Punt? Catch? Return kicks? Studstill did it all for Lions

Pat Studstill was the last player in the NFL not to wear a face mask.

Despite not being drafted and having played just ten minutes his senior year in college with the Houston Cougars, Pat Studstill became a fan favorite with the Detroit Lions in the 1960’s as one of the team’s most versatile and valuable players.

From 1961 through 1967, the speedy Studstill, who was timed at 9.6 seconds in the 100-yard dash, played flanker, punted, and handled kick off and punt returns.

“My college head coach wanted me to be a quarterback and I insisted on playing receiver and he was pissed,” said Studstill, 74 from his home in Los Angeles. “On top of that I ended up getting married and that’s when he benched me.”

However, based upon a strong recommendation from Cougar assistant coach Red Conkwright, Lion talent scout Bob Nussbaumer took a chance and signed Studstill to a $6,500 contract.

After making a 78-yard reception and 100-yard kick off return in the preseason, Studstill not only made the team, he led the Lions in kickoff returns and eventually worked his way into Detroit’s elite receiving corps that included Gail Cogdill, Jim Gibbons, and Terry Barr. The following year Studstill lead the league in punt returns.

After the retirement of Hall of Famer Yale Lary in 1964, Studstill took over the punting duties full time, continued to return punts and kicks, and became the regular flanker when Barr retired after the 1965 season. Studstill, who had been punting since he was in grade school, became one of the best in the game – averaging 40.7 yards per kick. In his 12-year career he led the league in punting yardage once and average yards per punt once.

The two-time Pro Bowler’s greatest season in Detroit occurred in 1966 when he hooked up with rookie quarterback Karl Sweetan and led the league in receiving yards while making the Pro Bowl. Studstill, who tallied a then team record 1,266 yards on 67 receptions made history when Sweetan threw an NFL record 99-yard touchdown pass to him in a 45-14 loss in Baltimore.

“I don’t know what it was, but Karl and I just worked well together and whenever he was in trouble he’d come to me,” says Studstill. “I would tell him, ‘I got the guy on an up, or I can cut across square in, or beat him on the outside, and when Karl got into a situation he would call my play. He could throw the ball, but you didn’t know where Karl would be the night before the game. He was completely nuts.”

At the Pro Bowl, Studstill told Rams coach George Allen that one day he would like to play for him.

After an injury plagued 1967 season, Studstill got his wish when the Lions traded him along with Milt Plum, Tommy Watkins and a first round draft choice to Los Angeles for quarterback Bill Munson and a third round pick. He would star for four years with the Rams before ending his football career in 1972 with the New England Patriots.

However, just before the trade from Detroit, Studstill got his first taste of Hollywood along with his Lion teammates when the movie Paper Lion, based upon the best selling book by George Plimpton, was filmed in Florida.

Studstill not only had a speaking part, he also obtained his Screen Actor’s Guild card that later came in handy when he made a post-football career in acting as he appeared in over 150 commercials along with appearances in TV shows (including Magnum P.I., Dukes of Hazzard) and movies.

A year after Paper Lion, producer Robert Aldrich asked Studstill to be a double for Cliff Robertson in the movie Too Late the Hero. Teammate Dick Lebeau was asked to double for Michael Caine.

“[The movie] was filmed in Manila and they told Dick and me that we had to run about 500 yards across this damn field and fall down while the Japs are shooting at us, and my God it was 150 degrees and the mosquitoes were so big they stood flat-footed,” says Studstill laughing at the memory.

“But you know, I get better benefits from SAG-AFTRA than I do from the NFL. But I have to say that in my life, my time with the Lions was just wonderful. The people there were just so great to me.”

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About Bill Dow

Bill Dow has written numerous articles on Detroit sports history as a regular freelance contributor to the Detroit Free Press sports page, and some of his work has been published in Baseball Digest magazine. He also wrote the Afterword to the latest editions of George Plimpton’s book Paper Lion.