Perennial Pro Bowl defensive back Mel Renfro, who was born on December 30, 1941, was one of the NFL’s best during his 13 year career. He has been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and is a member of the Cowboys’ Ring of Honor.
Cowboy great Mel Renfro achieved All Pro status at both the free safety and cornerback positions during his career in the NFL, and he probably could have succeeded as well at running back and as a kick returner as well. Dallas’ former shut down defensive back turns 75 years old today.
Coming to Dallas from the University of Oregon in the 1964 draft (the same draft that brought fellow Hall of Famers Roger Staubach and Bob Hayes to Dallas), Renfro brought speed and all around athletic ability to the Cowboys’ defensive backfield.
Renfro had 52 interceptions in his career, including a league high 10 in 1969 while playing safety. He was switched to cornerback in 1970, and became one of the NFL’s top performers at that position. Renfro had four interceptions in the regular season in 1970, and added three more in the post-season. His last minute pick of Detroit’s Greg Landry sealed an emotional 5-0 victory for the Cowboys in Dallas’ first round playoff game, and Renfro also had interceptions in Dallas’ 17-10 win over the 49ers in the NFC title game and in Super Bowl V against the Colts.
In 1971, Renfro and his teammates saw years of frustration fade away as the Cowboys finally won a NFL title. Renfro’s play in Super Bowl 6, a game in which he shadowed talented Miami receiver Paul Warfield for a great deal of the game, helped the Cowboys win 24-3.
The 10 time Pro Bowl selection was also a Cowboy when the team won its second Super Bowl title. The team’s elder statesman was a backup cornerback at that point of his career, but he did have two interceptions in the regular season including a game clinching take away in the final seconds of the Cowboys’ 14-7 victory over arch-rival Washington on November 27, 1977.
In his early years in Dallas, Renfro was an accomplished return man. He returned a punt 69 yards for a score in his rookie season of 1964 in Dallas’ 45-21 loss to Green Bay, and kickoff returns for six points in both 1965 and 1966.
Renfro’s 52 career regular season interceptions is the high mark in Cowboys’ history, ahead of Everson Walls’ 44 and Charlie Waters’ 41. Renfro’s 10 Pro Bowl appearances trails only Bob Lilly among Cowboys.
Always humble, Renfro was once quoted as saying that he felt Bart Starr, John Unitas and Jim Brown were the real stars of the NFL. In his 13 year career, Renfro played at a level that put him in the same class as those greats.