Michigan State, Patriots great Tom Yewcic dies at 88

By MIKE MASTOVICH | The Tribune-Democrat, Johnstown, Pa. | Published: October 23, 2020

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. (Tribune News Service) — Tommy Yewcic, a multi-sport star who built one of the most impressive athletic resumes this region ever has seen, died on Wednesday at age 88.

The New England Patriots, his former team in the American Football League, announced the death of the East Conemaugh High School two-sport all-state selection and Michigan State University All-American quarterback who also was a College World Series MVP catcher.

Yewcic was one of this region's most high-profile success stories during the 1950s and 1960s. He was a natural who had success in both football and baseball at the highest levels and also was a star in basketball on the high school courts.

Yewcic played quarterback and punted for the Patriots and was a catcher for the Detroit Tigers during his brief major league career.

"I was a kid when he was playing. I knew the stories. I knew he was a really great athlete," said John Jacoby, a retired hall of fame football coach of Conemaugh Valley High School, where the football field bears Yewcic's name.

"When you played out on the playground, if you were the quarterback you wanted to be Tommy Yewcic. You wanted to emulate the people not only who were stars, but they were locals."

A Cambria County Sports Hall of Famer, Yewcic certainly fit into both categories.

He was an all-state performer in both basketball and football at East Conemaugh. Yewcic also was a standout baseball player for the Iron Horses and in the Johnstown Junior League, where he put together a AAABA Hall of Fame career.

Yewcic moved into the national spotlight at Michigan State, playing quarterback for coach Biggie Munn and catcher for coach John Kobs.

"Thomas Yewcic is one of the most decorated Michigan State athletes you've probably never heard of," sports writer Cody Tucker reported in the Lansing State Journal in 2018. "His stats aren't all that impressive. His impact, undeniably incredible. And it all started with a trick play — The Transcontinental Pass — at Ohio State in 1951."

The seventh-ranked Buckeyes led the top-ranked Spartans by three points late in the rivalry game. With Michigan State facing a fourth-and-9 from its own 28, quarterback Al Dorow lateraled to Yewcic, who faked a run around the edge and then threw a bomb back to Dorow at the Ohio State 15. Dorow scored and Michigan State won 24-20, eventually earning a share of the national title.

"I was a halfback until we played Ohio State in front of 84,000 people," Yewcic said during an interview for The Tribune-Democrat's 2016 book Fab 40 Sports Connections.

"We were practicing a play in practice called a 'Transcontinental,' " he said during the interview. "We'd line up in a T-formation and the quarterback would line up right behind center. The snap would be to the fullback."

At the time, 64 years had passed since that famous play, but Yewcic enthusiastically described in detail the snap, some misdirection and the ball being sent to him just before he lofted it downfield.

"That was the first pass I threw in college and it went for a touchdown, and we won the game 24-20," Yewcic recalled in 2016. "That pass is very famous — forever."

Yewcic quarterbacked the 1952 Spartans to an undefeated record and a national championship, earning All-American honors.

In 1953, Michigan State entered the Big Ten and Yewcic set single-season records for passing (941) and punting (1,788) yards. The Spartans shared the Big Ten crown and beat UCLA in the Rose Bowl.

Yewcic was part of Spartans teams that went 27-1 in three seasons.

Those numbers would be impressive enough, but Yewcic also starred on the baseball diamond.

He was named Most Outstanding Player in the 1954 College World Series even though Michigan State didn't reach the title game — the only player to win a Rose Bowl and be named as Most Outstanding Player of the College World Series.

Yewcic signed with the Detroit Tigers in 1954 and smacked a homer in his first at-bat with his Wilkes-Barre team in the low minors and later hit a grand slam in his first at-bat with Buffalo at a higher level in the system. He played in the minor leagues until he entered the U.S. Army in 1955.

"My first time up, I hit a home run," Yewcic said in the 2016 interview. "Two or three months later, I was hitting over .300, they shipped me up to Buffalo in Triple-A. I took a flight there, took a cab to the game and suited up in the sixth inning. The ninth inning came. We're losing by three runs. Bases are loaded. They called on me to pinch hit and I hit a grand slam."

Johnstown baseball icon Tony Joseph, also a AAABA Hall of Famer, spent time in the Tigers minor league system with Yewcic.

"We were in TigerTown together," Joseph said of Detroit's spring training home in Lakeland, Florida. "He was higher up in classification. My first year was his third year.

"He was a great ping-pong player," added Joseph, referring to how ballplayers spent some of their idle time. "His problem was he couldn't hit the curve ball. He was a great catcher but he had trouble hitting the curveball. He was a great guy. He was a lot of fun. He was in Class A when I was in Class D. Great football player. Great baseball player."

After returning from the Army, Yewcic rejoined the Tigers and made his major league debut in June 1957 against the Washington Senators. It was the only game he played in the big leagues. He remained in the minors through the 1961 season.

Then, he turned to football — eight years after his career ended at Michigan State. Yewcic played one season in the Canadian Football League with the Toronto Argonauts and had a tryout with the National Football League's Pittsburgh Steelers before his opportunity opened with the birth of the American Football League.

Yewcic joined the Boston Patriots in the AFL in 1961 and played halfback, quarterback and punter.

A member of the Patriots' 1960s All-Decade Team, the versatile Yewcic was considered one of the AFL squad's best punters with 378 kicks for 14,553 yards. He threw for 1,374 yards and 12 touchdowns over a six-year career (1961-66) with the Patriots.

After his playing career, Yewcic became the Patriots' offensive backfield coach in 1967-68. He was the offensive coordinator for Holy Cross in 1969-70, the offensive backfield coach for the University of Rhode Island in 1971-72 and then returned to the Patriots for a nine-season stint as offensive backfield and special teams coach from 1973-81.

Yewcic remained active with the Patriots as the New England Alumni Chapter President and participated in many charity events.

"The New England Patriots are deeply saddened to learn that former Patriots punter-quarterback Tom Yewcic passed away," the NFL team stated in announcing his death.

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