By Colorado Sports Hall of Famer Larry Zimmer, KOA Radio, retired
His blocks were described as “bone-crushing.” As a guard in Coach Dal Ward’s single-wing offense in the mid-1950’s at Colorado, he opened holes for such running backs as John “The Beast” Bayuk, Bob Stransky and Eddie Dove. In the NFL with the Cleveland Browns, he was the lead blocker for the great Jim Brown. Throughout his life, John Wooten was a trailblazer. As an all-state high school player in Carlsbad, N.M., he was the only black player on his high school team, and when recruited by Ward to Colorado, the 6-foot-2, 230-pound Wooten was one of the first two African-American players for the Buffaloes, joining outstanding wide receiver, Frank Clarke.
In 1956, Colorado was the Big 8’s representative in the Orange Bowl and Wooten and Clarke presented a challenge for the Bowl and for Miami Beach. The Buffs’ opponent was Clemson. College teams in the South were still segregated and school officials said they wouldn’t play against black players. Wooten recalls how the whole Buffalo team stood together and refused to back down. Clemson did play and CU won the game 27-21 without incident.
With the blocking of Wooten and the running of Stransky and Dove, the 1957 Buffaloes led the nation in rushing. In 1958, Wooten was named an All-American, the fifth CU player and first lineman to win the distinction. He also played in the College All-Star Game.
Selected in the fifth round of the 1959 draft by Cleveland, Wooten played nine seasons with the Browns and one with the Washington Redskins. He never missed a game — a total of 136 games. The Browns won the NFL Championship in 1964 and Wooten was named to the Pro Bowl in 1965 and 1966. In the off-season, he taught at Addison Junior High School in Cleveland.
After his playing days, Wooten continued his association with the National Football League, spanning 48 years. He was Director of Pro Scouting for the Dallas Cowboys for 16 years before joining the NFL front office where he created player programs in continuing education and financial planning. He joined the Philadelphia Eagles as Vice President of Player Personnel, the first to hold that title. Starting in1993 until his retirement in 2003, he held a similar position with the Baltimore Ravens.
Wooten celebrated his 80th birthday last December and he’s still going strong. He continues his association with the NFL as Chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which works with the league to increase minority hiring in coaching, scouting and front office positions. He is president of Wooten Printing, Inc., in Arlington, Texas, where he and his wife, Juanita, make their home. They have five children and five grandchildren.
Wooten’s honors are many. He was named to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2012. He is a member of CU’s All-Century Team and the CU Athletic Hall of Fame. He was named to the Cleveland Browns All-Star Team, the Browns’ Ring of Honor and the Browns’ Legends Club. He also has been honored by many civic organizations forhis deep commitment to the communities in which he has worked.
With the blocking of Wooten and the running of Stransky and Dove, the 1957 Buffaloes led the nation in rushing.