San Jose State Sports Hall of Fame Lineman Leon Donohue (1939-2016)

Aug. 17, 2016

Jim Marshall's wrong way run

Leon Donohue, a star San Jose State College football player of the late 1950's and early 1960's who went on to play three seasons each for the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys, died on August 11 in Redding, Calif., at age 77.

During his 84-game career, Mr. Donohue started in 72 games. The two most notable were the 1964 49ers-Minnesota game in which Vikings defensive end Jim Marshall ran the wrong way for 66 yards and a San Francisco safety worth two points. His final professional game was for the Dallas Cowboys in the 1967 NFL Championship Game, better known as the "Ice Bowl" won by the Green Bay Packers in sub-zero temperatures (See Mr. Donohue at 2:17 into the attached video.)

The native of Star City, Ark., came to San Jose State as a star football and basketball player from San Jose's James Lick High School, located on the city's east side. Originally a 205-pound end on the 1958 varsity team, Mr. Donohue was the 1961 team's biggest player as a 240-pound offensive lineman.

Mr. Donohue was part of the San Jose State football program that posted the school's second win in school history over Stanford, a 34-20 triumph in 1960, and had back-to-back winning seasons in 1960 and 1961. San Jose State would not have back-to-back winning seasons again until 1973 and 1974.

A ninth-round draft choice by the San Francisco 49ers and the 118th overall selection in the 1961 National Football League (NFL) draft, Mr. Donohue's San Jose State teammates included NFL players Jim Cadile (Chicago Bears guard, 1962-72), Dan Colchico (San Francisco 49ers and New Orleans Saints defensive end, 1960-64, 1967 and 1969), Oscar Donahue (Minnesota Vikings end, 1962), U.S. Olympic Team sprinter Ray Norton (San Francisco 49ers halfback, 1960-61), John Sutro (San Francisco 49ers tackle, 1962), and Walt "The Flea" Roberts (Cleveland, New Orleans and Washington halfback, 1964-70).


 

 

According to his wife, Judy, Mr. Donohue was named to a 1962 all-rookie team.

After retiring from professional football, Mr. Donohue was a successful community college football and wrestling coach at Shasta College. In 16 seasons as a football head coach, his teams won four conference championships. One of the wrestlers he coached was Greg Gibson, a 1984 Olympic Games silver medal winner in Greco-Roman wrestling.

"He was very thorough. He expected a lot of his players. He surrounded himself with a great staff. Loyalty was very important to him," said brother-in-law Pat Lovell.

Mr. Donohue is enshrined in the San Jose State Sports Hall of Fame, the East Side Unified School District of San Jose Hall of Fame, and the Shasta County Hall of Fame. The San Jose Mercury News named him to San Jose State Football's "All-Century Team" in 1995.

Mr. Donohue is survived by his wife of 56 years, Judy; daughters Kerry (Kent) Jessen, Linda (Greg) Burmester and Janet (Alan) Demsher; five grandsons and three granddaughters; one great granddaughter; and brothers Al Donohue and Jeff Donohue.

According to the Redding Record Searchlight, a private burial will be held in Chester, Calif., on September 2.

A public celebration of Mr. Donohue's life will be held at Shasta College at a later date.