By Michael LeCompte
This is part of an ongoing series in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15) celebrating some of the Hispanic and Hispanic-American athletes and coaches who have contributed to the games we love.
Thomas Jesse Fears was born in Guadalajara, Mexico on December 3rd, 1922. He moved to Los Angeles at the age of six and worked as an usher at football games as a child and soon fell in love with the game, resulting in a Hall of Fame playing and coaching career that spanned decades.
From 1948-1956 he starred at split-end for his hometown Los Angeles Rams. In 1949 the NFL was still a young league and Fears broke the record for most catches in a season with 77. That mark stood for just a year until Fears himself increased it by grabbing 84 passes in 1950.
By 1951 Fears was an established star in the NFL and after a protracted contract dispute during which he threatened to walk away from the game and run a liquor distributorship he signed for the then-unprecedented sum of $13,000. Over the next few seasons he played up to his contract. In the 1952 NFL Championship game he led the Rams to victory over the Browns by hauling in the game-winning 73 yard touchdown pass.
When his playing career ended Fears headed to the sidelines as a coach. He was an assistant under Vince Lombardi on the legendary Green Bay Packer teams of the ’60’s and was named Head Coach of the expansion New Orleans Saints in 1967.
As expansion franchises usually do, the Saints struggled early in their existence and Fears was fired after compiling a 13-34-2 record.
After serving as a technical advisor for the film North Dallas Forty Fears claimed he was blacklisted by the NFL and not given the coaching opportunities he deserved. His last coaching position was with Los Angeles’s franchise in the short-lived USFL.
In 1994 Fears was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He passed away in 2000 at the age of 78.
From the field to the sideline, to Hollywood and the Hall of Fame (Fears was enshrined in 1970), Tom Fears left his mark on the game of football.