Jim Brown, Gale Sayers, Barry Sanders, O.J. Simpson…and Ted McKnight

Ted McKnight finds an opening during his collegiate days at the University of Minnesota Duluth. He went on to a productive stint in the NFL that put him among some surprisingly elite company.

Before Isaac Odim rewrote nearly every University of Minnesota Duluth rushing record, there was Duluth’s own Ted McKnight. Relatively unknown to many current Bulldog fans, he was the team’s dominant offensive force in the mid-1970s, graduating from UMD to the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs in 1977.

McKnight’s six-year professional career included two brilliant seasons, 1978 and 1979, and while they aren’t fodder for endless replay on NFL Network, they did recently receive some much-deserved play in the national media thanks to Kerry Byrne at Cold Hard Football Facts.

While analyzing the greatest rushing seasons in NFL history, Byrne focused on average yards per rushing attempt (YPA), highlighting the biggest single-season ground gainers with a minimum of 100 attempts. Among those dazzling performers, only 15 players in NFL history exceeded 6.0 YPA for a season, among them names like Jim Brown, Gale Sayers, Barry Sanders, O.J. Simpson…and Ted McKnight. Check the list for yourself by clicking here.

McKnight’s 6.03 YPA in 1978, when he rushed for 627 total yards and six touchdowns, was so impressive that it stood unsurpassed until Barry Sanders posted 6.13 YPA in his 2,053-yard 1997 season after which he shared league MVP honors with Brett Favre. Not bad company.

Of course, McKnight’s professional brilliance was foreshadowed at Griggs Field, where as a senior in 1976, he rushed for 6.76 YPA and a then-record 22 touchdowns for UMD. The Bulldogs won six games that season, scoring 35 points or more four times and posting three shutouts: a 70-0 romp over Southwest State, a 40-0 triumph over Winona State, and a 24-0 blanking of St. Thomas.

In all, McKnight accumulated nearly 2,000 all-purpose yards and 24 touchdowns in 10 games, an output that included a 94-yard punt return for a touchdown against Moorhead State and an 81-yard scoring scamper from scrimmage against Southwest State.

– Jayson Hron


3 thoughts on “Jim Brown, Gale Sayers, Barry Sanders, O.J. Simpson…and Ted McKnight

  1. Mr Hron,
    I would like to thank you for the recent article that included my name with some of the greatest runningbacks in professional football. Coming from a div II school, I never thought I would play on the big field and now this article has legitimized small school football and provided me an extention of my 15 minutes of fame.
    Thank you
    Ted R. McKnight

    • I had the pleasure to play with Teddy, I remember he was running a sweep on the scout team, I hit him as hard as I could at his thighs, and I just bounced off! He was big, fast and strong. Rod Tafelski LB UMD class of 75

  2. Great Article Mr. Hron,
    I remember hearing about all of the guys you have listed here. One question,
    was Jim Brown still playing football in the Sixties during the Vietnam War?

    Grandpa Hron

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