James Woodrow Rountree
Born: April 24, 1936 (Miami, Fla.)
Died: September 30, 2013 (Tamarac, Fla.)
University of Florida athletic hall of fame (1971)
All-Time Argos (2004)
The Toronto Argonauts quarterback backed into his own end zone before tossing a pass to an open Jim Rountree at his own 26-yard line. Rountree shook a tackler before racing untouched to the opposite end zone.
Winded after the long run, he took a break on the sidelines, sitting out a few series.
“Jim, we really appreciate that play you made,” coach Lou Agase said, “but are you planning on going back into the game?”
The 108-yard play — Tobin Rote to Rountree against the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Sept. 10, 1961 — remains the longest touchdown reception in the Argonauts’ long history. The pass-and-run score were all the more remarkable for Rountree spent most of the game, a 27-7 Toronto victory, on the defensive side of the ball.
For 10 seasons, Rountree built a reputation as one of the finest defensive halfbacks in the Canadian game, earning all-star honours and once being named an all-Canadian. He had been a star fullback in college, but the Argos thought him of greater use on defence, where his quickness closed holes in the line and his bone-jarring tackles were the talk of the league.
Tree, as he was called by teammates, could also catch. His 10 interceptions in the 1960 season also remain a club record. He had 41 career picks.
He retired as a player following the 1967 season, completing a decade with Argos teams that more often than not finished in last place in the East. He became an assistant coach under Leo Cahill, who turned the Double Blue into a Canadian Football League contender. In 1971, Rountree’s stingy defensive plan thwarted the Calgary Stampeders and left the Argos on the cusp of winning the Grey Cup game, which was lost after Toronto’s Leon McQuay fumbled on slippery turf near the Calgary end zone.
Rountree later joined Cahill as a coach with the Memphis Southmen of the World Football League, before the pair returned to Toronto for the 1977 and ’78 CFL seasons.
James Woodrow Rountree first won notice as a star quarterback for the Generals of Miami Jackson High School. He earned letters at the University of Florida in track, basketball and football, thrilling the Gators large crowds by rushing for 107 yards in his varsity debut as a sophomore in 1955.
In three seasons with the Gators, Rountree gained an average of more than four yards per carry. He led his team in pass receptions, could throw the ball and learned how to punt.
He also won notice for his defensive play. “A vicious tackler,” the Associated Press noted, “he come sup hard from his secondary post to make many tackles at the line of scrimmage. It’s dangerous to pass in his area, too, for he is fast and quick, and can run the ball back on you.”
A rare blemish on his collegiate record came on holiday in 1956 when he knocked a man through the window of a drive-in restaurant for saying “something wise” to him. The 19-year-old star was charged with assault, though later cleared. The university’s discipline committee reprimanded him for fighting in a public place.
The Baltimore Colts of the National Football League drafted Rountree after graduation, but he wound up signing with the Argonauts of the Big Four. He had an uneven rookie season in Canada as he adjusted to the wider field. Soon, though, his obvious talents gained him recognition as one of the finest players in the game. In 10 seasons, he was named a conference all-star seven times. He was a CFL all-star in 1962.
After leaving football, Rountree operated a State Farm insurance agency with his wife, Nan (née Locher), at Tamarac, Fla. He was a charter member and deacon at Coral Baptist Church, also known as the Church by the Glades, at which his funeral service was held.