by Mike Magers
While we generally focus on athletes and other individuals who played sports below the college level in New Mexico, from time to time we feature others who are also connected to the state in some unique way. This post features Don Perkins of Albuquerque.
Donald Anthony Perkins’ connection to New Mexico was that he attended and graduated from the University of New Mexico and still resides in Albuquerque.
Perkins was born and raised in Waterloo, Iowa and at Waterloo West High School he was a multi-sport athlete, playing basketball, football and running track, lettering in the latter two sports. Playing both offense and defense in football, his athletic honors included being named to the Iowa All-State team on offense.
He was president of the student body during his senior year and has been inducted into the Sports Hall of Fame – Waterloo, Iowa. Don was recruited and coached at UNM by NFL Hall of Famer Marv Levy during his short tenure as head coach. Levy has remarked that Perkins was one of the greatest players he ever coached and made note of Perkins in his NFL Hall of Fame acceptance speech.
Perkins played his college football at the University of New Mexico, where he played halfback and was also a kickoff returner. At UNM, Perkins was an offensive standout, serving as a running back, receiver and special teams player. He was a three-time All-Skyline Conference selection from 1957–1959, and he was Skyline Sophomore of the Year in 1957. In 1958, he led the nation in kickoff returns. He was only University of New Mexico’s second All-American, selected for his play in 1959, a year in which he was 8th in the nation in scoring with 74 points, first in the nation in kickoff returns, averaging 34.7 yards per return. Perkins was a three-year letterman (1957-59) and a two-time All-Skyline Conference selection (1958-59). His versatility allowed him to accumulate 3,466 all-purpose yards in his career. The Lobos retired his jersey number 43 in 1959, the first time a University of New Mexico player was so honored. He ranks 14th in the UNM career rushing list with 2,001 yards. He was inducted into the University of New Mexico Hall of Honor and the New Mexico Sports Hall of Fame.
Perkins went on to play a leading role with the young Dallas Cowboys club in its early years, from 1961-68. He had a stellar career. His honors included being named to the Pro Bowl 6 times, being selected as a First Team All Pro in 1962, being named NFL Rookie of the year in 1961. He was the first Cowboy to rush for more than 6,000 yards. In his career, Perkins rushed for 6,217 career yards on 1500 attempts and had 1,310 receiving yards on 146 attempts. He was inducted into the Ring of Honor at Texas Stadium alongside his quarterback Don Meredith in 1976. Only Bob Lilly was inducted ahead of Meredith and Perkins, in 1975. He was inducted into the State of Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 2006.
Although he was considered a superb blocker, he finished in the NFL’s top 10 rushing in each of his eight seasons in the league. On September 24 1961, he became the first running back in Cowboys’ history to run for 100 yards in a game, when he rushed for 108 yards on 17 carries against the expansion Minnesota Vikings. Perkins’ best year was in 1962, when he rushed for 945 yards and seven touchdowns, becoming the first Cowboy to make the All-Pro team. He was coming off his two best all-around seasons when he decided to retire prior to the 1969 season. At the time only four other NFL running backs had rushed for more than his 6,217 yards. Even though he played the fullback position at 5-10 204-pounds, his ten career 100-yard games ranked fourth in club history, he led the Dallas Cowboys in rushing in six of his eight seasons – from 1961 to 1965, then again in on the NFL’s All-Time Rushing list.
Perkins has served as an analyst for CBS Sports, a football analyst for CBS Sports, ABC Sports, and independent networks. He has been a sportscaster for local radio and TV stations. Locally, Don was the Director of the Work Incentive Program for the State of New Mexico Department of Human Services from 1972 to 1985. He served on both the Executive Board of US West and the Board of Trustees for University Hospital from 1990 to 1993. Don has been active in local theater, public speaking, broadcasting at the local and national level, and is presently retired from the City of Albuquerque.