Jim Duncan’s due a golden football for SB V play

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Sports Talk

By Robert Howey

Lancaster is due a golden football.
To be more specific, the late Jim “Butch” Duncan, a former Barr Street High School great and Lancaster Athletic Hall of Famer, is due one of those golden footballs, which in the 50th anniversary of the Super Bowl, is given to a coach or player who played in a past Super Bowl.
The honor is part of the NFL’s nationwide effort to bring former players and coaches back to their high schools to celebrate their Super Bowl careers and provide the schools with a permanent reminder of how former athletes competed at the highest level.
Duncan, a gifted athlete, played in Super Bowl V in Miami where his Colts edged the Dallas Cowboys, 16-13.
Baltimore rookie Jim O’Brien kicked a 32-yard field goal with five seconds left to lift the Colts to the three-point win. The Colts’ comeback win ironically came two years after the New York Jets’ 16-7 win over Baltimore, which was guaranteed by Jets’ star quarterback Joe Namath. It is all part of Super Bowl lore.
Duncan had quite a career at Barr Street, the former all-black high school in Lancaster prior to total integration with the 1970-71 school year.
Duncan played football, basketball and baseball for the Golden Tigers under the leadership of the late coach Roosevelt “Sandy” Gilliam.
Duncan, in his senior season at Barr Street, threw for 16 touchdowns and scored 20 TDs. He was a teammate of Bill Belk, who also played pro football with the San Francisco Forty-Niners.
Coach Gilliam moved on to Maryland State, now known as the University of Maryland at Eastern Shore, and he wisely took the talented Duncan and Belk with him.
Duncan produced a brilliant career at Maryland State where he played three sports, football, basketball and baseball. His play with the Hawks earned him induction into the MSC Hall of Fame in 1975.
Duncan, an ace quarterback and defensive safety, earned All-CIAA (Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association)honors in 1967. In four years with the Hawks, Duncan led MSC to a 19-11-1 record. In addition, he graduated with a degree in Industrial Arts Education, a rare feat for a college three-sport athlete.
His play earned him a spot in the prestigious College All-Star game in 1968 when the stars played the World Champion Green Bay Packers, the Super Bowl II champion.
Remember that game was played in Chicago and annually pitted a team of elite college stars against the World Champion.
Two seasons after the College All-Star game, Duncan was a member of the World Championship team, the 1970 Colts.
Two years prior, he was a fourth-round draft pick by the Colts, and in two seasons was a starter in the Colts’ secondary for Super Bowl V.
In the team’s final four games, he had two interceptions. Duncan’s major contribution was on kick returns as he averaged 35.4 yards on 20 kick returns to earn the league’s kickoff return championship.
Anybody who had doubts about Duncan’s kick return ability needed to check out his superb play in Super Bowl V.
For the game, he had four kickoff returns for 90 yards, with his longest 30 yards.
Super Bowl V was known as “Blunder Bowl,” or “Stupor Bowl” due to 11 turnovers along with a missed extra point. The Colts had seven turnovers, a record for number of turnovers by a winning team in the Super Bowl.
Duncan couldn’t avoid the turnover bug as he fumbled the second half kickoff and the Cowboys took advantage and mounted a drive. Duncan quickly went from goat to hero as he recovered a Duane Thomas fumble at the Colts’ one where he blunted the drive to likely save the win.
Dallas, up 13-6 at that point, couldn’t hold on and two late Cowboys’ turnovers led to a 10-point Colts’ comeback for the narrow victory.
The game MVP was the Cowboys’ linebacker Chuck Howley, who had two picks and three tackles, and holds the distinction as the only Super Bowl MVP selected from a losing team.
For Duncan, the game was a highlight because tragically a year later, he was dead.
Duncan, at the time of his death, was having some personal issues, and according to reports, he walked into the Lancaster police station, then on Main Street adjacent to the old Lancaster County Courthouse, and pulled a policeman’s gun and died of a self-inflicted gunshot to the head.
Some reports suggested drugs could have played a role.
From what we know now, it possibly could have been related to the Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a form of tauopathy. CTE is a progressive degenerative disease found in people who have suffered repetitive brain trauma.
CTE has been most commonly found in pro athletes participating in contact sports. The late Frank Gifford, Junior Seau and Mike Webster are former NFL greats who have been tragically impacted by the brain disease.
It could be speculated, but we don’t know for sure.
What we do know is that Jim “Butch” Duncan was a great athlete, one in a long line who proudly performed for Barr Street High School and represented Lancaster County well in his days as a college athlete and pro football player.
He’s the lone player from Lancaster to play in a Super Bowl.
For that achievement, Duncan deserves a golden football, which should be put in a special locale like his alma mater, the old Barr Street High School building.
Now that would be a brilliant, golden moment for Coach Gilliam and his prize player, Jim “Butch” Duncan. Gone, but certainly not forgotten.
That would be fitting as well, some long overdue recognition in this, Black History month.