Former Oregon backup tight end John Robinson described Jim Shanley as “one of the greatest football players I’ve been around, and I’ve been around a few.”
Robinson coached Heisman Trophy winners Charles White and Marcus Allen at USC and Eric Dickerson with the Los Angeles Rams.
The 5-foot-9 Shanley, who died in Eugene last week at age 82, was an All-American running back who led Oregon in rushing in 1955 and 1957 while totaling 1,837 yards on the ground in three seasons.
“He was a hell of a football player,” recalled Robinson, who was a fraternity brother as well as teammate of Shanley. “He was not real big or fast, but he was a good runner and an excellent pass blocker. He could get through a hole and was a great short-yardage back.”
Shanley was an all-Pacific Coast Conference selection when he ranked 10th in the nation with 711 rushing yards as a sophomore to go with nine touchdowns on 100 carries for an average of 7.1 yards per rush as the Ducks went 6-4 under coach Len Casanova. As a senior, he ran 168 times for 664 yards to lead Oregon to the Rose Bowl for the first time in 38 years.
Shanley had 11 carries for 59 yards, including a 5-yard scoring run, in a 10-7 loss to Ohio State during his final game with the Ducks.
“Ohio State was No. 1 in the nation and we were expected to lose by 30, so we ended up doing pretty well,” recalled Norm Chapman, a center and linebacker for the Ducks from 1955-57.
Shanley also played cornerback for the Ducks.
“He was a great running back who flipped over to play defense too,” Chapman said. “He’d rush for 700 yards in a season and was a hard-hitting guy on defense. He was very tough and tough-minded, everyone admired him.”
Shanley, who starred at North Bend High School where he earned all-state honors as a junior and senior while combining for 39 touchdowns, was selected to the Senior Bowl following his Oregon career. He signed with the Green Bay Packers and ran for 30 yards while returning punts in 1958 during his lone season of pro football.
“Vince Lombardi took over the team and called Jim to say ‘You’re a hell of a football player, but you’re too small’,” Robinson recalled. “He told him to get on with the rest of his life.”
Shanley worked as an assistant coach at Washington State in the 1960s before working as an insurance executive.
Shanley was inducted into the Hall of Fames for the University of Oregon, North Bend High School, as well as the state of Oregon Sports Hall of Fame.
When Robinson led the Rams to the 1985 NFC Championship game against Chicago, he flew Chapman and Shanley to Soldier Field where the Bears beat Los Angeles 24-0.
“We got the hell kicked out of us, but it was a great experience to have Norm and Jim there,” Robinson recalled. “We’d all get together periodically to visit and share old stories.”
Chapman, who was from Medford, recalled first meeting Shanley following high school at the Shrine All-Star game.
“We go back 63 years,” said Chapman, who lives in Eugene. “He was my best friend. We were co-captains on the freshman team at Oregon and then co-captains on the Rose Bowl team. It was a long connection.”