In this Sunday, NFL week four, edition of 100 Days, 100 Detroit Lions, we pay tribute to a talented All-Pro Lion who became a bigger success off the gridiron than maybe any player in franchise history.
72. Byron “Whizzer” White
Tailback / Defensive Back / Halfback / Fullback. 1940-41 Detroit; 1938 Pittsburgh Pirates (Steelers)
Byron White gained his initial fame on the football field, but would go on to much greater fame in the field of law. The 6-foot-1, 187 pound star from the University of Colorado was taken by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first-round of the 1938 NFL draft. He took his $15,000 rookie salary from Art Rooney and used it to later put himself through Yale’s School of Law. His law career would culminate with his service as a Justice on the United States Supreme Court from 1962 until 1993. He intelligence was evident not only as a Justice, but as a football player too, as his Lion teammate Augie Lio remembered: “I was amazed that a fellow playing with you could know so much about what everyone else did or didn’t do on a certain play.”
Byron was a great football player during his short three-year career. As a rookie in 1938 with the Pirates, he would lead the NFL in rushing with 567 yards. While taking the 1939 season off to study at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, the Lions obtained his rights from Pittsburgh. It was a good move, because White returned to the NFL in 1940, and won the league’s rushing title again with 514 yards and 5 touchdowns. He also was the Lions’ leading passer and scorer, accounting for 32 of the Lions 138 points that season. Byron would repeat the feat again in 1941, with 238 yards rushing, 338 yards passing, and 24 points to his credit. He would also lead the NFL in punt returns (19), and punt return yardage (262). As a defensive back, White would intercept 5 passes during his Lion career, returning one for an 81-yard touchdown in 1941. Byron would earn first-team All-NFL honors in 1940 and second-team honors in 1938 and ‘41.