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Profiling Pat Studstill

by Chase Stuart on December 3, 2012

in History, Receiving

Lions wide receiver present.

On Sunday, Calvin Johnson became just the second player in NFL history to gain at least 125 receiving yards in five consecutive games. He’s also the second Lion to hit those marks.

As you’ve probably figured it out by the title, the only player with 125+ receiving yards in five straight games prior to Johnson was Patrick Lewis Studstill Jr., who had an 11-year career with the Lions, Rams, and Patriots. Studstill was a first-team All-Pro wide receiver in 1966, when he led the NFL in receiving yards. Beginning in week 5 of that season, Studstill topped 115 receiving yards in six straight weeks. Those were six highest single-game yardage totals of his career.

Studstill was a receiver and punter at the University of Houston in the late ’50s, but his senior season was a disaster. Head coach Hal Lahar was your typical coach of the era when it came to rules, and Studstill violated a major one — by getting married. Lahar benched Studstill for his entire senior year, and as a result, Studstill went undrafted. One of the Cougars assistant coaches, Red Conkright, was a former NFL player who would later become the last head coach of the Oakland Raiders before Al Davis. Conkright vouched for Studstill, who received a tryout in Detroit. Because of his versatility and speed, he was able to make the Lions roster in 1961.

Studstill didn’t see the field much during his rookie season, but did manage a 100-yard kickoff return touchdown against the Bears. An injury to Terry Barr in 1962 opened the door for Studstill to begin making a contribution on offense. In the last 9 games of the season, Sutdstill caught 31 passes for 446 yards, second on the team in both categories to Pro Bowler Gail Cogdill.

A promising career was then jeopardized in 1963, as Studstill suffered a brutal preseason knee injury that caused him to miss the entire season. That year both Barr and Cogdill had Pro Bowl seasons, combining for over 2,000 yards, so Studstill’s path to the lineup was again blocked. In ’64, with Barr and Cogdill entrenched, Studstill recorded just 7 catches but was the team’s primary returner. But after the 1964 season, another hole in the lineup emerged as longtime punter (and Hall of Fame defensive back) Yale Lary retired. Prior to 1965, Studstill has attempted just one punt in his NFL career, but he led the league with 78 punts in 1965 and was named to the Pro Bowl. Studstill continued a Detroit tradition of rostering the rare “punter capable of returning punts”: Lary and Studstill remain the only members of the 500 (punts)/50 (punt returns) club in NFL history.

That same season, Barr and Cogdill each missed half the season due to injury; with increased playing time, Studstill ended up leading the team in receptions, too. Barr retired after the season, opening things up for Studstill to potentially have a breakout season. Studstill started 1966 strong, gaining 253 receiving yards in the team’s first four games. He exploded in games 5 and 6, with 6 catches for 142 yards against the Rams followed by 6 catches for 141 yards in Baltimore. But disaster stuck against the Colts, as star quarterback Milt Plum injured his knee, ending his season. Detroit was forced to turn to Karl Sweetan, an 18th-round pick in 1965 who had completed just one NFL pass prior to Plum’s injury.

As it turned out, Sweetan and Studstill were perfect for each other, and the receiver never slowed down. Studstill later said this about Sweetan:

“He would stand in that pocket and throw the ball. We just clicked, that’s all. We didn’t have a lot in common off the field. But on the field, I was his man in ‘66… Gail Cogdill was the receiver on the other side, and he took a lot of heat off me. They would double-team Gail, so I could get open easier. Gail fractured his kneecap in 1965, so in 1966 he didn’t have quite the speed that he had before. But I had a lot of respect for him as a receiver.

In Sweetan’s first start, he threw for 227 yards and 2 touchdowns against the 49ers, with only 99 of those yards going to Lions other than Studstill. The next week against Vince Lombardi’s Packers was a disaster for Sweetan — he was 21/45 and threw 3 interceptions in a 31-7 loss — but Studstill set a career high with 164 receiving yards. The following week in Chicago the Lions battled to a 10-10 tie; Sweetan threw for only 195 yards, but Studstill caught 7 passes for 125 yards, extending his streak of consecutive games with 125 yards to a record five games. The next week the Lions won in Minnesota as Studstill set a career high with 9 receptions (for 116 yards).

Sweetan and Studstill started 7 games together1 in 1966: in those games, Studstill caught 41 passes for 730 yards and 2 touchdowns while the rest of the team recorded 93 catches for 732 yards and 1 touchdown. That’s not a misprint: Studstill gained 49.9% of the Lions’ receiving yards and two of their three receiving touchdowns over that stretch. Studstill had this to say when reflecting on their magical season together:

“I don’t know what it was, but Karl and I just worked well together and whenever he was in trouble he’d come to me…. I would tell him, ‘I got the guy on an up, or I can cut across square in, or beat him on the outside, and when Karl got into a situation he would call my play. He could throw the ball, but you didn’t know where Karl would be the night before the game. He was completely nuts.

Studstill started slow in 1967, but in the third game, he connected with a now-healthy Milt Plum on 5 passes for 107 yards and 2 touchdowns. Unfortunately, a bad hamstring injury the next week against Green Bay prevented him from recording another catch the rest of the season. The Lions asked him to keep punting, but unsurprisingly, that only re-aggravated the injury. Studstill still had hamstring problems after the season, and in his own words, he’s never truly recovered from the injury.

Lions wide receiver past.

After the 1967, his career took a new twist. At the end of his 1966 season, he played in the Pro Bowl under Rams coach George Allen. The two kept in touch, and Allen wanted him to play for the Rams in ’68 as a backup receiver and punter. The Lions were struggling at the time while the Rams were one the NFL’s top teams, so the idea was intriguing. Detroit acquiesced and sent him to Los Angeles as part of the Bill Munson trade. Studstill was the Rams punter for four seasons, leading the league in punting yards in 1969. For the most part, his days as a receiver were over.

For the most part. In 1970, the Rams #2 wide receiver Wendell Tucker missed weeks seven and eight of the season. After having just two catches in the first seven games, Studstill started in week 8 against the Falcons, and led the team with 88 yards on six catches. Then, in the season finale in Yankee Stadium, against the Giants, Studstill caught 6 passes for 77 yards and two first-half touchdowns in a 31-3 blowout. Those were the last catches of Studstill’s career.

  1. Studstill sat out the last game of the season with an injury so he could rest up for the Pro Bowl. My how times have changed. []

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Travis December 3, 2012 at 1:53 am

Wendell Tucker missed the Rams’ Week 7 and 8 games in 1970.

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Chase Stuart December 3, 2012 at 10:18 am

Thanks Travis — smart thinking. I’ve updated the post.

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Jerry December 3, 2012 at 2:47 am

“threw 3 touchdowns in a 31-7 loss” – interceptions?

Studstill is one of those names I vaguely remember from the ’60s. Thanks for fleshing him out.

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Chase Stuart December 3, 2012 at 10:18 am

Yes, thanks Jerry. Fixed.

Glad you enjoyed.

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DEW December 3, 2012 at 11:48 am

It really says something about how times have changed. Nowadays, if a senior football player got married, we’d be standing around admiring his maturity and family values, and back then it was a scandal and violation of team rules.

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Tim Truemper December 3, 2012 at 2:09 pm

Great bio on Studstill (as well as Sweetan). I hate to say but I watched both a bit on TV back in the day. Studstill was smooth and precise and reminded me some of Raymond Berry, just with more speed. Sweetan had an arm, but boy was he erratic. But when he got hot he could be lights out. Saw him beat Dallas once (when meredith was QB’ing and saw Studstill play in a game of the week against Baltimore and Green Bay. Wonderful NFL History.

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Tim Truemper December 3, 2012 at 2:15 pm

Checked the lions team page for 1966. Went 4-9-1. Remarkable enough that Studstill was so productive– both Plum and Sweetan combined for only 8 td’s while throwing 28 interceptions. Two interesting teammates. Garo Yepremeian was the kicker and Ron Kramer, the former GB TE for the first two Lombardi champs (61, 62) .

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Richie December 3, 2012 at 4:14 pm

What a strange career. He led the league in yards and yards/game in 1966. 1966 was 45% of his career receiving yards.

How many other players led the league in either rush, receiving or pass yards in a season, and had that one season represent such a high percentage of his career total? It’s almost like he wasn’t expected to be a good player, so wasn’t given much of a chance. He had one great season, but still nobody wanted to give him much of an opportunity.

Was it just because of a bum hamstring? He was given a couple of other opportunities and had good games.

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Shattenjager December 3, 2012 at 11:26 pm

I just went through looking for other guys who led the league in rushing, receiving, or passing yards in a season with that season representing a very high percentage of career totals out of curiosity:
Charles White led the league in rushing yards in 1987 and that season represents 45% of his career total, though that probably deserves an asterisk because of the strike.
Doug Russell led the league in rushing yards in 1935 and that season represents 46% of his career total.
Beattie Feathers led the league in rushing yards in 1934 and that season represents 51% of his career total.

I figured that Beattie Feathers fit, but I honestly don’t ever even remember noticing the names Charles White or Doug Russell (admittedly common-sounding enough names that they would not tend to stick in my memory) before.

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Richie December 4, 2012 at 1:50 am

Wait – you’ve never heard of Charles White before? Oh no, I’m getting old!

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