By Dr. Ken 


Jack Lee can call forth a host of distinctive memories related to a very good football career if he wishes. Unfortunately, he is best known for the distinction he cares little for and one that marks him as a “one and only” in the history of modern professional football. An All Akron, Ohio Metro area and All District pick at quarterback in his 1955 senior season at Ellet High School, the Orangemen’s substandard 2-6-1 record found him overlooked for the All Ohio High School teams dominated by Barberton’s future Notre Dame star quarterback George Izo.  He departed Ellet as the school’s all-time scoring leader in basketball, best career stats as a hitter in baseball, and as the Orangemen’s all-time passing leader with a reputation as an excellent safety. Although he was a gifted athlete and would fill out to 6’1”, 190 pounds later in his career, his graduating stature of 6’ and a thin 168 made the University of Cincinnati his best college football choice. Lee was a solid performer for the 1956 frosh team and was the obvious stand-out in the spring game prior to his sophomore season. As much promise as Lee had, he would have to eclipse the play of the versatile Joe Morrison who entered the ’57 season as an All American candidate at quarterback and defensive halfback, and the All Missouri Valley Conference quarterback on the 1956 squad.


Morrison, whose collegiate and professional careers were among the most underrated in the history of the game, had been the Bearcats’ best player on both sides of the ball, a track squad sprinter, and described by more than one pro scout as “the finest prospect I saw this spring.” In’57, Morrison was again the first team All Missouri Valley Conference quarterback despite being hobbled by a sprained ankle. The injury allowed Lee to alternate frequently and he proved to be UC’s most effective passer in years, putting up what was for that era, big-time starter’s numbers. Entering the 1958 season, Lee’s passing ability was too obvious to overlook and Morrison was moved to left halfback while maintaining his two-way playing status. This resulted in Lee being named as an Honorable Mention All American and both Lee and Morrison as first team All Conference picks. Lee’s statistics allowed him to crack the national top ten passer ratings.


University of Cincinnati’s 1959 squad with Jacky Lee seated second from right in the second row. 

“General” Jack Lee finished his Cincinnati career in style, again named as the 1959 All Missouri Valley quarterback, the Bearcats team MVP, and leaving six school passing records. Horrid weather limited the offense in a number of games, perhaps keeping Lee from being the top passer in the nation as he finished a close second to Stanford’s Dick Norman. He earned the MVP award in the 1960 Senior Bowl and became the Houston Oilers first round draft choice and the Chicago Cardinals sixth rounder. The Oilers staff visualized Lee as a back-up to long-time veteran George Blanda but even as a rookie, as he did during his first four seasons as an Oiler, he played in every game. He kicked his pro career off in great fashion, completing his first three touchdown passes for seventy-eight, ninety-two, and seventy-two yard strikes! Lee proved to be very effective at times, and demonstrated his great potential. Against the Boston Patriots in ’61, he completed twenty-seven passes for 457 yards, then an AFL record and set another league record with a ninety-eight yard touchdown strike to wide receiver (and first active NFL player to sign with the AFL) Willard Dewveall versus the Chargers.

 Lee appeared in every Oilers game from 1960 through 1963

Sports Illustrated called Blanda and Lee “the best set of quarterbacks in the AFL” in 1962. Typical of the three to four year apprentice period that most young quarterbacks went through during the 1960’s, Lee improved and believed he was ready to take the reins from Blanda, who began to show some inconsistency. The Houston brass must have felt that Blanda would in fact need more assistance in the near future as they entered 1963 having drafted Baylor quarterback Don Trull. However, more important than the development of young quarterbacks, at least in the eyes of American Football League Commissioner Joe Foss, was the ability to maintain competitive balance within the league and secure the interest of the sporting public. With the Denver Broncos reeling with tenuous ownership and a 1963 record of 2-11-1, Foss had concerns about the future of the franchise. The Broncos saw starting quarterback Frank Tripuka retire after the second game of the season, finally worn down by his previous fourteen years of professional football. The position was thrown open to rookies Mickey Slaughter and Don Breaux before signing former Minnesota Vikings back-up John McCormick. Nothing helped as McCormick succumbed to injury and the constant shuffling of Slaughter and Breaux resulted in ten consecutive losses to close the season. Foss proposed a first-and-last-time-in-history plan to prop up the Broncos.


Entering the 1964 season, the Oilers would receive a first round draft choice and defensive tackle Bud McFadin from the Broncos in exchange for quarterback Lee. The “kicker” to this deal was that Lee would not be traded to the Broncos but instead, given over for a two year “lease” and then returned to the Oilers. Houston was reluctant to trade Lee, knowing he was primed to take over for Blanda. The lend-lease provision allowed Lee to play, develop, and be returned to the Oilers at the time Blanda was expected to retire. Some believed that the arrangement cheapened the league; “cognoscenti considered (the AFL) a minor league anyway, a deal like this gave the appearance that the Broncos were a farm team within it.” Denver head coach Jack Faulkner had been Lee’s position coach at Cincinnati and viewed it as a positive and the displaced quarterback reported to the Broncos on August 14, 1964. Decades later Lee noted, "I had been working behind George Blanda, but thought I was about to get my chance but Bud Adams told me I had to go to Denver for two years and then would come back to Houston. I think that's the only deal that ever has been made that way."


Lee calls signals for the Broncos as their leased quarterback

The arrangement did not work out well for either team. Lee finished the ’64 season with 133 completions in 265 attempts for 1611 yards but his eleven touchdown throws were more than offset by twenty interceptions. The second consecutive 2-11-1 record found Mac Speedie replacing Faulkner in the head coaching chair for the 1965 season, leaving Lee with forty-four completions for eighty attempts. With no desire to build his future around a quarterback whose lease would expire at the end of the ’65 season, Speedie forced Lee’s downward plunge to third string behind Slaughter and McCormick. The Broncos would finish at 4-10 and Lee was returned to Houston for the 1966 season. Blanda of course was far from retirement in ’66 and instead of the fulfillment of the original plan to have Lee return and take the reins, he instead saw very limited action as he adapted to what was now for him, a new team. The Oilers did not play well in ’66, finishing the season with a 3-11 record which led to the March 18, 1967 release of Blanda.  The seemingly ageless quarterback landed on his feet with the Oakland Raiders where he would complete a twenty-six year pro career and Lee took over the signal calling for ‘67. Not satisfied with the early results, the Oilers traded Lee, underachieving defensive tackle Ernie Ladd, and 1968’s first round draft choice to the Chiefs on October 9th. In return they received Chiefs’ back-up quarterback Pete Beathard who piloted the Oilers to a surprising 9-4-1 record and Lee became Len Dawson’s back-up in Kansas City.


For the remainder of the ’67 season and through the Chiefs’ 1969 Super Bowl triumph over Minnesota which closed the curtain on the American Football League, injuries limited Jacky Lee to a back-up role, yet he became not only a Super Bowl winner, but one of only twenty players to have been part of the AFL for its entire ten year history. As a contributor to the Oilers 1960 and ’61 AFL Championship teams, the Chiefs ’69  AFL Championship team, and their Super Bowl IV squad, Lee has a list of professional accomplishments he can be extremely proud of. The shoulder injury that curtailed his 1969 season brought his retirement from the game and he became very successful in the real estate business in the Houston area. Despite maintaining a summer home in Maine for many years and annually flying his private plane between Houston and Maine until well into his seventies, Lee kept his Ohio roots close to his heart. As a Charter Member of Cincinnati’s Ring of Honor at Nippert Stadium and an inductee to the University’s Hall of Fame, he made a 2007 donation of $300,000.00 for facility improvements which led to the honor of having the Jacky Lee Locker Room Facility named for him. He also helped to establish the Jacky Lee/Ellet High School Football Hall of Fame which he of course, is a member of.


When Lee left Cincinnati, he was the school’s most productive quarterback, setting records with his 2,814 career passing yards and thirteen touchdowns. He was a vital cog in the Oilers first two American Football League Championships and their appearance in the famous ’62 overtime title game that was lost to the Dallas Texans. More obscure in Denver and Kansas City, he was still seen as a reliable back-up to Len Dawson when needed. Unfortunately, much of his lengthy list of accomplishments have been lost to time because of his distinction as the only player that was leased, rather than traded, to another team.