Skip to main content

Ring of Honor: Mel Renfro


Mel Renfro first came to the Cowboys a highly-acclaimed running back out of the University of Oregon. But Cowboys head coach Tom Landry saw Renfro as a defensive back when they selected him in the second round of the 1964 draft.

And what a defensive back he was, becoming arguably the best safety-cornerback during his 14-year career to ever play for the Cowboys, and one of the best to ever play in the NFL. His 52 career interceptions and 26.4-yard career kickoff-return average still stand as team records, both a tribute to his running ability.

The NFL certainly got to know Renfro in a hurry, having been elected to the Pro Bowl in each of his first 10 seasons in the NFL - the first six at free safety and the final four at cornerback. His 10 Pro Bowl appearances is second to only Bob Lilly's 11 for the Cowboys.

On top of his 10 Pro Bowls, Renfro was a four-time All-Pro, playing in four Super Bowls and eight NFC Championships. He became the fifth member of the exclusive Ring of Honor in 1981, and was finally elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1996 in his 14th year of eligibility.

Renfro's 14 seasons with the Dallas Cowboys ties him for second in club history, just one shy of the record.

While at Oregon, Renfro led the team in rushing three consecutive years and was a two-time All-American. Despite coming to the NFL as an acclaimed runner, Renfro only ran the ball eight times during his career, all in 1966. Landry saw a free safety first, Renfro spending his first six seasons at safety and the final eight at corner.

In the middle of Renfro's All-Pro 1969 season, Landry was uncharacteristically complimentary toward one of his players, calling him "the best in the league at free safety."

But the Cowboys certainly figured out a way to capitalize on Renfro's running ability, having him return punts and kickoffs early in his career. He led the NFL in kickoff and punt returns his rookie season, and had seven interceptions, returning one for a touchdown. Renfro still is tied for the franchise lead with two career touchdown returns, and his 30-yard kick-off return average in 1965 still remains as the single-season high.

But it was interceptions Renfro was best known for during his career. In his first six years at free safety, Renfro totaled 30 interceptions. His interception totals declined somewhat when Landry moved him to cornerback for good in 1970. The decline had more to do with quarterbacks' reluctance to throw his way than any diminishing skills or quickness. His 626 interception return yards still stands as a career record for the Cowboys.

That 1971 Pro Bowl possibly was the greatest indication of Renfro's all-round ability. Not only did he play cornerback, but be also returned two punts for touchdowns, leading the NFC to a 27-6 win and earning the game's Most Valuable Player award.

Born Dec. 30, 1941, in Houston, Texas.