Sports Legends: Grabbing On To A Good Thing

Tech receiver Jeff Knox caught some memorable passes

Some called it “The Catch of The Year.” Some called it “The Catch of The Century.”

Whatever it was, there never has been anything like it, before or since, not even in the legendary days of Don Hutson.

It was a Barnum & Bailey circus catch made by 6’4” Georgia Tech pass receiver Jeff Knox.

You had to see it to believe it, and even then you were not sure of what you saw. The scene was Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala., before a packed house of football fans.

It was Tech against Alabama. The year was 1951, scarcely one year after the Crimson Tide demolished the Yellow Jackets, 54-19.

This was payback time, and the leader of the payback was Lambert Jefferson “Jeff” Knox out of Hape-ville, Ga.

Tech was holding on to a shaky lead at the start of the fourth quarter. Then Tech quarterback Darrell Craw-ford spotted Knox zig-zaging his way into the Alabama end zone and released the ball. Right beside Knox was Alabama defender Jack Brown, who plowed into him just before the ball arrived.

Staggered, Knox was catapulted into the air, twisting and turning. As he came back to earth he broke his fall with his right hand and, flat on his back, caught the football with his outstretched left hand for a Tech touchdown. The Jackets went on to a 27-7 victory.

“I didn’t see any way he could have caught that ball,” Crawford said. “He was face-guarded all the way.

“I remember,” Crawford recalls, “he kept us going all the way to an unbeaten season. He scored the winning touchdown against Florida, two touchdowns against Kentucky and two more in a 48-6 rout of Georgia. That Alabama catch sparked us in every game.”

Tech received an Orange Bowl bid to play Baylor and won it, 17-14, on a last minute field goal by Pepper Rodgers. Knox made six pass receptions. Rodgers, who later coached at UCLA and Georgia Tech, said, “Knox is the type guy I would like to coach. He plays as hard in practice as he does in the game.”

Frank Broyles, who coached Knox at Tech, said, “At every practice he would challenge his teammates to play harder. I don’t remember anyone with more determination than he had.”

Knox was versatile. He won All-State honors at two different high schools, not just in football but in basketball and track as well.

At Hapeville High School he was chosen for the North Georgia Inter-scholastic Conference teams. Apart from athletics, he was in his senior class play and he sang in the Glee Club.

You could say he did everything but play in the school band but he did that, too – the bass drum.

He had several athletic scholarship offers in football and track, but once he met Tech Coach Bobby Dodd there was no other college he considered.

Coach Dodd wanted him to take a post-graduate course and play one more year of prep football. So he sent him to the old Georgia Military Acad-emy in College Park, where he was chosen for the Georgia Inter-scholastic Athletic Association all-state team. In track he broke records in the shot put and high hurdles.

Today Knox is 80 years old and lives in Fairhope, Ala., across the bay from Mobile.

He can look back on a career in life insurance almost as brilliant as his athletics career. He started as an agent and worked his way to the top, becoming president of Georgia International Life with executive stops on the way at Integon and American-Amicable life insurance companies.

He wanted to coach, and he did so at College Park High School and Columbus (Ga.) High School. But for a family man, coaching did not pay the bills, so he jumped into the life insurance business with the same drive and determination he displayed in football.

Knox is married to the former Gloria Eye. They have three children, sons George and Garth and daughter, Jeffney. Both boys were standouts on their high school football team, George as a quarterback and Garth as a fullback and tackle. Jeffney earned varsity letters in swimming, track, softball and golf.

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