If you assume that most NFL teams today have three quarterbacks on their active roster or “practice squad”, there are approximately 96 quarterbacks in the NFL at any time.
Quarterback is both the most important position, and one of the most exclusive positions, on an NFL team.
It is a tremendous accomplishment to make an NFL team, let alone start an NFL game, at quarterback.
Don Gault achieved these accomplishments for the Cleveland Browns.
He was on the Cleveland active roster or “taxi squad” (the equivalent of the “practice squad”) from 1968 to 1971 and started a game – a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers – in 1970.
— ClevelandSportsRetro (@CLESportsRetro) December 15, 2014
We take a look at the life of Don Gault – before, during, and after his NFL playing career.
The Early Years Before College
Donald J. Gault was born on August 30, 1946 in Lynbrook, New York.
Lynbrook is in Nassau County, New York, in southern Long Island.
Gault attended John Adams High School in Queens, New York.
After high school, Gault went to college at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York.
The College Years
Gault lettered in 1965, 1966, and 1967, playing quarterback on the Hofstra football team.
Hofstra played in the Middle Atlantic Conference, University Division.
Although he was only a sophomore, Gault was the starting quarterback for Hofstra in the 1965 season.
In the opening game of the 1965 season, Gault scored on a one-yard touchdown run, as Hofstra defeated Gettysburg College 35-14 on September 18, 1965.
On October 2, 1965, Gault completed 14 of 27 passes for 213 yards and three touchdowns, in a 31-7 Hofstra victory over Lafayette College.
Gault also scored on a one-yard touchdown run.
The following week, on October 9, 1965, Gault had 10 straight completions and threw four touchdown passes, in a 50-28 Hofstra win over the University of Bridgeport
In the next game, on October 16, 1965, Gault completed 21 of 33 passes for 315 yards, establishing a school passing yardage record, in a 35-13 Hofstra defeat of Kings Point.
Gault then broke his own school passing yardage record, completing 17 of 25 passes for 345 yards and three touchdowns, as Hofstra defeated Temple 42-28 on November 20, 1965.
The following game, on November 25, 1965, Gault, in a 29-20 Hofstra triumph over C.W. Post, threw two touchdown passes.
Gault completed 138 of 248 passes for 2,134 yards and 20 touchdowns in 1965.
Hofstra posted an 8-2 record in 1965.
In a 34-0 Hofstra shutout of Otterbein College on October 8, 1966, Gault completed 16 of 25 passes for 214 yards.
Gault, only a junior, set the Hofstra career record for passing yards in the game.
Gault, in 1966, completed 98 of 221 passes for 1,116 yards and five touchdowns.
Hofstra had a 2-8 record in 1966.
Gault scored two touchdowns, on runs of six yards and one yard, in a 17-0 Hofstra shutout of Gettysburg College on September 16, 1967.
The following week, on September 23, 1967, Gault completed 11 of 20 passes for 113 yards and two touchdowns, in a 28-0 Hofstra shutout of Lafayette College.
In the next game, on September 30, 1967, Gault completed 10 of 20 passes for 164 yards and one touchdown, as Hofstra shut out Albion College 37-0.
The following week, on October 7, 1967, Gault helped Hofstra score 19 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, as Hofstra came from behind to defeat University of Delaware 33-31.
Gault, who described the victory as “the greatest of my career”, completed 16 of 31 passes for 325 yards and four touchdowns.
After the game, Gault stated:
“I don’t know whether you’ve heard about us or not, but we’re dedicated to pride and desire this season. I knew we’d come back.”
For his play in the game against Delaware, Gault was named to the weekly Division II All-East All-Star football team (selected by a panel of sportswriters and broadcasters for the Eastern College Athletic Conference).
Gault completed 12 of 16 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns, in a 41-0 Hofstra shutout of the University of Bridgeport on October 21, 1967.
In his final college football game, on November 23, 1967, Gault completed 11 of 20 passes for 220 yards, in a 19-0 Hofstra shutout of C.W. Post.
Gault completed 126 of 241 passes for 1,899 yards and 16 touchdowns in 1967.
For his play in 1967, Gault was named Hofstra’s most valuable offensive player by the Hofstra Alumni Association.
In 1967, Hofstra had an 8-2 record.
The Pro Football Years
Gault had attracted the attention of pro scouts while at Hofstra, but he was not drafted in the 1968 NFL draft.
The Cleveland Browns signed Gault as a free agent before the start of the 1968 regular season.
With Gault, there were four other quarterbacks – Frank Ryan, Gary Lane, Dick Shiner, and Jim Alcorn – seeking to make Cleveland’s roster.
Shiner ultimately left the Browns in a trade that brought quarterback Bill Nelsen to Cleveland before the start of the 1968 regular season.
While Ryan and Nelsen played quarterback for the Browns in 1968, Gault was placed on the “taxi squad” (the equivalent of today’s “practice squad”).
Gault did not play in any regular season or playoff games in 1968.
Cleveland posted a 10-4 record in 1968 and won the NFL Century Division title.
In the 1968 NFL playoffs, the Browns defeated the Dallas Cowboys 31-20 on December 21, 1968, before losing to the Baltimore Colts 34-0 in the 1968 NFL championship game on December 29, 1968.
In 1969, Gault joined the military reserves.
He trained at Fort Dix in New Jersey from June, 1969 to November, 1969.
While at Fort Dix, Gault played for the Jersey Jays in the Continental Football League.
When his military training ended, Gault returned to Cleveland and again was placed on the “taxi squad”.
He was placed on the active roster as a third-string emergency quarterback (behind starter Bill Nelsen and back-up Jerry Rhome) for the 1969 NFL playoffs, but Gault again did not actually play in any regular season or playoff games in 1969.
The Browns, in 1969, had a 10-3-1 record and again won the NFL Century Division title.
In the 1969 NFL playoffs, Cleveland defeated the Dallas Cowboys 38-14 on December 28, 1969, before losing to the Minnesota Vikings 27-7 in the 1969 NFL championship game on January 4, 1970.
After not playing for two seasons, Gault received playing time in the 1970 regular season.
Gault, Bill Nelsen, and rookie Mike Phipps were the three quarterbacks on the 1970 Browns roster.
On September 27, 1970, against the San Francisco 49ers, Gault came into the game after starting quarterback Nelsen was injured.
Gault completed one of three passes – a 23-yard completion to flanker Gary Collins.
He also threw an interception, as Cleveland lost to San Francisco 34-31.
With Bill Nelsen still injured, the Browns called on Gault to start the next game – against the Pittsburgh Steelers on October 3, 1970.
— Dan Murphy (@DMurph_BrownsPR) December 26, 2014
Gault faced some difficult opposition in starting his first NFL regular season game.
The opposing starting quarterback for the Steelers was future Pro Football Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw.
Among the players on Pittsburgh’s defense were future Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive tackle “Mean” Joe Greene and seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker Andy Russell.
Gault completed one of 16 passes – a 44-yard completion to tight end Chip Glass.
He also threw two interceptions.
Mike Phipps came in to replace Gault during the game.
Cleveland defeated Pittsburgh 15-7.
Nelsen started the next game for the Browns, and Gault saw no further action at quarterback in the 1970 regular season.
Gault’s statistics for the 1970 regular season (and what ultimately turned out to be for his entire NFL regular season career) were two completions in 19 attempts for 67 yards and three interceptions.
The Browns had a 7-7 record in 1970.
Gault, in 1971, returned to the “taxi squad” and did not play in any regular season or playoff games for Cleveland.
Bill Nelsen and Mike Phipps played quarterback for the Browns in 1971.
Cleveland won the AFC Central Division title in 1971, with a 9-5 record.
In connection with the merger of the American Football League and the NFL, the Browns had moved from the NFL Century Division to the AFC Central Division.
In the 1971 NFL playoffs, Cleveland lost to the Baltimore Colts 20-3 on December 26, 1971.
The Browns, in 1972, drafted Brian Sipe as a quarterback.
With the drafting of Sipe and with Mike Phipps and Bill Nelsen returning at quarterback, Cleveland waived Gault on August 28, 1972.
Gault then signed with the San Diego Chargers, but he was released by the Chargers on August 31, 1972.
He also joined the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League in 1972, but did not see any playing time with the Eskimos.
In 1973, Gault signed with the New York Jets.
However, he was released by the Jets on August 29, 1973.
Gault, in 1974, signed with the New York Stars of the World Football League.
However, he was released by the Stars on August 26, 1974, ending Gault’s professional football career.
The Years After Professional Football
After his retirement from professional football, one of Gault’s activities was the ownership of a cable company in Florida.
However, Gault does deserve recognition in several respects.
First, besides playing quarterback in 1970, Gault was a holder for Browns kicker, Don Cockroft.
Cockroft made 12 of 22 field goal attempts and 34 of 35 extra point attempts in 1970.
Second, Gault ranks third (first among quarterbacks) in Browns career history in average yards per pass completion (33.5).
Third, Gault won the only game that he started in his NFL career – the 15-7 Cleveland victory over the Steelers in 1970.
Only three other quarterbacks in Browns career history, Don Strock (2-0 in 1988), Case Keenum (2-0 in 2021 and 2022), and Pro Football Hall of Famer Len Dawson (1-0 in 1961), also can claim an “undefeated” record as a starting quarterback for Cleveland.
Ultimately, wins are more important than statistics, especially when the victory comes against such stars as Terry Bradshaw, “Mean” Joe Greene, and Andy Russell.
Fourth, in becoming an NFL quarterback, Gault surpassed the thousands of players who competed at quarterback in “pee wee”, “Pop Warner”, high school, or college football, but did not have the ability to make an NFL team.
It is easy to poke fun at Gault’s poor statistics by NFL standards.
However, before people dismiss Gault’s career, they should first ask themselves whether they could have matched Gault and made an NFL team and started an NFL game at quarterback.
Assuming (as is most likely the case) that they answer honestly and admit their own inability to play NFL quarterback, people should give more respect to Don Gault – an “undefeated” starting NFL quarterback.