Drafted into NFL, NBA, and ABA, Ron Widby may be one of the best two-sport athletes you’ve never heard of. While certainly not a household name, Widby, who passed away on Wednesday at the age of 75, actually played more than two sports, four to be exact, at the University of Tennessee. He then played one season in the ABA and six seasons in the NFL as a punter with the Dallas Cowboys, with whom he won a Super Bowl, and Green Bay Packers.
Ron Widby was a four-sport star at Tennessee
Born in 1945 in Knoxville, Tennessee, Ron Widby was a multi-sport star in high school and chose to stay in his hometown for college, accepting a scholarship to the University of Tennessee in 1963. As he’d suffered an arm injury during his senior year of high school, he chose to concentrate on basketball for Tennessee but the football team kept him on scholarship anyway in case he changed his mind, which Widby did when the special teams coach went to basketball coach Ray Mears and told him the football team needed a punter, which was one of three positions Widby had played in high school, along with quarterback and safety.
Widby, who hit .400 for Tennessee’s freshman baseball team, agreed to join the football team and earned starting spots in both football and basketball as a sophomore in 1964-1965, the same year he also hit nearly .300 on the varsity baseball team before giving up the sport.
As the Volunteers’ punter for three seasons, Ron Widby averaged over 42 yards per kick and earned All-American honors as a senior, leading the nation in yards per punt at 43.8.
As a basketball player, Widby was a two-time All-SEC selection and was named SEC Player of the Year as a senior in 1966-1967, averaging 22.1 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. He was also named a Second-Team All-American that season.
And just for kicks, Widby also played on the golf team at Tennessee for a time.
He played a season in the ABA before winning a Super Bowl with the Dallas Cowboys
Upon graduation from Tennessee in 1967, Ron Widby was taken in three drafts in two sports. He was taken in the fourth round of the 1981 NFL draft by the New Orleans Saints, the 12th round of the NBA draft by the Chicago Bulls, and the fifth round of the ABA draft by the New Orleans Buccaneers.
While Widby preferred basketball, he chose to sign with the Saints, who threw in a $50,000 bonus. However, he failed to make the roster and signed with the Dallas Cowboys, who assigned him to the Continental Football League. And just because he could, he also played 20 games in the ABA during the 1967-1968 season with the Buccaneers, averaging 2.9 points per game.
In 1968, Widby became the starting punter for the Dallas Cowboys and performed quite well. He finished fifth in the NFL in yards per punt with a 40.9-yard average and also set a then-NFL record with an 84-yarder against the Saints. The following season, he endeared himself to rookie quarterback and future Hall of Famer Roger Staubach by giving him his No. 12 jersey, also finishing second in the league with a 43.3-yard punt average.
Ron Widby played two more seasons with the Cowboys and earned a Super Bowl ring when Dallas knocked off the Miami Dolphins in the title game following the 1971 season, the first of five Super Bowl wins for the franchise. That season was also when Widby earned his first and only Pro Bowl selection. In four years in Big D, Widby averaged 41.8 yards per punt, which is still good for the eighth-highest average in franchise history.
He played his final two seasons in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers in 1972 and 1973, a year in which he ruptured a disc in his spine, which ultimately cost him his career. Widby officially retired from the NFL in 1975.
Ron Widby has passed away at the age of 75
In retirement, Ron Widby continued to stay active. He became a golf pro in Texas and twice tried to qualify for the PGA Senior Tour (now called the Champions Tour), although he never quite made it.
Per the Knoxville News Sentinel, he was inducted into the Greater Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame in 1990 and the University of Tennessee Athletics Hall of Fame in 2016.
Ron Widby, who according to ESPN had been in poor health over the last few years, passed away on December 23, 2020, at the age of 75.
All stats courtesy of Sports Reference