Former Cowboys running back Don McIlhenny passed away this week at the age of 88. The former SMU standout's cause of death was not reported but he was known to have been battling Alzheimer's disease for the last decade.
Originally drafted in the third round by the Lions in 1956, McIlhenny spent the 1957-59 season in Green Bay. He was selected by the Cowboys in the 1960 NFL Expansion Draft. Dallas was allowed to pick three unprotected players from the rosters of the other 12 teams, to create the original team that year.
Two CAREER Highlights
Although McIlhenny only played 14 games in a Dallas Cowboys' uniform he will forever hold a place in Cowboys' lore. On September 24, 1960, in the Cowboys first-ever NFL game at the Cotton Bowl versus the Steelers, McIlhenny scored from five yards out.
The touchdown gave Dallas a 21-7 lead in the second quarter in a game they eventually lost 35-28 on Bobby Layne's fourth touchdown pass of the game. McIlhenny rushed for 45 yards on 10 carries in the game and caught three Eddie LeBaron passes for 21 yards. LeBaron would throw three touchdowns, but also three interceptions.
During the inaugural 1960 season, McIlhenny would see action in 11 of Dallas' 12 games, starting seven of them at running back. He would face off against his two former teams as well – a 41-7 loss to Green Bay in Week #8 and a 23-14 loss to the Lions in the season finale.
McIlhenny would finish the 1960 season with 321 yards on 96 carries and that one lone touchdown against Pittsburgh. He added 120 yards on 15 receptions and scored a touchdown on a 64-yard pass from Don Meredith in a 17-7 loss to the Bears.
Time In Dallas Comes To An End
In the 1961 season, McIlhenny saw limited action as Don Perkins claimed the starting running back position for Dallas. He would play in only three games for Dallas that year, gaining four yards on two carries and catching one pass for six yards.
His final game in a Cowboys' uniform came in Minnesota on October 8, 1961. He had one carry for four yards in a 28-0 win over the Vikings. McIlhenny was waived three days later.
The San Francisco 49ers claimed him a few days later and he saw action in five games. But he would not find a rebirth of his career out west. McIlhenny would only gain 30 yards on eight carries for San Francisco.
He would not be in an NFL football uniform after the 1961 season ended. McIlhenny's six-year run in the NFL had come to an end.
Another McIlhenny Stars At SMU
His wife of 62 years, Jan, passed away in 2018. The couple had four children, including a son, Lance, who played quarterback at SMU in the 1980s alongside Eric Dickerson.
Lance would go 31-3-1 at SMU during the Mustangs' “Pony Express” heydays in the early 1980s. In addition to throwing for 3,701 yards and a 33-21 touchdown-to-interception ratio, he ran for 495 yards and scored five touchdowns on the ground.