Former KU All-America lineman Zook dies at 72

Gary Bedore The Kansas City Star (TNS)

John Zook, an All-America defensive end for the University of Kansas' 1969 Orange Bowl team who played 11 seasons in the NFL, has died at the age of 72.

Dean Zook confirmed to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, that his brother, John, died Saturday in Wichita after a battle with cancer.

Zook, a 6-foot-5, 250-pound all-state player out of Larned (Kansas) High School, was a two-time All-Big Eight performer for the Jayhawks.

He helped KU to a 9-2 record and No. 6 overall ranking during the 1968 season. KU lost to Penn State in the 1969 Orange Bowl.

He finished his career with 202 tackles in three varsity seasons. He played in the Senior Bowl and Coaches All-America Game, then went on to be selected by the Los Angeles Rams in the fourth round of the 1969 NFL Draft.

He never played for the Rams. He played seven seasons with the Atlanta Falcons and was selected to the Pro Bowl in 1973. He then played four seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals before retiring in 1979.

Zook was inducted in the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame in 2007 and his name appears on KU's Ring of Honor at Memorial Stadium.

"He never played but full speed from snap one to snap 100. He was the most full-speed player on every snap that you could imagine," former KU coach Pepper Rodgers once said of Zook. Rodgers died May 14 at 88.

Zook was with Atlanta from 1969-75. He was on the right side of the line; NFL Hall of Famer Claude Humphrey was on the left side. Zook never missed a game during his years in Atlanta. He started 97 of 98 games. In an Atlanta Journal-Constitution ranking of the top 50 players in Falcons history, Zook came in at No. 47.

"The most fun I had the whole time I played football was the time John and I had that season when we were both selected to the (1973) Pro Bowl," Humphrey told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "We figured out we were better together than we were individually.

"He and I got along better than I've been able to get along with anybody," Humphrey added. "I guess because we both had to work hard to get where we were going."

Zook had four interceptions in his NFL career. He recorded the first safety in Falcons history in 1971.

Former Falcons trainer Jerry Rhea told the Journal-Constitution that "before we had year-round training in the league, John would always go back in June and help harvest on his dad's farm. And he came in (to training camp) in better shape than most.

"He was an old farm boy who went to work. He showed up every day," Rhea said of Zook, who was born in Garden City, Kansas on Sept. 24, 1947, then moved to Larned.

"Back when they were bringing in all the new Nautilus equipment that was supposed to make everyone big and tough, I remember the Zooker saying, 'You guys should get behind a plow sometime,' " former Falcons running back Harmon Wages told the Journal-Constitution.

Zook spent his retirement years in Wichita.

Visitation will be held Tuesday from 9 a.m. until 8 p.m. at the Beckwith Mortuary, Inc. (916 Main St., Larned, Kansas, 67550). A funeral service will be held Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. at the same location. A burial will be held Wednesday at the Pleasant Valley Cemetery.

Memorials may be sent to the American Red Cross or American Cancer Society in care of Beckwith Mortuary, PO Box 477, Larned, KS 67550. It's suggested that donations in his name are made to the American Cancer Society.