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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

DOUG KOTAR, AN ULTIMATE OVERACHIEVER:




 DOUG KOTAR, AN ULTIMATE GIANTS OVERACHIEVER:

As a multi-sport athlete at Cannon-McMillan High School in Canonsburg, PA, Doug Kotar made an impression on the local populace as a hardworking, intense youngster who would do "whatever it took" to get any job done. 


This was not unusual in the Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania area in the late 1960's as athletics was a respectable way to pull oneself out of the steel mills and coal mines and have the opportunity to attain a college education. Kotar was talented enough to be called out of the stands at a track meet in order to throw the javelin so that the high school squad could score needed team points. He threw it further than anyone else in the meet and yet had never before practiced or thrown the implement. ''Doug was probably the best athlete we've ever had around here,'' said Manuel Pihakis, the athletic director for Canon-McMillan High School, and he was named All Western Pennsylvania and All State in what was then one of the most competitive football regions in the country. 


Talented enough to be drafted by the Cincinnati Reds baseball club upon high school graduation, Kotar instead chose to play football for Kentucky which unfortunately, remained what could charitably be called a mediocre program during his three varsity years. As a sophomore, Doug contributed a ninety-eight yard kickoff return on his first play as a varsity player and set the tone for a career that was marked by overachievement and intense effort.


Undrafted by the pros, he signed with the Steelers and found himself traded to the Giants three days later. His act, however, played very well in New York. The Giants fans, having suffered through a 1973 record of 2-11-1 instantly took to the undersized 5'11", 205-pounder who gave 110 percent on every kickoff return and rush out of the backfield. From 1974 through 1981, Kotar threw his body around without regard for his well-being and was rewarded with both numerous injuries and the unwavering support of Giants fans. His best season was in 1976 when he ran for 731 yards. He wound up as the fourth leading rusher in Giants history with 3,380 yards and did it with a poor supporting cast and often when every carry was critical.  ''Doug Kotar,'' Larry Csonka, the former fullback for the Giants and Kotar's roommate, said, ''would dive, claw, scratch - do anything to get the extra yard. He's a tough cookie.'' Injury cost him the entire 1980 season and he was absent from the final nine games of the '81 season after separating a shoulder. Facing the reality that he could play with pain but would not be as effective as he wanted to be or as effective as his teammates needed him to be, he announced his retirement on July 23rd, 1982, the first day of Giants pre-season training camp.   


Giants Head Coach Ray Perkins was fond of Kotar, a player he felt was the ultimate, hard driving team player. ''I remember when I needed to line him up at fullback and he was too light for the position, but he never complained,'' said Perkins. ''I could have lined him up at center and he wouldn't have complained.'' Unfortunately, a life after football was not to be. Within a year of his retirement from pro football, he was complaining of constant headaches. Kotar was checked by the Giants team physicians, referred for a series of neurological tests, and it was discovered that he had an inoperable brain tumor. He passed away on December 16, 1983, eulogized as a wonderful and dedicated family man who flew to his hometown of Canonsburg, PA after games as he wanted his wife and family to live normally and without interruption during each of his football seasons. He was and remains remembered by Giants fans as the ultimate in the hard-working, blue collar, understated player who maximized his talents and gave all he had to his team and teammates.


Shown is Doug Kotar's 1975 helmet. The unique Giants logo (see ASK DR. DEL RYE Column, July 9, 2007) was introduced by former Giants great Andy Robustelli who had taken over as Director Of Operations. Wanting to separate the team and fans from the bitter aftertaste of consecutive 2-11-1 and 2-12 seasons, "new" was the operative word and one of the new presentations was the unique one-season "NY" logo placed on each side of the Giants helmet. This replacement for the more traditional "NY" used in the past wasn't well accepted by fans or the media and it was removed for the 1976 season as the team moved its home site to the New Jersey Meadowlands where all uniform displays of their New York past and tradition was conspicuously absent.