Tom Yewcic, a multisport collegiate star who served as backup to quarterback Babe Parilli in the early seasons of the Boston Patriots while handling the team’s punting duties, died Oct. 20. He was 88.
Mr. Yewcic played for the AFL team for six seasons, from 1961-1966, and finished with 1,374 career passing yards, 12 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions. Replacing the injured Parilli in 1962, he led the team to three straight wins. As a punter, he averaged 38.6 yards on 377 career attempts, eventually being named to the Patriots’ All-Decade team.
He also averaged about 7 yards a carry on 55 running plays as quarterback in 1962-1963.
Only Tom Brady joins Mr. Yewcic in players who have punted, thrown a touchdown pass, run for a touchdown, and caught a pass for the Patriots.
Playing several positions was not unusual for that era in football. For Mr. Yewcic, versatility was a calling card.
“With a 32-man roster, you had to play more than one position in order to make the team,'' he told the Providence Journal in 2004. "I was really a halfback coming out of high school, but when I went to Michigan State they converted me over to quarterback. It wasn’t a big adjustment.”
He would remain close to the Patriots organization in his retirement, serving as a coach and scout for about 10 years and being a longtime representative in alumni groups.
Mr. Yewcic settled in Arlington and raised a family with his wife, Jane, while working for a medical surgery company. He stayed active golfing and donating his time at charity events. He also was a benefactor to the New England Sports Museum.
“Tom Yewcic has quietly raised $600,000 for us over the past decade with golf tournaments, and you never hear his name,'' curator Dick Johnson told the Globe in 1994. "You can’t ask for a better guy.''
The Gridiron Club of Greater Boston named its annual man of the year award after Mr. Yewcic, "in recognition of his extraordinary service to the needy and deserving through his tireless efforts at organizing events and raising funds for charity,'' according to the group’s website.
“When you are lucky enough to be able to play and get something out of the game, then you need to give something back,” Mr. Yewcic told the Journal.
A native of Conemaugh, Pa., he was the youngest of eight boys and also had three sisters. He was recruited to Michigan State to play catcher for its baseball team.
He showed his trademark versatility in the last game of the 1951 football season, when, as a freshman, he was the catalyst in the most famous play in the storied history of Spartan football. Trailing archrival Ohio State with seconds left in the game, the team called for a flea-flicker play. Taking the ball as halfback, Mr. Yewcic faked a sweep running play, stopped, then threw across the field to the streaking quarterback for a touchdown, a 24-20 win, and a share of the national title.
Before the Pittsburgh Steelers had "The Immaculate Reception’' and Boston College and Doug Flutie had "The Hail Mary,'' MSU had the "Transcontinental Pass.''
The team moved him to quarterback the next season. In his first game, he replaced the starting quarterback with a 13-0 deficit against hated intrastate rival Michigan Wolverines. He would lead the team to a comeback 27-13 win.
“The first game I ever played at quarterback at any level was in front of 104,000 people,” Mr. Yewcic told an MSU publication in 2003.
He became an All-American that year, leading MSU to another national championship. The next year, he set then single-season records for team in passing (941) and punting (1,788) yards as MSU shared the league title in its inaugural season in the Big Ten and defeated UCLA in the Rose Bowl.
As quarterback, Mr. Yewcic went 27-1 for the Spartans under legendary coach Biggie Munn.
Off the gridiron and on the diamond, Mr. Yewcic led the Spartans to a Big Ten title in 1954 and won the MVP of the College World Series, even though the team did not win the title. The Detroit Tigers signed him and he made it to the big leagues but only had one at bat.
When asked which was his favorite sport, Mr. Yewcic said it all depended on the time of year.
“I was a seasonal guy,” he said. “I liked to play football when football was on. I liked to play basketball when it was on and baseball when it was on. My first year at Michigan State I played all three. I had to give up basketball because it was too much.”
He was preceded in death by his wife and leaves a son, Tom, of Stoneham, and a daughter, Carol, of Wakefield, and three grandchildren.