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Lobo Legend Don Perkins Passes Away at 84

by Frank Mercogliano

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Don Perkins, was a Lobo All-American football player from 1957-59 and later starred in the NFL for the Dallas Cowboys before returning to the Albuquerque area for his post-football career, passed away on Thursday.  He was 84 years old.

“Our hearts go out to Don’s family, and Lobo fans all around the country,” said Vice President/Director of Athletics Eddie Nuñez.  “Don is one of the greatest Lobos, and certainly one of the greatest football players to play for UNM.  He was a tremendous student-athlete, and he had a terrific career in the NFL, but he was more than that.  He came back to New Mexico and worked for the state and was a tremendous ambassador for so many.  Being able to get to know Don during my time here, has been very special. Don will be missed greatly.”

A native of Waterloo, Iowa, Perkins was recruited to UNM by Dick Clausen, and he lettered from 1957 through 1959.  He was the Skyline Conference’s Sophomore of the Year in 1957, and he served as team captain in 1958 and 1959 under eventual Hall of Fame Coach Marv Levy, who once remarked that Perkins was the greatest athlete he ever coached.

“I grew up a Lobo fan, and growing up in Albuquerque, you were either a fan of the Cowboys or the Broncos, and I was and still am a huge Cowboys fan, so having a Lobo play for the Cowboys was always special for me,” said head coach Danny Gonzales.  “When we had a function after getting hired in 2019, Don came out to meet the new staff and it was a thrill to have him around our program.  He was a tremendous person, and he did great things for the state of New Mexico after retiring from the Cowboys.  It’s sad to know he is no longer with us, but we can certainly celebrate a wonderful life for a terrific man.”

Wearing No. 43 for the Cherry & Silver, Perkins rushed for 187 yards against Colorado State as a sophomore in 1957, a that stood as the UNM record for 11 years.  His career rushing total of 2,001 yards stood as the record until topped by Fred Henry and Rocky Long in the 1970s, and he is still one of only three Lobos to break 2,000 career rushing yards in just a three-year career.

His 85-yard touchdown run against Arizona in 1957 has only been bettered once by a Lobo in the last 65 seasons, and he led UNM in rushing in both 1957 and 1958.  He also led the Lobos in receptions in both 1957 and 1959 and he was the first Lobo to ever record both a 100-yard rushing game and a 100-yard receiving game in his career.

His 3,466 all-purpose yards in his career was a Lobo record for 13 years, and he still holds the career kickoff return average record of 30.7 yards per return, a mark that might never be broken at UNM.  His school-record 34.7-yard average in 1959 led the nation.

He was named the Associated Press Back of the Week and UPI Back of the Week after a three-touchdown performance that featured 126 yards on the ground against Air Force, plus a 64-yard touchdown catch on November 21, 1959.  When Perkins’ career at UNM was over after the 1959 season, a year in which he earned Third Team All-America status. was signed to the Dallas Cowboys, the start of a magnificent NFL career for the two-time All-Skyline pick.  Eventually he was inducted into the UNM Hall of Honor as part of the inaugural class, and his name is in the Lobo Football Ring of Honor inside University Stadium.  His picture is one of four that adorn the outside of the stadium.

He starred with Dallas from 1961-68. A six-time Pro Bowl selection, Perkins rushed for 6,217 career yards and he finished in the top 10 in rushing in the NFL in every one of his eight seasons.  His best year was 1962 when he rushed for 945 yards and seven touchdowns, becoming the first Cowboy voted to the NFL All-Pro team.

He earned Pro Bowl honors in 1961, 1962, 1963, 1966, 1967 and 1968, and he was named NFL All-Pro in 1962, 1967 and 1968.  He was the NFL’s Rookie of the Year in 1961 as well.  All told, Perkins scored 42 touchdowns in 107 games with Dallas.  In 1976, he was inducted into the Cowboys’ Ring of Honor in a ceremony with his teammate and quarterback Don Meredith. He was also inducted into the state of Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 2006.

In his post NFL career, he served as an analyst for football games for CBS and ABC among other networks, and he served as the Director of the Work Incentive Program for the state of New Mexico from 1972-1985.