Former Vol Great Steve Delong passes away


Tennessee lineman Steve DeLong, 1964 winner of the Outland Trophy and member of the College Football Hall of Fame, died Wednesday in Knoxville at the age of 67.

DeLong made a name for himself through toughness at a time when Tennessee football fortunes were low. The Norfolk, Va., native played for three different head coaches in as many seasons, suiting up for Bowden Wyatt’s last year in 1962, Jim McDonald’s only stint in 1963 and for the first season under Doug Dickey in 1964.

“I’m very sorry to learn of his passing,” Dickey said Wednesday by phone. “Steve was a great football player for us. He was a wonderful team player and a delightful person to coach.”

The Vols received little national recognition and were a combined 13-16-1 in DeLong’s three years, never winning more than five games. Nonetheless, DeLong’s greatness was easy to spot and he continued to star regardless of who was coaching.

“He was a great player on a very average team,” Dickey added. “To have won that award (Outland) was an unusual accomplishment, but he was truly deserving of it. It was the first national award won by a Tennessee player.”

Playing before the era of defensive statistics, DeLong was named to the Associated Press All-Sophomore team and earned the first of three SEC Coaches Best Defensive Lineman awards as a middle guard. He was voted All-SEC both as a junior and senior. The Columbus Touchdown Club, Birmingham Touchdown Club and Look magazine also named him the nation’s outstanding lineman of 1964, and he was MVP of the 1965 Senior Bowl.

DeLong twice was named All-America and captured the 1964 Outland Trophy, presented annually to the nation’s best interior lineman. Despite Tennessee’s 4-5-1 record that year, DeLong never let the defense be a reason for shortcomings. The Vols allowed just 121 points in 10 games -- losing 3-0 to Auburn, tying LSU 3-3 and losing 7-0 to Vanderbilt among their results.

DeLong captained the Vols as a senior and also served as captain of the East squad in the 1965 Shrine Bowl. Not long afterward, he was the sixth player selected by both the NFL’s Chicago Bears and AFL’s San Diego Chargers in the 1965 drafts. DeLong played for the Chargers from 1965-71 before finishing his playing career with the Bears in 1972.

The College Football Hall of Fame added DeLong to its ranks in 1993. Other awards include being named to the Atlanta Journal’s 35th anniversary All-SEC team in 1968, induction to his Oscar Smith High School hall of honor in 1987, the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame in 1989, and the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in 2000.

He was one of three DeLongs to play at Tennessee and all three were captains or co-captains of their squads. DeLong’s brother, Ken, was a two-time All-SEC tight end selection from 1967-69; while his son, Keith, was an All-SEC and All-America linebacker from 1985-88. Keith was a first-round draft choice of the San Francisco 49ers in 1989.

Steve and Keith are the only father-son All-America combination in Tennessee history, and both were selected by fan vote to the school’s “100 Years All-Time Team” in 1991.

Steve DeLong suffered a traumatic injury that left him partially paralyzed after a fall at his Newport home back in 2002. He died Wednesday at Knoxville’s St. Mary’s Hospital, and funeral arrangements are pending.