He is perhaps the finest all-around tight end ever to come out of New Orleans (and never mind that he actually hails from Gulfport, Mississippi).
If you’re looking to confirm the high level of success achieved at every step of Billy Truax’s football career: He was All-Prep at Holy Cross High, All-Southeastern Conference at LSU, a second-round NFL draft choice, and a Super Bowl champion with the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl VI.
But you had to have seen him play to understand just how good he was.
Truax, now 71, will be the Holy Cross recipient of the “Legends of the Game” award (Frank Massa will be his Jesuit counterpart) for Friday night’s 93rd Jesuit-Holy Cross game in Tad Gormley Stadium, the fifth-longest consecutively played prep rivalry in the United States.
But even Truax, who now lives in Kearney, Nebraska, acknowledges that his pass-receiving totals would appear downright skimpy in comparison to today’s tight ends, who figure far more prominently in today’s spread offenses.
“Oh, I loved to catch the football,” said Truax, a 6-5, 240-pounder who was a physical prototype of the kind of tight end into which Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski have evolved. “These guys today, they’re such a big parts of their teams’ offenses. And they get paid big, too. I think the most I ever made in any season was around $45,000.”
In seven years with the Los Angeles Rams and three with the Cowboys, Truax caught 199 passes for 2,458 yards (a 12.4-yard average per reception) and 17 touchdowns. And while those numbers equate to about two seasons of Graham’s production with the Saints, consider this: Truax’s 35 receptions in 1968 led the Rams, and his 37 in ’67 tied for second on the team, behind only wide receiver Bernie Casey’s 53.
“It’s amazing how the game has changed,” Truax said of the sophistication of modern passing offenses.
When he played at LSU, the Tigers were “3 yards and a cloud of dust. Just pound them down to the end of the game.”
Nor was LSU’s conservatism an exception to the rule. From 1961 through ’63, Truax caught just 18 passes for 324 yards and two touchdowns, yet he was voted first-team All-SEC as a senior, when he also played some defense, intercepting two passes and recovering three fumbles. But 1963 was a season in which Georgia’s Pat Hodgson led the SEC with just 24 catches. LSU did not have any receiver finish in the top 10 in the league in passes caught.
“When I was in high school, if we threw the ball seven times a game, that was a lot,” said Holy Cross Athletic Director Barry Wilson, a 1964 Holy Cross alumnus who followed Truax at both Holy Cross and LSU. “I imagine it was like that when Billy was here, too. It was wing-T and single-wing football. Coaches weren’t inclined to put the ball in the air much. The game is so much more wide-open than it used to be.”
Truax arrived at Holy Cross at age 12 as a boarding student, in large part because his cousin, Dalton Truax, had gone there via that route.
“My dad (Bill Jr.) was from Arabi,” Billy recalled. “That’s where he was born and raised. When his brother’s son, Dalton, got a scholarship to play football at Tulane, I guess my dad figured that if he could get me through Holy Cross, I might get a scholarship, too, and he wouldn’t have to pay for me to go to college. I had four sisters and a brother, and we were all raised in a two-bedroom, one-bath house in Gulfport. When I got to be 12, it was getting kind of crowded. It was time for me to move on and (make) room for those girls coming up behind me.”
Truax — whose son, Chris, followed in his footsteps as a guard at LSU — was so dominant at Holy Cross that college grant-in-aid offers poured in from Alabama, Ole Miss, Notre Dame, Tulane, Mississippi State and the U.S. Naval Academy, among others. But his heart was set on LSU.
Used primarily as an additional blocker for standout running backs Jerry Stovall, Wendell Davis and Earl Gros, Truax still showed enough with the Tigers to be a second-round pick of both the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, who envisioned him filling the same role for the great Jim Brown, and the AFL’s Houston Oilers. He signed with Cleveland, which would go on to win the NFL championship that season, but he tore a hamstring on the first day of training camp, sat out six weeks and was traded to the Rams without having played a down for the Browns.
Maybe the numbers do tell the real story of Billy Truax after all. He was, more than anything, a winner, his teams going 18-8-2 in four seasons at Holy Cross, 26-6-1 at LSU (with victories over Texas in the Cotton Bowl and Colorado in the Orange Bowl) and 89-45-6 in the NFL, with five playoff appearances and that Super Bowl title.
“Several of my high school teammates, Class of 1960, still get together every six months or so,” said Truax, who said he was “thrilled” to be getting his alma mater’s Legends of the Game Award. “We had a really good group of guys, and we did at LSU, too. I’m very fortunate to have been a part of that.”