Eddie LeBaron, an All-America football star at the University of the Pacific in the 1940s who went on to be the first starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, died Wednesday at an assisted living facility in Stockton. He was 85.
He died of natural causes, said his son, Wayne.
LeBaron, nicknamed the "Little General" because of his relatively short stature of 5 feet 7 inches, was a commanding presence on the field.
"When we'd practice, he'd always tell the wide receivers and tight ends he couldn't see over these tall linemen," said Ola Murchison, who played on the Dallas team in 1960. LeBaron would designate where he was going to throw the ball, Murchison said, and tell the players, "Whatever you have to do, kick, scratch, claw or whatever, you have to make sure you are there when I throw the ball."
As a college player in 1949, LeBaron led his school — then known as College of the Pacific — to an unbeaten season and set an NCAA record for points with 575. Not only was he the quarterback, he also played safety on a defense that gave up just 66 points. And he was the punter.
LeBaron was named an All-American for that season and was drafted by the Washington Redskins, but he played for the NFL team only briefly before being called to duty as a Marine during the Korean War.
Wounded twice in battle, he was awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.
Returning to football in 1952, LeBaron played for Washington and the Calgary Stampeders before Coach Tom Landry asked him to join Dallas' NFL expansion team.
The Cowboys had a disastrous 0-11-1 debut season, but the team's record steadily improved and in 1962 LeBaron was chosen for the Pro Bowl for the fourth time in his career.
LeBaron, the son of a farmer, was born in San Rafael on Jan. 7, 1930. In a 2006 Stockton Record interview, he said, "When I was a little kid, I wanted to be a football player, a Marine and successful in business."
He met all three goals. After retiring as a player in 1963, LeBaron practiced law, was a CBS-TV football announcer and held executive positions with the Atlanta Falcons from 1977 to 1982.
He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Doralee; sons Wayne of Stockton, Bill of Sacramento and Richard of Woodbridge, Calif.; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.