Tiger Legend Russ Vollmer Passes at Age of 70
Russell Vollmer, the Memphis State University quarterback who guided the Tigers to their last undefeated season in 1963 under Billy 'Spook' Murphy, is dead. Vollmer was 70 years of age.
Though his records have long since been surpassed--Vollmer doesn't even come close to the passing yardage totals of the top 10 Tiger QBs in program history, and his career-high yardage total is just 555 yards (1962)--Vollmer is one of the most revered figures in Memphis State/University of Memphis football history.
The reason for this is simple: there are only three (3) undefeated teams in school history: 1929, 1938 and 1963; Vollmer was the signal-caller in that historic 1963 campaign. The Central High School graduate also led the Tigers to their first victory ever over an SEC opponent: a 28-7 triumph over the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
Vollmer played behind All-America quarterback James Earl Wright as a sophomore in 1961, but found many other ways to contribute to the team. He led the team in kick return yards all three years on the varsity: 10 returns for 280 yards in 1961, 10 for 302 yards in '62, and 9 for 290 in '63.
He also led the squad in punt return yardage in 1962: 11 attempts and 224 yards. Vollmer managed a total of 815 all-purpose yards mark in '62 (289 rushing, 302 on kick returns, 224 on punt returns).
He ended his Tiger career with a total of 1,454 passing yards and 7 TDs through the air while piling up 20 TDs on the ground and in the return game.
When Wright went down with a career-ending knee injury in 1961, Vollmer stepped in and helped Memphis State to a season-ending 8-2-0 record.
As a junior in 1962, Vollmer became the starting QB for Coach Murphy's and promptly led the Tigers to an 8-1-0 record, including the ground-breaking win over a Mississippi State, Spook's alma mater, in Starkville. He ended up leading the team in scoring (8 TDs and 72 total points).
The season's only blemish came at the hands of the #3 ranked Ole Miss Rebels, and Memphis State would finish the season ranked 17th in the final UPI/Williamson's poll.
The 1963 campaign, Vollmer's senior season, was one for the ages Memphis State fought to a 0-0 tie with #3 Ole Miss; defeated Tulsa on the road, 28-15; eclipsed #11 Mississippi State for the second year as a row, this time on the road, 17-10; and clipped South Carolina on Homecoming Day, 9-0.
Mississippi State, 17-10, in a game that earned him the Associated Press National Offensive Player of the Week Award. Vollmer set the tone for the night by breaking the opening kick return for 79 yards, and cashed in the points with a TD pass.
He was injured on a tackle late in the first half and was sent to the hospital, but he returned in the second half to lead the game-winning 70-yard touchdown drive. He was named the Associated Press National Back of the Week for his heroic effort.
Vollmer was named to five All-America teams following his 1963 season: Williamson's (2nd team), NEA, Associated Press, UPI, and Detroit Sports Extra (all honorable mention). He ended his Tiger career holding records for career pass completions, career kickoff return yards and the longest punt return in school history (88-yarder versus Ole Miss).
He was tabbed to play in the annual Blue-Gray All-Star Game and was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in the 1964 NFL Draft, in the 13th round.
He was elected to the M-Club Hall of Fame in 1983, the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame in 1998 and the All-American Football Foundation Hall of Fame in 1998.
Visitation for Vollmer is set for Thursday, August 23, from 9-11 AM, at First Baptist Church (830 New Byhalia Road, Collierville, Tenn.) with funeral services to follow immediately after the visitation.