We recently touched on how former linebacker Willie Pless and wide receiver Hal Patterson became enshrined in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame after collegiate careers at Kansas University.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you that George McGowan achieved the same status as a legendary receiver.
Larry Hatfield, a living encyclopedia of notable sports activities, reminded me of McGowan, and I’m grateful. Somebody that good deserves to be brought back into print for those unaware of his greatness. This one’s for you, George.
Born in 1948 in Bethesda, Md., McGowan grew up in Glendale, Calif., where he played junior-college football two years before getting a scholarship to join the 1968 Kansas Orange Bowl team. He had 32 receptions for 592 yards and five touchdowns for the 9-2 Jayhawks of Pepper Rodgers.
Never a zealous recruiter, Rodgers failed to return from the Orange Bowl and clean out the area’s talent. The result was a 1-9 season, with the fast, sure-handed McGowan shifted to defensive back.
“My senior year (’69) wasn’t much fun,” George says. “Here I was, a good receiver, playing as an ordinary defensive back.”
Drafted by the Atlanta Falcons of the NFL, McGowan met only frustration. “I realized I had made the greatest mistake of my life,” he adds. “Pepper Rodgers thought Norm Van Brocklin would be a good coach for me; I signed even though I knew they had 15 receivers in camp.”
Released and downcast, McGowan got a call from the CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos, but had another setback when they also put him on defense, and he failed to crack the lineup. Kept working, got called back, and his CFL football life really began in 1971. As a rookie, he made 49 catches for 827 yards and five touchdowns, comparable to his ’68 season at Kansas.
For his 81 catches for 1,123 yards and nine TDs in ’73, George was named the most outstanding player in Canada. One of the receivers he beat out was Johnny Rodgers, the Nebraska Heisman Trophy star. Only two others, one of them KU’s Patterson, had ever caught more balls in one season.
Canadian women labeled the devilishly handsome McGowan “David Cassidy with a mustache.” Don’t know Cassidy? It was a compliment.
Plagued by knee injuries, McGowan could play only eight seasons with Edmonton. He was in five Grey Cup (Canada’s Super Bowl) games and took home two championship rings. Looking for any cure, McGowan turned to acupuncture, with no success. Colleagues said if George had been healthy he would have shattered nearly every receiving record.
For years, fans referred to him as the greatest CFL player NOT in the hall of fame. That was remedied in 2003. Kansas got another revered name on the ledger.
Another Jayhawk who made a mark in Canada was receiver Waddell Smith, the free spirit who drove Kansas coach Bud Moore nuts with his pleading for more passing to “showcase my abilities.” Waddell was an Edmonton Eskimo, 1977-83, and played on five Grey Cup title teams. He finished his career in the NFL, only two games for the Dallas Cowboys in ’84.
Patterson, Pless, McGowan and, long ago, Ormand Beach. KU’s done right well by Canadian football.