Longhorns legend Ernie Koy dead at 97
BELLVILLE, Texas -- Ernie Koy, 97, believed to have been the oldest living Texas Football letterman, died Monday, Jan. 1, 2007, in his hometown of Bellville, Texas. He continued to be active on his farm and ranch until suffering a broken hip Dec. 1, 2006, at home.
Born September 17, 1909 in Sealy, Texas, Koy was a natural athlete, excelling in all sports but gaining his fame and place in history in football and baseball.
He was a three-time All-Southwest Conference selection in both sports at The University of Texas (football, 1930-32; baseball, 1931-33). He was captain of the football team in 1932 and baseball captain in 1933. He was selected as an East-West football All-Star in San Francisco following his senior season. He had just been chosen as one of the 25 most significant figures in Texas Baseball history, and is honored in the 2007 Medallion Collection Series, presented by The University of Texas Co-op.
Koy was signed off the UT campus by the New York Yankees in 1933, and spent five years in the Yankees minor league organization. He broke into the major leagues when the Yankees traded him to the Brooklyn Dodgers for the 1938 season, becoming a teammate of Babe Ruth.
He had the distinction of hitting a three-run home run on his first official at bat as a major leaguer and led the National League in triples. He was part of the golden age of baseball, having played in the first televised game and the first night game under lights at Brooklyn's Ebbets Field. He was the last remaining Brooklyn Dodger who participated in the classic Johnny Vander Meer second consecutive no-hit baseball game of 1938.
He became known as the fastest man in baseball when he defeated the great Olympian Jesse Owens in a 100-yard dash exhibition race prior to the Vander Meer game at Ebbets Field. Koy defeated Owens with a five-yard head start. Koy said later that baseball promoters always wanted him to race Owens again, but he declined. "I told them if you could beat Owens once, you'd better let it ride," he said.
Koy was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1940, to Cincinnati in 1941 and to Philadelphia in 1942. He left professional baseball to join the United States Navy at the outbreak of World War II. Following his discharge from the Navy in 1946 at the rank of lieutenant junior grade, he and his wife Jane settled in Bellville where they operated Cameron's 5 & 10 variety store from 1946-80. He also farmed and ranched until the last month of his life.
Among his many athletic tributes was selection to the Longhorn Hall of Honor in 1960 -- one of the first 16 former UT athletes and coaches so honored -- and the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 1986. Blinn College named him a Distinguished Alumni in 2004. (Koy attended Blinn in 1928-29 prior to entering The University of Texas.) He graduated from Sealy High School in 1928 and received a Bachelor of Science degree from Sam Houston State Teachers College in 1938, while he was a member of the Sam Houston football coaching staff during his baseball off-season.
Koy was an active community leader of Bellville, serving for 12 years as president and on the board of trustees of the Bellville Independent School District. He was also active with the Bellville Chamber of Commerce, the American Legion, youth sports and St. Mary's Episcopal Church.
Koy married Jane Cameron on March 10, 1936. They celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary in 2006. He is survived by his wife, Jane, daughter Margaret, and sons, Ernie and Ted, and their families.
His sons, Ernie and Ted, both played significant roles on Texas Football National Championship teams (in 1963 and 1969), and both went on to play in the NFL. Both also have been inducted into the Longhorn Hall of Honor.
(Sincere thanks to Margaret Koy Kistler for providing many of the biographical facts and reminisces about her father, Ernie Koy.)