Perhaps the greatest linebacker to ever slip on a crimson uniform has finally been voted into the College Football Hall of Fame—Class of 2013. Rod Shoate was voted into the hall this week after being bypassed several times before. A three-time All-American (1972-74), he certainly would have won the Butkus Award at least twice if the award was around then.
Shoate, a product of Spiro, Okla., recorded 426 tackles in his career, including 155 during his senior season, which helped OU win a national championship in 1974. He was the Big Eight Conference Defensive Player of the Year in 1973-74 and he finished seventh in the Heisman balloting in ’74. During his three years as one of the Sooners’ defensive leaders, Oklahoma had a record of 32-1-1.
OU allowed only 8.8 points per game during that stretch. OU gave up an average of 227 total yards per game, or 3.5 yards per play. The defense allowed only 111 rushing yards per game, or 2.6 yards per play. Much of the D's success was attributed to Shoate’s quick pursuit of the ball carrier, who had no escape when in his sights.
“He was incredible. He had one of the greatest bursts that I have ever seen,” said Larry Lacewell, in a 1999 Daily Oklahoman article. Lacewell was OU’s defensive coordinator from 1966-77. “He looked like a track guy coming out of the blocks. He looked like a heat missile. He’s the best one that I’ve ever coached, and I’ve been in it a long time.”
The New England Patriots drafted Shoate in the second round of the 1975 draft. He played seven seasons for the Pats and had a brief stint in the now-defunct USFL.
Tragically, his life went into a tailspin after pro football. His wife divorced him in 1986. After pro football he was broke and asked family for money. He developed a drug addiction.
In 1987 he robbed a gas station in Attleboro, Mass., and then drove 10 miles to Cumberland, R.I., and held up a convenience store. Later that year he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 10 years probation for the Cumberland holdup. A month later he was given a 20-year suspended sentence for the Attleboro robbery. Shoate was ordered to undergo drug treatment.
No one really knows what happened to Shoate after that; he was known as a quiet man who kept his troubles to himself. On Oct. 4, 1999, he died in an apartment in Spiro from complications associated with AIDS. He was 46.
Shoate’s class of new inductees won’t be officially enshrined until December. It’s too bad he won’t be around to enjoy the limelight like he did when he donned the No. 43 jersey for the University of Oklahoma.