Tommy Mason, the only Tulane player taken with the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft, died Thursday. He was 75.
The cause of death was not released, but his sister-in-law, Suzanne MacNeil, told The Associated Press he died peacefully at his home in Newport Beach, Calif.
Mason, a native of Lake Charles, earned All-America honors from Time Magazine and All-Southeastern Conference honors from the league’s coaches as a senior halfback in 1960, when he established a school-record for all-purpose yards (1,452) that lasted for 28 years. The mark still ranks him among the top 10 in Tulane history.
He led the SEC with 663 rushing yards in 1960, adding 376 receiving yards, 314 kickoff return yards, 99 punt return yards and 13 touchdowns. Although the Green Wave finished 3-6-1, it won at California in its opening game and tied a Bear Bryant-coached Alabama team that went 8-1-2 the following week.
The expansion Minnesota Vikings grabbed Mason first in the 1961 NFL draft (one year after another Louisiana native, Billy Cannon of LSU, went with the No. 1 pick), while the Boston Patriots of the American Football League picked him second. He chose the NFL and played with the Vikings for six years, racking up 3,252 rushing yards while earning Pro Bowl nods for three straight years from 1962-64. He also was a first-team All-Pro pick in 1963 — becoming the franchise’s first All-Pro selection — from the AP and United Press International.
After leaving the Vikings, he spent four seasons with the Los Angeles Rams from 1967-70 and one season with the Washington Redskins in 1971. The Rams made the playoffs in 1967 and 1969, as did the Redskins in 1971.
For his NFL career, he rushed for 4,302 yards and 32 touchdowns and caught 214 passes for 2,324 receiving yards with 13 scores.
At Tulane, he was in the background before his huge senior season, playing sparingly as a sophomore in his first year of eligibility and finishing second to teammate Terry Terrebone with 336 rushing yards on 81 carries as a junior.
He was inducted into the Tulane Athletic Hall of Fame in 1978, the AllState Sugar Bowl Hall of Fame in 1979 and the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 1981.
Mason, who attended Lake Charles High School, married former Olympic gymnast Cathy Rigby in 1973. They divorced eight years later.
He is survived by his wife, Karen, and three sons.
The Vikings released a statement from owner/president Mark Wilf: “The entire Minnesota Vikings organization is saddened by the loss of Tommy Mason. As the team’s first-ever draft pick, Tommy played a significant role in the history of the franchise. After spending six seasons with the team, he remained a part of the Vikings family, appearing at multiple events over the past several decades. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Mason family at this time.”