New Orleans.

In today's world, it's hard to think of LSU knowing it would have to play a perfect game just to stay close with the Green Wave. That's exactly what the Tigers faced, though.

Tulane had not only already secured the Southeastern Conference championship but was also a powerhouse that humiliated LSU in 1948 by what was then the largest margin in the ancient series, an embarrassing 46-0.

Tulane had been a preseason No. 1 pick by The Sporting News and a universal Top 10 selection. The Wave fell short but won the SEC, was ranked No. 10 with a 7-1-1 record at the time of the LSU game, and was ready to accept a Sugar Bowl invitation with a victory.

And LSU was a seven-point underdog, the equivalent of two touchdowns in today's football.

Konz put the Tigers in command the first time LSU touched the ball. On a punt, Konz took the ball on the run at the LSU 8 and headed up field along the east sideline. "There was no one around me," Konz said. " I didn't see a single Tulane man on his feet. I just turned a little to the right and made my way downfield. Everyone near me was knocked down. Fact is, some of our guys blocked two men."

It was the opening salvo and seemed to shock the Green Wave, which didn't seriously threaten to score until late in the game.

For the day, Konz returned 10 punts for 125 yards – still in the top 10 of LSU records – racked up 173 yards in all-purpose yardage, and intercepted three passes – still tied for the top spot in the LSU record book – in a stunning 21-0 upset.

Tulane was knocked out of the Sugar Bowl, and the Tigers took the place of the Wave.

"No team I've ever seen played as close to 100 percent of its capability as this 1949 bunch did against Tulane," Gaynell Tinsley, who succeeded Moore as Tiger coach, said afterward, and still insisted decades later. "On every tackle, it seemed like we had four men or more around the ball. Konz played the greatest game at safety I ever witnessed."

Of Konz, the prospect the coaches were so hesitant to take a chance on all those years before, Tinsley added, "He left a mark."


Marty Mule' can be reached at

Tiger Blitz Top Stories