Don McCauley
refer to caption
Don McCauley in 1972
No. 23
Position:Running back
Personal information
Born: (1949-05-12) May 12, 1949 (age 74)
Worcester, Massachusetts, U.S.
Height:6 ft 1 in (1.85 m)
Weight:211 lb (96 kg)
Career information
High school:Garden City
(Garden City, New York)
College:North Carolina
NFL draft:1971 / Round: 1 / Pick: 22
Career history
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
Rushing yards:2,627
Rushing average:3.4
Rushing touchdowns:40
Receiving yards:3,026
Receiving touchdowns:17
Player stats at · PFR

Donald Frederick "Don" McCauley Jr. (born May 12, 1949) is a former American football player. He was a halfback for the University of North Carolina Tarheels from 1968 to 1970, during which time he was twice recognized as the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) player of the year. He was also consensus All-American in 1970 and finished ninth in voting for the Heisman Trophy.

Drafted in the first round of the 1971 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Colts with a pick forfeited by the Miami Dolphins for tampering, McCauley went on to have an 11-year professional career in the National Football League with the Colts.

In 2001, McCauley was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.


Early years

Don McCauley was born May 12, 1949 in Worcester, Massachusetts. He attended Garden City High School in Garden City, New York.

McCauley was a power-hitting catcher on the baseball team[1] and powerful halfback on the football squad at Garden City High, demonstrating enough ability in the latter sport to be awarded a full-ride scholarship to the University of North Carolina.[2]

Collegiate career

McCauley arrived at Chapel Hill in the fall of 1967. Freshmen were prohibited from participation in varsity football under NCAA rules, so McCauley was limited to play on the less-prestigious freshman squad.

He moved to the varsity team in 1968, where the 6'0" halfback stood out at the team's spring practice. UNC head coach Bill Dooley noted of the sophomore: "McCauley is a determined runner. He has intense desire and is the type of player we want to have here at Carolina. Don doesn't have breakaway speed, but he's a strong runner."[3]

McCauley would see action in 10 games for UNC during the 1968 season in a reserve role, gaining 360 yards on the ground in 75 carries (4.8 yards per carry) with 313 yards through the air.[4] He scored 3 touchdowns on the season.[4]

It was as a junior in the 1969 season that Don McCauley began to make his mark as a premier Division I collegiate running back. In 10 games, McCauley's use nearly tripled and he gained nearly 1,100 yards for the year and scoring 10 touchdowns.[4] McCauley's running average increased dramatically, to 5.4 yards per carry, in a year that saw him gain an impressive 1,330 all-purpose yards from scrimmage.[4] This included an 188-yard eruption in October in a 23–3 shellacking of Wake Forest that set a new UNC record for yards gained carrying the ball.[5]

Seeing McCauley's massive day against Wake Forest was enough for UNC running back legend Charlie "Choo Choo" Justice to anoint him as "one of the best backs ever to wear a Carolina uniform."[6] His final tally of 1,092 yards in 1969 would be the second most in ACC history and win McCauley the first of two ACC Player of the Year honors.[7]

But it would be McCauley's 1970 senior season that would be his legendary gridiron performance.

In 1970, he led the nation in rushing with 1,720 yards and all-purpose running with 2,021 yards.[4] His 1,720 yards rushing broke the NCAA record held by O. J. Simpson[8] and continued to stand the test of time half a century later, still ranking as the fifth highest total in ACC history and the highest at North Carolina.

A consensus All-America selection and team captain his senior year, McCauley led the ACC in scoring in 1970 with 21 touchdowns. Over the course of his three years on the Tarheel varsity team, McCauley generated 3,172 rushing yards, 786 yards receiving, and 1,056 yards on kick returns — for a total of 5,014 all-purpose yards. He also led the team in punting with 48 punts for 1,845 yards — a 38.4 yard average.

McCauley was a two-time First-team All-Conference selection and two-time Conference Player of the Year. He garnered the 1971 ACC Athlete of the Year award. He finished 9th in balloting for the 1970 Heisman Trophy, including 6 first place votes.[9]

Professional career

With the acquisition of the Miami Dolphins' first round draft pick, awarded to them as compensation for tampering in the hiring of then head coach of the Colts, Don Shula, Baltimore selected McCauley in the first round (22nd overall) in the 1971 NFL draft.

The 1971 NFL season was spent as a reserve to veteran halfback Tom Matte.[10] He carried the ball 58 times for 246 yards (4.2 yards per carry) and scored 2 touchdowns during that rookie campaign.[10] He also handled the ball periodically as a kickoff returner, bringing back 8 kicks with a 24.3 yard average.[10] With Matte injured, McCauley was thrust into the limelight as a starter in the AFC Championship Game, in which he gained 50 yards on the ground and caught 2 passes for 24 more yards in a 21–0 loss to the Miami Dolphins.[10]

McCauley's second pro season, 1972, was his best offensive year, in which he gained 675 yards on the ground — the most he would ever record — and another 256 in the air, logging a total of five touchdowns.[8] One of his touchdowns came via a 93-yard kickoff return against the New York Jets in September, the longest scoring play of his career.[8]

His third season, 1973, would be the last time he broke the 500-yard mark on the ground, with McCauley generating 514 yards on 144 carries (3.6 yards per carry average) in 13 games.[11]

Despite his declining production as a runner after year three, McCauley would find new life as a pass receiver out of the backfield. McCauley generated no fewer than 296 yards via pass receptions in any of his last six years, snagging more than fifty balls in a season twice.[11] His high total as a pass-catcher would come in 1979, when he grabbed 55 balls for 575 yards (10.5 yards per catch average).[11]

Don McCauley would actually finish his NFL career with more yards as a pass receiver (3,026) than as a runner (2,627).[11]

Decision to retire

McCauley faced the 1982 season, his 12th, as the oldest drafted player on the Colts roster.[8] He was by then being used almost exclusively as a third-down back, when a tough block was needed or a couple tough yards remained to be gained.[8] With the team coming off a disheartening 2–14 season and unhappy with the new regime of head coach Frank Kush, McCauley declined to report to training camp in August.[12] Rumors were rife that he was seeking a trade.[13] Bound to the Colts by the automatically-renewing standard player contract of the day, the so-called reserve clause, McCauley's status was rendered as "Reserved, free agent asked to re-sign."[13]

"This is the first time I've been home in August since high school, 15 or 16 years ago," McCauley told a friendly reporter from North Carolina, acknowledging that he was pondering retirement from football.[13]

"I won't be back, not to Baltimore," he said, "not unless they really make it worth my time — which they're not going to do. I just can't see myself going back. They're cleaning house and I just refuse to go through another season like last year. It was awful, the worst experience of my life. A lot of people just didn't put out and I refuse to be around people like that."[13]

"If it was my fourth or fifth year, this would be more dramatic to me," he continued. "But I've realized for several years now that the last game could be my last.... I've had a good career. I'd be going into my 12th season when the life expectancy of an NFL running back is just four years and I've never been hurt."[13]

The Colts, which initially sought McCauley to return for 1982, acceded to his trade request but were unable to find an interested trading partner in the middle of the training camp season.[14] Having reached an impasse, McCauley called the Colts and asked for his unconditional release, so that he could pursue a place with another team.[14] General manager Ernie Accorsi granted McCauley's request, rescinded their last contract offer, and thereby made him an unrestricted free agent.[14] McCauley was unable to land a spot with another NFL franchise, however, ending his career.

McCauley was able to carve out a niche as an effective short-yardage back for the Colts over an 11 season career. A powerful runner never blessed with elite speed, he was never able to duplicate his collegiate success in the professional game. He finished his career with 156 games played, during which he ran the ball 770 times for 2,627 yards — an average of 3.4 yards per carry.[11]

Don McCauley scored 58 touchdowns during the course of his NFL career.[11] He retired sixth all-time for the Colts in yards gained rushing.[8]

Life after football

Out of the game at the age of 33, McCauley returned home to Huntington Bay, Long Island,[8] where he operated three restaurants in the region called "McCauley's."[15]

In 2001 Don McCauley was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.[16]


  1. ^ "Hicksville Superhomer Ends 10-Inning Game," Newsday, May 4, 1967; p. 119.
  2. ^ Bill Voorhees, "Countywide," Newsday, April 19, 1967; p. 99.
  3. ^ "Don McCauley Stands Out," The Daily Tarheel [Chapel Hill, NC], April 26, 1968; p. 5.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Don McCauley," Sports Reference - College Football,
  5. ^ Ed McHale, "Heels Need to Win," Statesville [NC] Record and Landmark,] Dec. 31, 1969; p. 10.
  6. ^ Charles Karmosky, "The Sportscope," Newport News [VA] Daily Press, Oct. 31, 1969; p. 18.
  7. ^ "State Least Penalized Grid Squad," Durham [NC] Sun-Herald, Dec. 28, 1969; p. 27.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Walter Gutowski and Marge Blatt (eds.), Baltimore Colts: 1982 Media Guide. Owings Mills, MD: Baltimore Colts, 1982; pp. 37-39.
  9. ^ "1970 Heisman Trophy Voting," Sports Reference - College Football,
  10. ^ a b c d Ernie Accorsi and Chip Campbell (eds.), The Baltimore Colts '72." Owings Mills, MD: Baltimore Colts, 1972; p. 45.
  11. ^ a b c d e f "Don McCauley," Pro Football Reference,
  12. ^ Associated Press, "Colts' Kush Looking for Help from Waiver Wire," Arizona Daily Star [Tucson], Aug. 10, 1982; p. 7.
  13. ^ a b c d e Wilt Browning, "Don McCauley May Have Had Last Hurrah," Greensboro Daily News, Aug. 12, 1982; p. B1.
  14. ^ a b c Susan Reimers, "McCauley is Cut Loose by Colts," Baltimore Evening Sun, Aug. 27, 1982; p. 40.
  15. ^ "During Practice, Quarterbacks are Off-Limits," Raleigh News and Observer, Sept. 7, 1983; p. 5B.
  16. ^ "2001 College Football Hall of Fame Class Announced," National Football Foundation, April 19, 2001,