by Mike Magers
Sam “The Rifle” Etcheverry was from Carlsbad (Eddy County), New Mexico. His father was a Basque sheep farmer who had emigrated to the area from France. Sam was an outstanding quarterback for the Carlsbad Cavemen and has been named to the Cavemen Hall of Fame. Sam graduated from Carlsbad High School in 1948.
Etcheverry signed with the Pioneers of the University of Denver, playing from 1949 to 1951, where he set longstanding records for passing offense. He is the career leader in passing and rushing plays (594), most yards gained in a season (2,662), most pass attempts (392), most completions (198) and most passing yards gained (2,510).
Following his college career, he signed with the Montreal Alouettes of the Interprovincial Rugby Football League which became part of the Canadian Football League in 1958. As the Alouettes’ quarterback, he was voted Most Outstanding Player of the Eastern Conference and was named an Eastern All-Star six times. In 1954 and 1958, he was awarded the Russel Schenley Award as the most outstanding player in the Canadian Rugby Union. Etcheverry’s single game CFL passing record of 586 yards set in 1954 stood for 39 years. He also set a season passing record in 1954 of 3,610 yards that was a CFL record and also surpassed the NFL record set in 1947 by the legendary Sammy Baugh. Etcheverry led the CFL in passing from 1954 to 1959. He became the first pro quarterback to pass for more than 4,000 yards in 1956 when he notched 4,723 for the season, a record that was not surpassed until 1981 by Deiter Brock and Dan Fouts.
Sam played in the CFL for 10 years before signing with the St. Louis Cardinals where he played another two seasons before announcing his retirement in 1962. Following retirement, he returned to the CFL where in 1964 he coached the Quebec Rifles of the United Football League which dissolved at the end of the season. Serving in the interim as an assistant at Loyola College in Montreal, he returned to the Alouettes as head coach from 1969 to 1972, including leading them to victory in the 58th Grey Cup Championship game in his first season. Later, Sam briefly served as General Manager of the Montreal Concordes and led an unsuccessful effort to bring the NFL to Montreal following the dissolution of the Concordes.
Sam was inducted into the Canadian Football League Hall of Fame in 1969. Etcheverry’s jersey number 92 was retired by the Alouettes. He was an inaugural inductee into the University of Denver Athletics Hall of Fame in 1996. Etcheverry was chosen as 26th among the CFL’s Top 50 Greatest Players in 2006.
Sam loved New Mexico and had long expressed his desire to be buried in New Mexico. He was buried in Carlsbad following his death from cancer in 2009.