John Gordy, captain of Tennessee’s 1956 SEC championship team and a two-year starter at right tackle, died Friday in Orange, Calif., after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 73.
Gordy went on to become a star offensive lineman for the Detroit Lions and was a pioneer in professional sports labor negotiations, helping found the NFL Players Association. He was instrumental in negotiating the first collective bargaining agreement in major professional sports.
The Nashville native was a 1952 graduate of Isaac Litton High School. He lettered three seasons at Tennessee and was named All-Southeastern Conference in 1956, when he captained the Vols to a perfect 10-0 regular season and conference title under head coach Bowden Wyatt. UT finished No. 2 in the nation by Associated Press despite a loss to Baylor in the Sugar Bowl.
Alternate captain on that team was tailback Johnny Majors, who said Gordy was part of a unit that remained close through the years.
“All of us who knew John Gordy and were teammates and colleagues are very deeply saddened by his passing,” Majors said. “He was a great friend to many, was outgoing and an outstanding leader of our football team. This championship team has always been a close unit, and I had several chances to visit with him and his family in California, in Tennessee and when I was at Pittsburgh.”
The Detroit Lions picked Gordy in the second round of the NFL Draft, the 24th overall selection. He moved into the Lions’ starting lineup in 1957 and helped the team win the NFL championship, the last time Detroit claimed the league title. Gordy was named All-Pro three times during his career and in 2008 was selected as a member of the Lions’ 75th anniversary team.
In his retirement hometown of San Clemente, Calif., Gordy became very active and supportive of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
A memorial service for Gordy is planned for Feb. 7 at 11 a.m. at Mariners Church, 5001 New Coast Drive, Irvine, CA 92603 ( www.marinerschurch.org, 949-854-7600). In lieu of flowers, the family requests helping send a kid to FCA camp. Contact Mark Boyer, Orange County FCA Director, P.O. Box 8366, Huntington Beach, CA 92615-8366, phone 714-841-2300.