Skip to main content

Tobin Rote Jr., scrambled, rambled and threw his way into record books as a star quarterback in three football leagues in the 1950s and 1960s.

Rote died Tuesday at age 72 in a Saginaw, Mich., hospital, of a heart attack. He'd undergone heart surgery two weeks ago.

Canadians remember the Texas-born Rote as quarterback of the Toronto Argonauts of 1960-62, commander of a backfield that included Cookie Gilchrist at fullback and Dick Shatto and Dave Mann at running back.

Rote came to the Canadian Football League after having already been a champion in the National Football League with the Detroit Lions -- he guided Detroit to its last NFL championship in 1957, platooning with injured Hall of Famer Bobby Layne. In a 59-14 rout of the Cleveland Browns, Rote threw four touchdown passes and ran for a score himself. He remains No. 5 on the NFL's all-time quarterback rushing list with 3,128 yards gained.

"So, Rote didn't come here to the CFL as some sort of Last Chance Saloon. Players from the NFL generally came up to Canada to more money. The Argos were the big paymasters," said Argo president J. I. Albrecht, who managed the Montreal Alouettes in that era.

"In his first game against us, I remember he broke the league passing record and put on one helluva show. We came back against them in 1962 with Sandy Stevens and Sandy threw three TDs in the first 15 minutes against the Argos to make up for Rote's decimation of Montreal."

Rote wasn't one to be kept down, Albrecht recalled. "The time last we played the Argos was a playoff in 1962. They were third and we were second. That semi-final was his last CFL game and we beat them at McGill at Molson Stadium.

"But about a week prior to that, Sid Gillman the coach of the San Diego Chargers called me and asked how good he was, and if he could still play. Of course, I said he still could. Right after losing to us in the semi-final, he went back to the United States and played with the Chargers and led them to the American Football League title."

Rote played for the Green Bay Packers from 1950 to 1956 and is enshrined in that franchise's Hall of Fame. He led the NFL in passing yards in 1956 and in touchdown passes in 1955 and 1956, then was dealt to the Lions in 1957 as the Packers made room for future Hall of Famer Bart Starr.