|Date of birth:||December 30, 1941|
|Place of birth:||Houston, Texas|
|Height:||6 ft 0 in (1.83 m)|
|Weight:||190 lb (86 kg)|
|High school:||Portland (OR) Jefferson|
|NFL draft:||1964 / Round: 2 / Pick: 17|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Career NFL statistics|
|Player stats at PFR|
Born in Houston, Renfro moved with his family to Portland, Oregon, where he attended Jefferson High School, starring as a two-way football player and track and field athlete. As a sophomore (1957) and junior (1958), he contributed to his team achieving a 23-0 record, including two Class A-1 football state championships. The Democrats 1958 team is regarded as one of the greatest in Oregon prep history, which had a backfield that included him at halfback, quarterback Terry Baker (Heisman Trophy winner at Oregon State University), halfback Mickey Hergert (one of the leading ground gainers in the nation at Lewis & Clark College) and his brother Raye Renfro at fullback (in 1958 he broke a Portland Interscholastic League record with 24 touchdowns). In 1959 after Baker graduated, Renfro saw playing time at quarterback and was also an all-state selection at running back, although his team lost 7-6 to Medford High School in the state title game.
In track in 1959, he helped Jefferson win the team title by winning the 180-yard low hurdles, the 120-yard high hurdles (breaking the state record) and the broad jump state titles. In 1960 he broke two Oregon junior AAU champinonship records with a 120-yard high hurdles of 13.9 seconds and 19.3 seconds in the 180-yard low hurdles. Renfro also collected 32 points outscoring every team except one, recording the state record with a 24.1 broad jump and winning the low hurdles, high hurdles and the half-mile relay team. He was named outstanding athlete in the Golden West Invitational track meet, which brought annually the nation's top high school seniors. He was Track and Field News "High School Athlete of the Year" in 1960.
In 1983 he was inducted into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame.
Renfro attended the University of Oregon, where he excelled in track and as a two-way football player, an All-American halfback and defensive back. In football he earned All-Pacific Coast Conference recognition three times and is one of only two-time All-American (Steve Barnett is the other player) in university history. He is also the second two-sport All-American in university history, the first one was George Shaw in football and baseball.
In 1992 he was inducted into the University of Oregon Athletic Hall of Fame.
From the start of his sophomore season he received recognition as one of the best and most complete running backs in college football, being able to run inside or outside, catch, block and play special teams. In 1963 he was even named the team's backup quarterback.
One of Renfro's best collegiate games took place against Rice University at Houston in 1962. Renfro shined on both offense and defense, leading the Ducks to a 31-12 victory. Rice Stadium had been a whites-only facility prior to the Ducks' visit, but university officials allowed Renfro's family to enter and sit in a special section of the stadium near the 35-yard line. According to a contemporary account in the Eugene (Ore.) Register-Guard, when Renfro left the game, he was given a loud and appreciative ovation by the Rice crowd. An Oregon sportswriter asked a Houston counterpart in the press box if an African-American had ever received such an ovation by a predominantly white crowd. The Texan enthusiastically replied, "We've never seen any player that good!" The morning after the game, a Houston paper headlined, "Renfro Runs Rice Ragged."
He led his team in rushing three straight season (1961–63) finishing with a career total 1,540 yards while scoring 23 touchdowns. He still holds the university's career record for highest average per play 6.01 yards. He also finished his career with 41 catches for 644 yards and five touchdowns, very impressive numbers in an era when running backs usually did not catch more than 10 passes during a season.
In 1986, Renfro was enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame and is a member of The Pigskin Club of Washington, D.C., a National Intercollegiate All-American Football Players Honor Roll. He is considered to be the best running back in the history of the University of Oregon, other than LaMichael James.
Track and field
From 1960 through 1965, the Oregon's men's track and field team led by coach Bill Bowerman was one of the best in the United States. In 1962 Renfro contributed to the university's first NCAA team championship by finishing second behind teammate Jerry Tarr in the 120-yard high hurdles with a 13.8 time and third in the long jump with a 25-11 1/4 inch leap. That year he was part of a world record-setting 440 yard relay team with a time of 40.0 seconds, his running mates were Tarr, Mike Gaechter and Harry Jerome. At the end of the year he was named to the All-American track and field team in the high hurdles and the broad jump.
Renfro was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the second round of the 1964 NFL Draft. The selection delayed the draft for 6 hours, while the Cowboys sent a doctor to check an injury he suffered on his wrist.
Although he had won many accolades as a running back and at the time teams put their best athletes on the offensive side of the ball, Tom Landry looking to build a dominating defense decided to start him at safety. As a rookie he had an impressive season by leading the team with seven interceptions, the NFL in both punt return and kickoff return yardage (including a franchise record 273 total return yards against the Green Bay Packers) and culminated his great campaign with an invitation to the Pro Bowl. The 30 yards per kick-off return average he posted in his second year (1965) still remains a franchise record.
In 1966, despite Renfro coming off of an All-Pro season at safety, the Cowboys named him their starting halfback in an effort to improve its offense. He was injured in the opening game against the New York Giants and replaced by Dan Reeves, who was so impressive that Renfro was moved back to defense when he returned to action and would end up being named to the All-Pro team again.
He was switched to cornerback in his fifth season. The speedy Renfro (4.65 40-yd dash) became an exceptional threat to wide receivers, leading the NFL with 10 interceptions in 1969. Renfro was selected to the Pro Bowl in each of his first ten seasons in the league, including five All-Pro selections in 1964, 1965, 1969, 1971 and 1973. He was named the defensive MVP of the 1971 Pro Bowl.
In his 14 seasons, Renfro intercepted 52 passes, returning them for 626 yards and three touchdowns. He also returned 109 punts for 842 yards and one touchdown, 85 kickoffs for 2,246 yards and two touchdowns, along with recording 13 fumble recoveries, which he returned for 44 yards. In the 1970 NFC Championship Game, Renfro had a key interception that led to the Cowboys' game-winning touchdown over the San Francisco 49ers that helped them get to Super Bowl V, where they lost to the Baltimore Colts. He would later play in Super Bowls VI, X and XII, retiring after Super Bowl XII, a Cowboys victory over the Denver Broncos. He remains the Cowboys all-time leader in interceptions with 52 (In 1969 he led the NFL in interceptions with 10) and in career kickoff-return average (26.4 yards). His 14 seasons with the team ties him for second place in franchise history.
Renfro joined the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor in 1981 and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1996. During his time with the Cowboys, even though one of his teammates was former Olympic gold medalist Bob Hayes, many experts still considered him the best athlete on the team.
In 1984 Renfro coached the defensive secondary under John Hadl with the Los Angeles Express of the United States Football League (USFL). In 1986 he was part of Gene Stallings St. Louis Cardinals coaching staff as his defensive backs coach.
He currently works as a motivational speaker.
- Pro Football Hall of Fame: Mel Renfro