The stereotype is that Ivy League football players will not be successful in the NFL.
One player who proved this stereotype wrong was Calvin Hill.
After starring at Yale University, Hill had an excellent professional football career, including 12 seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins, and Cleveland Browns.
A running back who could run, catch, and throw, Hill earned Pro Bowl, All-Pro, and All-Conference honors and helped his teams win one Super Bowl and five division titles.
— Old Time Football 🏈 (@Ol_TimeFootball) May 29, 2021
We take a look at the life of Calvin Hill – before, during, and after his professional football playing career.
The Early Years Before College
Calvin G. Hill was born in Baltimore, Maryland on January 2, 1947.
Prior to the ninth grade, Hill received a scholarship to attend the Riverdale Country School in the Bronx, New York (in New York City).
At Riverdale Country School, Hill excelled as a multi-sport athlete.
In football, Hill was named the starting quarterback as a sophomore.
Running the “T formation”, Hill helped Riverdale Country School have a 51-game winning streak and never lose a game while Hill played there.
Hill was named to Parade magazine’s high school All-America team in 1964.
As a basketball player, Hill averaged 26 points per game in high school.
In baseball, Hill pitched and batted over .400 over four seasons for Riverdale Country School.
Hill also ran track as a senior.
After graduating from Riverdale Country School in 1965, Hill decided to attend Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.
In explaining his college choice, Hill said:
“For some reason, I just knew I wanted to play in a big stadium. When I visited Yale and saw that the Yale Bowl had a capacity of 70,000 – and the day I visited the stadium was full – I fell in love with the school. . . . I was a quarterback in high school and Yale had never had a black quarterback. I was attracted by the chance to be the first.”
Hill headed to the Ivy League to play football for Yale.
The College Years
Hill played football for Yale from 1966 to 1968.
While Hill had hoped to play quarterback, he principally was a running back during his time at Yale.
He also played tight end and linebacker in some games.
In 1966, Hill rushed for 369 yards and one touchdown on 79 rushing attempts and caught 10 passes for 99 yards and two touchdowns.
He also completed one pass for 26 yards.
Yale posted a 4-5 record in 1966.
Hill, in 1967, rushed for 463 yards and five touchdowns on 102 rushing attempts and caught 13 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns.
In addition, Hill completed six passes for 192 yards and two touchdowns.
He was named First Team All-Conference in the Ivy League for his play in 1967.
In 1967, Yale finished in first place in the Ivy League, with an 8-1 record, including a 24-20 victory over Harvard on November 25, 1967.
Hill, in 1968, rushed for 680 yards and eight touchdowns, leading the Ivy League in rushing touchdowns, on 138 rushing attempts and caught 24 passes for 532 yards and six touchdowns, tied for the lead in the Ivy League in pass reception touchdowns.
He also led the Ivy League in 1968 in total yards from scrimmage (1,212), total touchdowns (14), and average pass reception yards per pass reception (22.2).
Hill also completed seven passes for 80 yards and four touchdowns in 1968.
In 1968, Hill was named Honorable Mention All-American by both the Associated Press and United Press International.
He also in 1968 again was named First Team All-Conference in the Ivy League.
Yale, with an 8-0-1 record, finished tied for first place in the Ivy League in 1968.
Hill holds the Yale record for career average pass reception yards per pass reception (18.8).
In 1969, Hill graduated from Yale with a B.A. degree.
The Pro Football Years
The Dallas Cowboys drafted Hill in the first round of the 1969 NFL draft.
He was the 24th overall pick.
Hill was surprised by his draft selection.
“The draft wasn’t on television then. . . . When I got the call from Dallas, I figured it was some practical joker. Then the caller – I think it was (personnel director) Gil Brandt – said, ‘Wait, I’ll put Coach Landry on the phone.’ [Future Pro Football Hall of Fame Cowboys head coach] Tom Landry had a distinctive voice, and when I heard it, I realized it was true. I couldn’t believe it.”
Although he was a rookie, Hill (at a height of six feet and four inches and at a weight of 227 pounds) played in and started 13 regular season games for Dallas in 1969.
In Hill’s first regular season game, he rushed for 70 yards on 18 rushing attempts and threw a 53-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Lance Rentzel, as the Cowboys defeated the St. Louis Cardinals 24-3 on September 21, 1969.
The following week, on September 28, 1969, in a 21-17 Dallas win over the New Orleans Saints, Hill rushed for 138 yards and two touchdowns (his first regular season touchdown, on a 23-yard run, and the winning touchdown in the game, on an eight-yard run) on 23 rushing attempts.
For his play in the game, Hill was named NFL Offensive Player of the Week.
On November 16, 1969, Hill rushed for 150 yards and two touchdowns (on runs of three yards and seven yards) on 27 rushing attempts, caught two passes for 35 yards, and returned three kickoffs for 100 yards, as the Cowboys defeated the Washington Redskins 41-28.
In the 1969 regular season, Hill rushed for 942 yards (ranked second in the NFL) and eight touchdowns (ranked tied for third in the NFL) on 204 rushing attempts (his 4.6 average rushing yards per rushing attempt ranked tied for third in the NFL), caught 20 passes for 232 yards, completed three passes for 137 yards and two touchdowns, and returned four kickoffs for 125 yards.
— NFL Classic! (@79_nfl) January 23, 2020
For his play in 1969, Hill was voted NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year by the Associated Press.
In addition, in 1969, Hill was invited to the Pro Bowl and named first team NFL All-Pro.
He also was named first team All-Pro by the Associated Press, the New York Daily News, Pro Football Weekly, and United Press International, second team All-Pro by the Newspaper Enterprise Association, first team All-NFL/AFL by the Pro Football Writers of America, second team All-NFL/AFL by the Newspaper Enterprise Association, and first team All-Conference by the Sporting News.
Hill helped Dallas win the NFL Capitol Division in 1969 with an 11-2-1 record.
However, in a game in which Hill (recovering from a broken toe) rushed for 17 yards on right rushing attempts, caught one pass for seven yards, and returned four kickoffs for 90 yards, the Cowboys lost in the 1969 NFL playoffs to the Cleveland Browns 38-14 on December 28, 1969.
In 1970, Hill played in 12, and started nine, regular season games.
His playing time was limited by an infected foot blister and a back injury.
On September 20, 1970, Hill rushed for 117 yards on 25 rushing attempts and caught one pass for two yards, in a 17-7 Dallas victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.
For the 1970 regular season, Hill rushed for 577 yards and four touchdowns on 153 rushing attempts, caught 13 passes for 95 yards, and completed one pass for 12 yards.
The Cowboys, in 1970, won the NFC East Division with a 10-4 record.
Hill saw limited action in the 1970 NFL playoffs, as Dallas defeated the Detroit Lions 5-0 on December 26, 1970 and the San Francisco 49ers 17-10 on January 3, 1971, before losing to the Baltimore Colts 16-13 on January 17, 1971 in Super Bowl V (Hill only returned one kickoff for 14 yards).
An injury also limited Hill’s playing time in 1971, as he played in only eight, and started seven, regular season games.
He suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament knee injury.
In a 49-37 Cowboys victory over the Buffalo Bills on September 19, 1971, Hill rushed for 84 yards and four touchdowns, from runs for two yards, three yards, and one yard twice, on 22 rushing attempts and caught four passes for 43 yards.
On December 4, 1971, Hill rushed for 62 yards, including a nine-yard touchdown run, on 11 rushing attempts and caught four passes for 80 yards and two touchdowns (both 27-yard passes from future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach, including Hill’s first regular season pass reception touchdown), in a 52-10 Dallas win over the New York Jets.
Hill, in the 1971 regular season, rushed for 468 yards and eight touchdowns (ranked tied for fifth in the NFL) on 106 rushing attempts and caught 19 passes for 244 yards and three touchdowns.
Dallas, with an 11-3 record, won the NFC East Division in 1971.
The Cowboys then proceeded to win three games in the 1971 NFL playoffs – 20-12 over the Minnesota Vikings on December 25, 1971 (Hill rushed for 28 yards on 14 rushing attempts and caught two passes for 14 yards), 14-3 over the San Francisco 49ers on January 2, 1972 (Hill rushed for 21 yards and a one-yard touchdown run on nine rushing attempts), and 24-3 over the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VI on January 16, 1972 (Hill rushed for 25 yards on seven rushing attempts and caught one pass for 12 yards) – earning Dallas its first NFL championship and Hill what turned out to be his only NFL championship.
In 1972, Hill started all 14 regular season games.
On October 8, 1972, in a 17-13 Cowboys triumph over the Pittsburgh Steelers, Hill rushed for 108 yards and a one-yard touchdown run on 23 rushing attempts, caught four passes for 27 yards, and threw a 55-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Ron Sellers (for the winning touchdown in the game).
Hill was named NFL Offensive Player of the Week for his play in the game.
Hill rushed for 120 yards on 26 rushing attempts and caught three passes for 23 yards, as Dallas defeated the St. Louis Cardinals 27-6 on December 3, 1972.
The following game, on December 9, 1972, Hill rushed for 111 yards and a 10-yard touchdown on 24 rushing attempts and caught five passes for 39 yards and a 26-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Craig Morton, in a 34-24 Cowboys victory over the Washington Redskins.
Hill, in the 1972 regular season, rushed for 1,036 yards and six touchdowns on 245 rushing attempts, caught 43 passes for 364 yards and three touchdowns, and threw the above-described 55-yard touchdown pass.
For his play in 1972, Hill was invited to his second Pro Bowl.
In 1972, Dallas earned a “wild card” playoff berth, with a 10-4 record.
The Cowboys, in the 1972 NFL playoffs, defeated the San Francisco 49ers 30-28 on December 23, 1972 (Hill rushed for 125 yards on 18 rushing attempts and caught one pass for six yards), before losing to the Washington Redskins 26-3 on December 31, 1972 (Hill rushed for 22 yards on nine rushing attempts and caught two passes for 11 yards).
Hill again started all 14 regular season games in 1973.
In a 20-17 Dallas win over the Chicago Bears on September 16, 1973, Hill rushed for 130 yards on 31 rushing attempts and caught four passes for 28 yards.
On October 21, 1973, Hill rushed for 123 yards and a six-yard touchdown on 23 rushing attempts and caught two passes for 37 yards, as the Cowboys defeated the New York Giants 45-28.
In a 27-7 Dallas victory over the Washington Redskins on December 9, 1973, Hill rushed for 110 yards and two touchdowns (on runs of one yard and two yards) on 27 rushing attempts and caught two passes for 11 yards.
For the 1973 regular season, Hill rushed for 1,142 yards (ranked third in the NFL) and six touchdowns on 273 rushing attempts and caught 32 passes for 290 yards.
Hill was invited to his third Pro Bowl in 1973.
He also was named first team All-Pro by the Pro Football Writers of America and first team All-Conference by the Associated Press, Pro Football Weekly, the Sporting News, and United Press International.
In 1973, the Cowboys won the NFC East Division, with a 10-4 record.
Dallas, in the 1973 NFL playoffs, had a 27-16 victory over the Los Angeles Rams on December 23, 1973 (Hill rushed for 97 yards and a three-yard touchdown on 25 rushing attempts and caught two passes for 21 yards), before losing to the Minnesota Vikings 27-10 on December 30, 1973 (Hill did not play in the game),
Hill played in and started 12 regular season games in 1974.
On October 20, 1974, in a 31-24 Cowboys win over the Philadelphia Eagles, Hill rushed for 140 yards and three touchdowns (on runs of five yards, 17 yards, and two yards) on 26 rushing attempts and caught five passes for 27 yards.
Hill rushed for 153 yards, including a one-yard touchdown run and a six-yard touchdown run, on 32 rushing attempts, in a 20-14 Dallas triumph over the San Francisco 49ers on November 10, 1974.
In the 1974 regular season, Hill rushed for 844 yards and seven touchdowns on 185 rushing attempts and caught 12 passes for 134 yards.
Hill was invited to his fourth Pro Bowl in 1974.
He also was named second team All-Conference by United Press International.
The Cowboys had an 8-6 record in 1974.
In April, 1974, Hill signed a contract with The Hawaiians in the World Football League (“WFL”) (a competing league to the NFL).
Hill left Dallas to play for The Hawaiians in 1975.
However, Hill suffered a torn medial collateral ligament knee injury and played in only three games for The Hawaiians in 1975.
He rushed for 218 yards on 49 rushing attempts and caught four passes for 38 yards and one touchdown.
When the WFL folded after the 1975 season, Hill returned to the NFL.
In April, 1976, he signed as a free agent with the Washington Redskins.
Hill, in 1976, played in 14, and started two, regular season games for Washington.
He rushed for 301 yards and one touchdown on 79 rushing attempts and caught seven passes for 100 yards.
With a 10-4 record, Washington earned a “wild card” playoff berth in 1976.
In the 1976 NFL playoffs, Washington lost to the Minnesota Vikings 35-20 on December 18, 1976 (Hill caught four passes for 31 yards).
In 1977, Hill played in 14 regular season games and started one regular season game.
Hill rushed for 257 yards on 69 rushing attempts and caught 18 passes for 154 yards and one touchdown.
Washington posted a 9-5 record in 1977.
Hill announced his retirement from playing professional football on August 7, 1978.
However, the Cleveland Browns convinced Hill to continue playing, and he signed a contract with the Browns on September 25, 1978.
In 1978, Hill played in 12 regular season games, and started one regular season game, for Cleveland.
On October 29, 1978, in a 41-20 Browns victory over the Buffalo Bills, Hill rushed for 21 yards on six rushing attempts and caught two passes for 18 yards and two touchdowns (on a 15-yard pass from quarterback Brian Sipe and a three-yard pass from quarterback Mark Miller).
Hill, on November 19, 1978, in a 45-24 Cleveland win over the Baltimore Colts, rushed for 36 yards on six rushing attempts and caught three passes for 113 yards and three touchdowns (on passes of 53 yards, 37 yards, and 23 yards from Brian Sipe).
In a 37-34 Browns defeat of the New York Jets in overtime on December 10, 1978, Hill rushed for 18 yards (including a two-yard touchdown) on eight rushing attempts and caught two passes for 26 yards (including an 18-yard touchdown pass from Brian Sipe, which helped send the game into overtime).
Hill, for the 1978 regular season, rushed for 289 yards and the above-described one touchdown and caught 25 passes for 334 yards and the above-described six touchdowns.
Cleveland had an 8-8 record in 1978.
Hill, in 1979, played in 14, and started seven, regular season games.
On October 28, 1979, in a 38-20 Browns victory over the St. Louis Cardinals, Hill rushed for 43 yards on nine rushing attempts and caught seven passes for 81 yards.
In the 1979 regular season, Hill rushed for 193 yards and one touchdown on 53 rushing attempts and caught 38 passes for 381 yards and two touchdowns.
Cleveland compiled a 9-7 record in 1979.
In 1980, Hill played in 15, but did not start any, regular season games.
Hill caught two passes for 46 yards – two touchdown passes of three yards and 43 yards from Brian Sipe – in a 34-27 Browns win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on September 28, 1980.
In a 27-26 Cleveland triumph over the Pittsburgh Steelers on October 26, 1980, Hill caught two passes for 20 yards, including a five-yard touchdown pass from Brian Sipe.
On November 23, 1980, Hill rushed for 11 yards on one rushing attempt and caught three passes for 18 yards and a five-yard touchdown pass from Brian Sipe, as the Browns defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 31-7.
For the 1980 regular season, Hill rushed for the above-described 11 yards on one rushing attempt and caught 27 passes for 383 yards and six touchdowns.
In 1980, Cleveland, with an 11-5 record, won the AFC Central Division.
In the 1980 NFL playoffs, Hill rushed for 23 yards on two rushing attempts and caught two passes for four yards, in a 14-12 Browns loss to the Oakland Raiders on January 4, 1981.
Hill, in 1981, played in 14, but did not start any, regular season games.
— Old Time Football 🏈 (@Ol_TimeFootball) March 26, 2021
On December 20, 1981, in Hill’s final NFL regular season game, Hill rushed for 18 yards on two rushing attempts and caught five passes for 49 yards, including an eight-yard pass from quarterback Paul McDonald, in a 42-21 Cleveland loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
In the 1981 regular season, Hill rushed for 23 yards on four rushing attempts and caught 17 passes for 150 yards and two touchdowns.
The Browns had a 5-11 record in 1981.
Hill permanently retired from playing professional football after the 1981 season.
The Years After Professional Football
Hill married Janet.
His son, Grant, is a member of both the College Basketball Hall of Fame and the Basketball Hall of Fame.
After his retirement from professional football, Hill has worked as a corporate motivational speaker.
From 1988 to 1994, Hill served as vice president for personnel for the Baltimore Orioles baseball team.
Hill has worked as a consultant for the Dallas Cowboys and the Cleveland Browns, helping troubled players, including players with drug and alcohol problems.
The Calvin Hill Day Care Center, named in Hill’s honor, in New Haven Connecticut, serves Yale University families.
In 2016, Hill received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters (his second degree) from Yale.
The honorary degree was issued by Yale with the following citation:
“You are a Yale legend. . . . On the field and off, leadership, character, and service have been the hallmarks of your life.”
As an NFL player, Hill displayed versatility.
While he was a running back, Hill contributed with his pass receiving and passing, in addition to his rushing.
Hill ranks high in a number of Dallas Cowboys career statistics.
He ranks fifth in Cowboys career rushing yards (5,009), sixth in Cowboys career rushing touchdowns (39), 13th in Cowboys career receptions among running backs (139), 11th in Cowboys career pass reception yards among running backs (1,359). and tied for 11th in Cowboys career pass reception touchdowns among running backs (6).
In addition, in Cleveland Browns career statistics, Hill ranks tied for 15th in Browns career receptions among running backs (107), 13th in Browns career pass reception yards among running backs (1,248), and fifth in Browns career pass reception touchdowns among running backs (16).
Hill also completed five passes, three for touchdowns, during his NFL career (all with Dallas).
During Hill’s rookie season, Tom Landry said:
“[Hill] might be the best ball-carrier I’ve seen in 20 years of pro football.”
Injuries definitely affected Hill’s performance.
If not for injury, Hill could have matched, if not exceeded.
His rookie year performance in many more of his 12 NFL seasons (in particular, in years 1970 and 1971 and after his knee injury in 1975).
In addition to Hill’s versatility and skill on the field, his defining characteristic was that he was a winner.
In 12 NFL seasons, Hill played on 11 teams that did not have a losing record, seven playoff teams (each of which won 10 games), five division winners, two conference champions, and one Super Bowl winner.
It is often said that Ivy League players will be winners in life.
Calvin Hill has been a winner both on and off the football field.