One of the greatest wide receivers in the history of the Detroit Lions and the NFL is Gail Cogdill, the 1960 Associated Press Offensive Rookie of the Year and three time Pro Bowler whose career receiving yards record was untouched for thirty years until Herman Moore broke it in the 1990s.
With sleeves cut short above the biceps and dabs of eye black high on his cheekbones, the movie star handsome receiver was poetry in motion as he brought fans to their feet at Tiger Stadium with his third down circus catches across the middle and diving receptions into the end zone.
As Cogdill turns 75 tomorrow in Spokane, Washington, his oldest daughter Kristen Cogdill Dunlap fondly recalls growing up with a dad who was much more than a football hero.
“Ever since I was a little girl I have been in awe of my dad, he was always so cool, and to this day we are still thick as thieves,” says Dunlap, a model and sales executive who lives in Arizona.
As a little girl growing up in Bloomfield Hills near the Lions’ Cranbrook Schools training camp, by age four she knew her father was a famous football player due to the number of times the doorbell rang.
“People would show up at our door asking for my dad’s autograph but he was always very welcoming and would give time to the kids.”
To this day she still treasures the memories of sitting on the grassy knoll at Cranbrook watching her daddy practice, secretly going into his bedroom closet to touch the Lion buttons on his dark blue team sport coat while marveling at his expensive wardrobe, and hanging out with the kids of other Lion players.
“Alex Karras’s children were about my age and we used to spend a lot of time at his house which was a lot of fun. Alex had the absolute best sense of humor and even as a little kid I remember laughing out loud because he was so funny, like a big cartoon character.”
Growing up in the home of a professional athlete can be difficult for young kids especially when their father is on the road and pulled in so many different directions.
“I remember watching him on television when my parents were out of town and crying because I missed him so much.” She used to sleep in one of his old jerseys.
Yet despite the demands on his time, she says dad always made sure to give her special attention.
“At bedtime he made up these wonderful stories about a butterfly that I finally figured out was me and then we always had a lot of daddy-daughter days that were so much fun. He taught me to ice skate on the tennis courts near our house that were frozen over with ice. Dad also loved speed so it was exciting driving up and down Telegraph in his Corvette convertible or riding on a snowmobile with him when he would drive like a bat out of hell.”
Speed did not scare Kristen, because she always felt protected being next to her father.
What really frightened her was the thought of him getting hurt on the football field.
“I remember sitting in the stands with my Mom at a game against the Bears and I had heard about this guy named Dick Butkus. I was convinced that he was going to kill my dad. My mom said ‘Don’t worry, they’re friends,’ But I was sitting on pins and needles and sick to my stomach that whole game.”
But with injuries being such a big part of the game, Dunlap saw first hand what her dad went through.
“When he was hurt, I was extremely upset. And he had a lot of injuries. He still has a yellow scar on the white part of one of his eyes from being poked with another player’s finger nails. I also remember this bone chip that floated just underneath his skin that I used to play with when I was little, it was just the weirdest thing.” Dunlap recalls watching her dad cut himself out of a body cast because he was so frustrated.
During the time Cogdill finished his career with the Atlanta Falcons, Dunlap recalls sticking up for her father after overhearing that he was upset with the way head coach Norm Van Brocklin was treating him.
“I wrote an angry note to Van Brocklin using a raspberry colored crayon and when my Mom and I walked into the stadium for a game I stuck it underneath a door by the tunnel,” she says with a laugh.
Although Dunlap has lived in various parts of the country due to her modeling career, she still has a deep affection for both the Lions and the Detroit area.
“I feel like a member of the Lions’ family and I’ve been a fan my whole life. Believe it or not, it would be a dream come true if I could return to the Detroit area and work for the team in some capacity.”
As for her father reaching his 75th birthday, Kristen has to pause briefly as her voice breaks.
“It’s hard to believe how the years flew by. I still see Dad as I did when I was a little girl looking up to him.”