Every now and then over the decades and the centuries of time comes a guy that just stands head and shoulders above the rest as far as athleticism. One such specimen was Russ Francis of Oregon.
Francis wasn’t so much about college football as he was the NFL, because he only played in 14 games at Oregon. But, the 6-6, 235 Francis had so much physical talent that the NFL was completely infatuated with him.
Originally from Hawaii, the Francis family moved to the Eugene, Oregon area while Russ was in high school. As a senior at Pleasant Hill High School in Oregon, Russ Francis set the national Javelin throwing record with a toss of 259 feet and 9 inches which stood for about 18 years. He competed in the decathlon, but his first love was football and he signed with the local school, the Oregon Ducks,
Oregon was not exactly a powerhouse back in those years in spite of the fact that they had Dan Fouts at quarterback in 1972. Even with a future NFL star like Fouts, they finished 4-7 during his senior year. Francis was a sophomore on that team, but he was injured and lost for the season after the third game. He only caught 8 passes for 93 yards.
Fouts was gone in 1973, but the junior Francis was back and ready to go. Francis was a bright spot in a dim season for the Ducks when he caught 31 passes for 495 yards and 4 touchdowns.
The team finished 2-9 on the year and that apparently frustrated Russ Francis greatly.
There were no early declarations for the NFL back then. You had to use up your eligibility as a college player to be able to enter the draft.
Instead of coming back to Oregon, Francis transferred to Oregon State and his eligibility was therefore over. He was unable to play football, so he became a professional wrestler in the great Northwest. His father had been a wrestler and young Russ followed in his father’s footsteps.
Not only was the NFL wanting Francis, but so were all of the other football leagues that were around at the time such as the World Football League. The Canadian Football League also desired Francis, plus the Kansas City Royals drafted him as a pitcher.
In high school, Francis helped lead his basketball team to the state tournament and I am frankly surprised there was no interest by the NBA for this bruiser, but size isn’t everything in basketball.
Francis could have possibly gone to the Olympics as a javelin thrower or decathlete.
In the 1975 NFL Draft, the New England Patriots picked Francis with the 16th selection of the first round.
Francis was now 6-6, 240 and probably way ahead of his time as far as big, fast, tough tight ends go. There just weren’t a lot of guys back then with his size and athletic ability. He was a hit right away in the NFL.
Russ Francis was road roommates with talented wide receiver Darryl Stingley on the road. If you are an older football fan, you will remember Stingley going across the middle and getting absolutely
crushed by Oakland Raiders safety Jack Tatum. Stingley was laying there and Russ Francis, his roomie, was the first person to get to him. Stingley would never walk again and Francis was deeply affected by this because they were close. It was difficult for Francis to play after that.
But, he stuck it out and was once proclaimed All World at tight end by Monday Night Football commentator Howard Cosell. He really was that good, even if his stats don’t really show it.
Francis played 6 seasons with the Patriots and then retired. That didn’t last long and he reappeared with the San Francisco 49ers after sitting out one season.
With the 49ers, Francis was able to be a part of a Super Bowl winning team. I don’t know Russ Francis and I can never ask, but this may have been his way of free agency back in the day. He had to retire and sit out a season, but he became a part of a better team and won that highly coveted Super Bowl ring.
After playing 6 more seasons with the 49ers, Francis was cut and he found his way back to the Patriots where he finished that season and played another before retiring again.
After football, Russ Francis was a wrestler for a while and then got into broadcasting.
He’s a wise man, so he eventually moved back to the beautiful island paradise and 50th state, Hawaii.
Russ Francis barely had an impact on college football even though he was a super star in the making.
He was definitely one of my football role models when I was in high school and a guy I dreamed of being. He caught nearly 400 passes in the NFL and I wish he would be considered for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.