Former Wyoming great Jay Novacek speaks alongside former Dallas teammate Troy Aikman Tuesday night as he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
By Steve Richardson
Jay Novacek took an unlikely route to the College Football Hall of Fame. Born in Martin, S.D., and reared in rural central Nebraska (Gothenburg), Novacek played college football and participated in track and field at the University of Wyoming, far from the bright lights of college football citadels such as Columbus, Austin or Los Angeles.
In the early 1980s, getting to Laramie to see Novacek wasn't always easy for scouts. Flight connections were difficult and airport rental cars often could not be found on football weekends. But scouts still came to see the promising Novacek in action.
"He looked more like a big, tall wide receiver," said Gil Brandt, formerly vice president of Player Personnel for the Dallas Cowboys. "He was very adept at getting open on the goal line and catching passes on the goal line."
Novacek played split end early in his Wyoming career for Coach Al Kincaid's wishbone offense and then moved to tight end. Over three seasons he had 83 receptions for 1,536 yards and 10 touchdowns.
"He was rather tall and lanky when he was here," said Kevin McKinney, now a senior associate athletic director at Wyoming and radio color commentator. "He started putting on weight when he was in Dallas (6-4 232 pounds). I have been around here for 40 years and I would probably have to say, if he is not the best athlete, he is close to the best athlete we have ever had."
"I always had respect for him all through college," said Rany Welniak, a Wyoming quarterback during that era. "We all knew he was a special individual as a person and athletically. He was an exceptional athlete. It was amazing I would throw to him in practice and anything around him, he would go up and get. He was just a very smooth, athletic guy. He was the type who was down to earth, really kind of a farm kid from a smaller town in Nebraska."
Somewhat because of his obscurity at Wyoming and lack of flashy numbers, Novacek was selected in the sixth round of the 1985 NFL Draft by the then St. Louis Cardinals. He played five seasons with the Cardinals before becoming a Dallas Cowboy in 1990 as Plan B Free Agent. In Dallas, he became a star and one of the cogs in the Cowboys' three Super Bowl championships in 1992, '93 and '95 with Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin. Novacek played in five Pro Bowls from 1991-95.
"This isn't something that you expect from a skinny tight end on a Wyoming team that ran the wishbone offense, but it is a great honor and very meaningful," Novacek said of going into the College Football Hall of Fame. "I am proud to be going in with my teammate and friend, Troy Aikman."
In 1997, he returned to his roots to run the Upper 84 Ranch in Brady, Nebraska, guiding hunting trips on his 3,500-acre spread. He also operates football camps for kids across the country.