Otto Schnellbacher dies; starred with Giants, Jayhawks

TOPEKA, Kan. -- Otto Schnellbacher, a two-sport star at Kansas who went on to play defensive back for the New York Giants and spend a season in the NBA in 1949, died Monday. He was 84.

His death was announced by the University of Kansas, where he was captain of the football and basketball teams. Kansas basketball coach Bill Self said Schellbacher had cancer.

"We lost one of KU's all-time greats. He was a KU legend," said Self, who last saw Schnellbacher and his wife in February. "He did so much for KU in so many ways that didn't garner recognition. He was just a Jayhawk through and through."

Schnellbacher played two seasons with the football New York Yankees in 1948-49 before joining the Giants, where he was a Pro Bowl player in 1950 and 1951. He led the league with 11 interceptions in 1951. He spent the 1948-49 season in the NBA with the St. Louis Bombers and Providence Steamrollers.

Schnellbacher was born in the small Kansas town of Sublette. In college, he was known as the "Double Threat from Sublette." Standing 6-foot-4, he was a standout wide receiver on the 1947 Kansas team that went 8-1-2 and played in the Orange Bowl, where the Jayhawks lost to Georgia Tech 20-14.

His 58 receptions and 1,069 yards during his college career stood as school records for 22 years.

In basketball, he was a four-time all-conference selection, one of only three players to accomplish the feat in school history. He averaged 12.8 points a game his senior year for coach Phog Allen.

Chancellor Robert Hemenway said Schnellbacher's contributions extended beyond athletics.

"There isn't anybody you could point to that demonstrated the values of being a Jayhawk more than Otto," Hemenway said. "He was extremely athletic, but he was a great human being.

"People like to be around him because he was one of the best cheerleaders that KU ever had."

Schnellbacher was a member of the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame, the University of Kansas Hall of Fame and the football Ring of Honor inside Memorial Stadium.

He and his wife lived in Topeka, 24 miles from the university.

He is survived by his wife, Jane Schnellbacher, three children, four stepchildren, five grandchildren, one great-grandson and 15 step-grandchildren.

Services are Friday in Topeka.