Lasting legacies: Revisiting college athletics during quarantine; Lessons of the Tribe’s storied, little-known athletic history still resonate throughout campus sports today

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The future of College sports is uncertain this year with the postponement of William and Mary’s 2020 fall season, so it seems fitting to look back to the past. This week, I want to highlight a remarkable Tribe athlete who played for Tribe football over 70 years ago: Jack Cloud ’48.

Cloud is inducted in the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame, the College Football Hall of Fame, and the William and Mary Hall of Fame. His career was defined by his success with the Tribe even though he eventually went on to play professionally.

Standing just over 5’10, Cloud muscled his way into yardage. He played like a bulldozer, running low to the ground and steamrolling opponents. Cloud represented William and Mary for four years before a three-year stint in the National Football League. His style was reminiscent of much older eras of football, and he was often compared to Jim Thorpe, a renowned Native American player of the early 1900s.

Cloud’s breakout year came as a sophomore. In 1947, he helped lead the Tribe to a Southern conference championship with a record of 24-6-2 and was named to the first All-American team. Not only did Cloud set a school record in scoring with 102 points in the 1947 season, but he held the conference record of 45 career touchdowns for 30 years. In one game, he scored over five touchdowns single-handedly.

The next season in 1948, the Tribe ranked 14th overall, culminating in their Dixie Bowl appearance against Arizona. Cloud put the Tribe on the board with two subsequent touchdowns in the first quarter. In the second quarter, he injured his knee and watched the Tribe give up their lead to lose 19-21.

His knee would never recover. Cloud settled for limited playing time for the rest of his career in order to avoid facing re-injuries. But, the team also changed its style to compensate. Buddy Lex ’49, a teammate of Cloud’s, attributed the Tribe’s national lead in passing during the 1949 season to Cloud’s injury.

After his senior year, where the Tribe won its Delta bowl game in a 20-0 shut-out against Oklahoma, Cloud entered the NFL draft. In the sixth round, with the 69th pick, he joined the Green Bay Packers for one year. He scored all four of his professional touchdowns with Green Bay and 113 of 141 career yards.

In 1951, he was traded to the Washington Redskins. They transitioned him from playing fullback to becoming a linebacker. His rushing yards plummeted, and so did his game time. Two knee operations later, Cloud retired.

For over 30 years, Cloud coached at the Naval Academy, returning to his military roots. Before attending the College, he served as a gunner in World War Two, where he earned his nickname of “Flying Jack.” His service to the US Air Force helped him gain discipline while coaching and playing football. He taught physical education courses in addition to coaching light-weight football teams.

In 1990, Cloud was inducted into the College Hall of Fame. Cloud’s career was characterized by his outstanding collegiate performance. His professional career, while impressive for a William and Mary student, was overshadowed by teammate Lou Creekmur ’49. Cloud and Creekmur played for the Tribe together in two overlapping years before both being eventually drafted to the NFL. Creekmur was a pillar of the Lions’ organization for over 10 years, and he was inducted into the Pro Hall of Fame in 1996. While Creekmur is the only Tribe football player to ever be inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Cloud is one of only two Tribe players to be in the College Football Hall of Fame.

Though Cloud played more than 70 years ago for William and Mary, he is still one of the best players to represent the Tribe. Player safety is still at the forefront of everyone’s minds decades later — and for good reason. Even though his professional years were full of uncertainty from a career-ending knee injury, he had a long, successful journey as a coach afterwards. Cloud’s life was the game of football: his college years cemented the Tribe’s football prowess back in the 1950s.

While older than most of our grandparents, Cloud is emblematic of Tribe athletics even today. Cloud’s timeless ideals of passion and drive persist in the Tribe 70 years later.