Lou Michaels, one of the greatest football players in University of Kentucky history, died Tuesday at age 80 in his hometown in Pennsylvania.
Michaels, a consensus All-American in 1956 and 1957, is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and was a 13-year veteran of the National Football League.
“UK Athletics has lost one of our all-time greats in the passing of Lou Michaels,” Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said. “He was an incredible competitor during a time when players played both offense and defense. As a UK retired jersey honoree, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and an All-Pro player in the NFL, Lou was one of the most honored Wildcats in the history of UK football. Our condolences go to his wife, Judy, and their children and family.”
Michaels, a native of Swoyersville, Pa., died after a nearly fourth-month battle with pancreatic cancer, according to The Times Leader of Wilkes Barre, Pa.
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“He fought a courageous battle,” his son Ed Michaels told The Times Leader. “On Sept. 25, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Today, he succumbed to it. He’s not suffering any more. We’re hoping he’s in a better place. It was his time.
“But he fought like a son of a gun.”
Michaels came to UK in 1954 and made an immediate impression on the “Kittens” freshman team, earning comparisons to Wildcats legend and Outland Trophy winner Bob Gain. Playing for head coach Blanton Collier, Michaels began fulfilling those expectations when he advanced to the varsity a year later.
Competing on both the offensive and defensive lines, and also as a place-kicker and punter, Michaels was named third-team All-Southeastern Conference as a sophomore and also chosen to the Sophomore All-SEC team.
Michaels blossomed into a consensus All-American as a junior and senior in 1956 and ’57 at a time when only 11 players were recognized on the national teams. He was voted SEC Player of the Year by the league coaches as a senior and finished fourth in balloting for the Heisman Trophy. He was chosen as the Outstanding SEC Lineman by the Birmingham Touchdown Club in 1956 and the Outstanding SEC Lineman by the Atlanta Touchdown Club in 1957. He was given credit for “almost single-handedly” defeating Tennessee in Wildcats wins over the Volunteers in his sophomore and senior seasons.
Michaels’ jersey (No. 79) was retired by UK Athletics in 1990. Two years later, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. He also was inducted into the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame.
Michaels was a defensive end and a place-kicker in the pros. He was selected by the Los Angeles Rams in the first round of the 1958 NFL Draft with the fourth selection overall and went on to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers (1961-63), Baltimore Colts (1964-69) and Green Bay Packers (1971). He was named All-Pro in 1962 and ’63 and was a member of the Colts team that played in Super Bowl III in 1969.
As a pro, the 6-foot-2, 243-pound Michaels recovered six fumbles and intercepted four passes in 171 career games. As a place-kicker, he made 45 of 63 career field goal attempts and 386 of his 402 extra points.
Michaels’ family is proud of his accomplishments on the field but remember so much more.
“Just being my dad,” Ed Michaels told the Times Leader. “Whether we were sitting and watching a game together, listening to him about football, or whether we would go to the track together once a year or up to Mohegan Sun to play the ponies once a week, he was a hell of a father.”