As one of the original franchises in the American Football League, the New England Patriots boast a long history of phenomenal players. With so many historical figures, it’s easy to forget about some of the earliest legends in franchise history. The New England Patriots office of Last Word on Pro Football set to rectify this by chronicling a different Patriots legend every week of the off-season. Last week, it was the ironman Bob Dee. This week, it’s defensive tackle Jim Lee Hunt.
Jim Lee Hunt: New England Patriots of the Past
Hunt had a modest start to life, born in eastern Texas in 1938 where he attended Booker T. Washington High School. While Hunt went on to great success on the defensive side of the ball, he first broke through as an unstoppable offensive weapon. After playing linebacker early in his high school career, Hunt switched to fullback after falling behind by 21 points early in a game.
Hunt immediately dominated. The future defensive lineman ran for seven touchdowns that game, single-handedly willing his team to victory. He wasn’t a one-hit wonder at fullback, as he’d start the next three seasons, recording a then-record 50 touchdowns over that span.
Hunt’s dominant play made him the apple of many college’s eyes, and was highly recruited by several big-name colleges. However, Hunt decided to stay close to home, and committed to Prairie View A&M. While he obviously played football, his speed and natural athleticism also earned him a spot on the college track team.
It was at A&M where Hunt first played defensive line. The position change suited him well, as he became one of the best players in A&M’s history. Despite his impressive play, the future Patriot wasn’t drafted until the 16th round of the 1960 NFL Draft.
Life in the AFL
It’s surprising enough that Hunt lasted until the 16th round. What’s even more surprising is that the Patriots didn’t even draft him. Hunt was drafted by the then-St. Louis Cardinals, and spent a portion of his rookie season there. Hunt appeared in ten games in the NFL before the Cardinals cut him in the wake of a foot injury.
The then-Boston Patriots contacted him as soon as he was off the active roster, and it was a match from the start. Hunt joined the Patriots for the remainder of the 1960 season and stayed with the club until 1972. During his remarkable tenure, Hunt established himself as one of the best pass rushers in the AFL, setting records left and right.
An interior pass rusher who could do everything right, Hunt was an absolute nightmare to block. His teammates gave him the nickname “Earthquake”, as the ground seemed to shake under his feet, and it was well earned. Hunt recorded 29 sacks during his time in the league, a remarkable number for the era in which he played.
Not only did he get to the quarterback, he absolutely punished them when he got there. Hunt holds the AFL record for fumble recoveries with eight, including an amazing 1968 in which he recovered four. While he spent his career in the trenches, his most memorable play actually came on an interception.
Showing off the speed that made him a college track star, Hunt recorded a 78-yard pick six, outrunning everyone all the way to the end zone. While it was the only interception of his career, he sure made it count.
Life After Football
There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Earthquake was one of the greatest defensive linemen in the history of the American Football League. Joining the league in its inaugural season, Hunt was one of just 20 players to have played in all ten AFL seasons.
Not only did he play in every season, but he played incredibly well. Hunt earned AFL All-Star and Second-Team All-AFL honors four times each and was commonly referred to as the fastest defensive tackle in the game.
Hunt hung up his cleats for good in 1972 after 12 seasons in the league. The defensive lineman immediately became assistant coach of the Boston Eagles football team. It appeared as though Hunt had a long, happy career in Boston in his future, but depressingly, that was not to be.
Hunt tragically suffered a heart attack in November of 1975. The Patriots legend did not survive and tragically passed away at the young age of 37.
“Earthquake” was posthumously elected into the Patriots Hall of Fame in 1993, in just the third year of the Hall’s existence. His jersey number, 79, was retired, and is one of just seven numbers to be officially retired by New England.
Main Photo:Embed from Getty Images