Magazine Feature / People

DU football Hall of Famer loses cancer battle

Sam Etcheverry, a star quarterback on the Pioneer football team and one of the University’s most accomplished athletes, passed away Aug. 29. He was 79.

Etcheverry died in Montreal after a long battle with skin cancer. The funeral will be Sept. 12 in his hometown of Carlsbad, N.M.

Nicknamed “The Rifle” while playing football at DU from 1949–51, he holds most Pioneer passing records, including marks of 2,510 passing yards, 392 attempts, 198 completions and 2,662 yards gained.

“He was a star, an extremely good player,” says Richard Henke (BS ’53), a teammate of Etcheverry’s. “He was a very competitive person, not only in football but in anything he did.”

DU sacked football as an intercollegiate sport in 1961 due to financial considerations. Etcheverry was a member of the first class inducted into the Pioneer Sports Hall of Fame in 1996.

After Etcheverry (BA physical education ’52) graduated, he went on to a successful career in professional football — on the northern side of the 49th parallel.

Etcheverry played professionally in the Canadian Football League for the Montreal Alouettes. In his nine years with the club, Etcheverry set nearly every team passing record, was named an all-star six times and let the Alouettes to three consecutive Grey Cup games — the CFL’s version of the Super Bowl. Etcheverry still holds the record for most passing yards in the Grey Cup game with 508 in the 1955 loss to the Edmonton Eskimoes. He won the CFL’s most outstanding player award in 1954 and his No. 92 jersey is one of seven retired by the franchise.

“Sam Etcheverry will be sorely missed, fondly remembered, and forever listed among the greats who carried our league forward, with each and every pass,” says CFL Commissioner Mark Cohon.

In 1960, Etcheverry had a one-season stint in the National Football League with the St. Louis Cardinals. He then retired from playing and headed back to Montreal to coach the Alouettes to the Grey Cup Championship in 1970.

“Hall of Fame player. Grey Cup winning coach. All star in business world. Great Montrealer. What a life,” says a fan on

“Thanks for everything Sam, you were a hero to a generation and a legend to everyone,” says a fan on the Montreal Alouettes’ message board.

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