Best on the gridiron: Tom Keane

MORGANTOWN — In the space of two years, West Virginia defensive backfield standout Tom Keane’s uniform colors changed from the Scarlet and Gray of Ohio State to the Navy of…well, Navy, and finally to WVU’s Old Gold and Blue.

The Bellaire, Ohio, native concluded a standout scholastic career at Linsly Academy in Wheeling before starting his college career at Ohio State in 1944, where he lettered as a two-way back on the Buckeyes’ undefeated co-national championship team.

A 20-month stretch in the U.S. Navy followed, after which Keane transferred to WVU and became a solid rwo-way contributor for the 1946 and ’47 teams.

Following graduation, the 6-foot-1 inch, 192-pound back sparked the interest of the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams, who made him their third-round pick at No. 18 overall.

Keane carved out a fine eight-year career with the Rams, Dallas Texans, Baltimore Colts, and Chicago Cardinals, winning an NFL championship in ’51 with the Rams and being named All-Pro twice. (Keane’s brother Jim was a Chicago Bear and led the NFL in pass receptions in 1947.)

But perhaps Keane’s greatest claim to football fame came as a coach. He began as an assistant for the Cardinals for two years before becoming the head coach of the semi-pro Wheeling Ironmen (of the old United Football League).

After winning back-to-back UFL championships in 1962 and ’63, he moved on for a year with the Steelers before finding a permanent home with the AFL’s Miami Dolphins. His 30-year stint as defensive backs and special teams coach helped produce numerous Pro Bowlers, and of course, the famous 17-0 perfect season in 1972.

Keane, who died at age 74 in 2001, was a member of the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference and Upper Ohio Valley Dapper Dan Halls of Fame, and will be inducted into the WVU Sports Hall of Fame in 2018.

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