Top 50 football players in Arizona Wildcats history: No. 42, Bobby Lee Thompsonby Anthony Gimino on Jul. 22, 2013, under Arizona football
Position, years at Arizona: Running back, 1960-1961
Honors, accomplishments at UA: First-team All-Border Conference in 1960 (Arizona was a football independent in 1961 as it transitioned to the new Western Athletic Conference in 1962). … Led the Wildcats in rushing in 1960 and 1961.
Why he made our list: This should really be a combo entry because it’s difficult to separate Thompson from his backfield mate, “Jackrabbit” Joe Hernandez. They formed the “Touchdown Twins” behind star quarterback Eddie Wilson in 1960 and 1961, as UA went a combined 15-4-1 in those seasons. Thompson and Hernandez accounted for 39 touchdowns in those two years.
Thompson, a 5-foot-10, 172-pound transfer from Compton (Calif.) Junior College, could do it all. He still holds the school record for rushing yards per carry (7.6). He scored on 74- and 75-yard punt returns as a senior, when he also rushed for 177 yards in a 14-14 tie at Nebraska. He caught three touchdown passes of at least 20 yards that season. He scored on a 67-yard run in a 22-13 win against Arizona State.
J.I. Albrecht, a longtime Canadian Football League scout and general manager, said this in the Montreal Gazette in December 1961 about Thompson: “He’s the greatest halfback in college football this season. Even better than (Syracuse Heisman Trophy winner Ernie) Davis.”
Thompson’s 732 rushing yards in 1960, and his 752 yards in 1961 ranked as the ninth-best total in the nation each year.
Life after college: Thompson weighed offers from the NFL (he was a third-round pick, No. 38 overall, of the Detroit Lions), the AFL (he was a 12th-round selection of the Dallas Texans) and the Canadian Football League. He signed with the Montreal Alouettes, reportedly for more than $15,000, and returned a kickoff 106 yards for a score as a rookie, when he became more valuable as a defensive back.
He spent two seasons in Montreal, then jumped to the NFL to play defensive back for the Lions for the next five seasons. After playing with New Orleans in 1969, he was cut from the Dallas Cowboys camp in 1970 and landed back with the Alouettes in time for the end of their Grey Cup-winning season. Thompson’s final pro season was with Montreal in 1971. He had 21 career interceptions, 10 with the Lions.
His son, Bobby Thompson, played basketball at ASU from 1983-87, ranking second in career assists with 454.
In partnership with the Arizona Republic, we are counting down the top 50 football players in Arizona Wildcats history. Leave your top 10 at AG’s Wildcat Report on Facebook, and check out azcentral.com for the countdown of ASU’s Top 50 football players.
No. 50 — LaMonte Hunley
No. 49 — Hubie Oliver
No. 48 — Rob Gronkowski
No. 47 — Jim Donarski
No. 46 — Ontiwaun Carter
No. 45 — Steve McLaughlin
No. 44 — John Fina
No. 43 — Glenn Parker