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Jack Pardee dies at 76: Friendly Texan cut wide path through world of football

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Jack Pardee presents Walter Payton with the NFC Player of the Year award in 1978. (AP)

The NFL Network has garnered good reviews for "A Football Life," its biographical series on the titans of the game and the journeys they've led since starring on the gridiron.

But with all due respect to the production, they've so far missed a chance to chronicle one of the fuller "football lives" of the 20th century. It belonged to Jack Pardee, the native Texan player and coach who died on Monday at age 76 after a fight with gall bladder cancer.

Though Pardee's football life never landed him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, it's hard to imagine a figure with a wider variety of experiences and co-workers. Indeed, if you were looking to make a "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" type game for football, Pardee might be an ideal candidate for the hub.

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In more than a half century of football, Pardee ... • Was one of Bear Bryant's famed "Junction Boys," the 35-man class that survived a brutal Texas heat and a 10-day training camp in the coach's first year at Texas A&M. Pardee would go on to become an All-American in College Station in 1956.

''Not only did we lose a Texas A&M legend today, we lost a man who was a legend at every level of football,'' Texas A&M athletics director Eric Hyman said in a statement.

• Was a two-time All-Pro linebacker for the Los Angeles Rams and Washington Redskins from 1957-73 and helped lead the Redskins to the NFC title and their first Super Bowl appearance in 1972. Served on George Allen's coaching staff the year after retiring.

• Served as Walter Payton's first pro coach when he led the Chicago Bears from 1975 to '77. He broke the Bears' 14-year playoff drought by winning the final six games of the '77 season.

• Coached the Redskins from 1978-80.

• Coached in both the World Football League AND the USFL (Houston Gamblers).

• Reinvented himself as a college coach at a sanction-bound University of Houston, installed the run 'n shoot offense from his days with the Gamblers and watched Andre Ware win the Heisman in 1989.

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Andre Ware wins the Heisman in 1989 as Pardee cheers. (AP)

• Coached a highly-entertaining Houston Oilers team in the early '90s that featured the brilliance of Warren Moon, four straight playoff apperances and the infamous Kevin Gilbride-Buddy Ryan sideline fight.

• Was known as "Gentleman Jack" for the way he treated people with respect, a not-so-small thing in the me-first world of football. (His son said he was never afraid to tell his family that he loved them with a kiss.) Pardee's legacy will live on with a memorial scholarship that has been established for walk-on players at the University of Houston.

“Coach Pardee was a genuine Texas legend,” Moon told the Houston Chronicle. “He was successful on so many levels. He had such appreciation and respect for the game.

“How many Texans do what he did?” He starred in high school (Christoval), played for Bear Bryant (Texas A&M), survived Junction and became an All-American. After his playing career (Rams and Redskins) ended, he coached three teams in Texas. That’s about as Texas as they come."

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