Jack Scarbath, Maryland football great and Poly graduate remembered for being ‘nicer than life,’ dies

Quarterback Jack Scarbath, a 1949 Poly graduate who earned a scholarship to play football at Maryland in the early 1950s and became an All-American, helped build what is now known as Maryland Stadium. He did so not just with his play, but with his own hands.

The summer going into his freshman year, he took a job as a construction worker, pouring cement and, at the same time, adding muscle to prepare for what turned into a Hall of Fame college career.


In a 35-21 win over Navy on Sept. 30, 1950, Mr. Scarbath ran an option play around the left side that went for 21 yards and the first touchdown at the school’s new stadium. The years that followed in College Park with Mr. Scarbath as the team’s foundation, were the program’s finest.

On Sunday, Mr. Scarbath was surrounded by loved ones when he died at his home in Rising Sun from heart failure. He was 90.


“You don’t like to use the words ‘bigger than life,’ but he was nicer than life,” said Maryland’s legendary play-by-play radio man Johnny Holliday, a close friend. “In my eyes, when they made Jack Scarbath, they made the perfect individual. He was gracious. He was kind. He was humble. You would never know that he had achieved such success as a football player because he was so down to earth and so nice to everybody.”

Raised in the Hamilton neighborhood of Northeast Baltimore, Mr. Scarbath was mostly unheralded during his playing days at Poly, but he was able to catch the eye of then-Maryland president and former coach Dr. Harry C. Byrd. After several tryouts, he earned a scholarship and took full advantage.

Running coach Jim Tatum’s Split-T offense to perfection, Mr. Scarbath led the Terps to a 10-0 mark in 1951 — the program’s only perfect season - capped by a 28-13 win over top-ranked and defending national champion Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl.

After the win, which ended the Volunteers’ 20-game winning streak, he said the game was “like a great big Poly-City game.”

As a senior in 1952, Mr. Scarbath earned first-team All-America honors and was the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy. The Terps went 24-4-1 in his three years as their starting quarterback.

In the 1953 NFL draft, Mr. Scarbath was picked third by Washington and played four years of professional football between Washington, the Baltimore Colts, Ottawa Rough Riders (Canadian Football League) and Pittsburgh Steelers before retiring in 1956 with a broken thumb. In 1983, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and then the Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame the following year.

While at Maryland, Mr. Scarbath met his wife, Lynn, a Terps cheerleader, and the couple had two sons — Tom and Blair — and were married for 68 years before Lynn died in October. Much of the couple’s Saturdays during football seasons were spent in College Park — they attended every Maryland home game for a stretch that exceeded 50 years.

Mr. Scarbath was an industrial engineering major, and after his football career the family settled on a 100-acre farm in Rising Sun, where he ran a business selling abrasive materials. He retired in 1992 and became a highly successful artist, carving waterfowl that sold for as much as $35,000 — more than he made in all his years playing in the NFL.

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“Carving isn’t in the hands, it’s more what you envision,” Scarbath told The Baltimore Sun in 2005. “You cut away everything that doesn’t look like a goose.”

In addition, he was active and beloved in the Rising Sun community, helping rebuild a church that was brought down by fire.

“Anytime I would come to Rising Sun he would take me to these little restaurants — mom-and-pop places — and the red carpet would get laid down for him and everybody wanted to come up and talk to him and say hello to him. He had time for everybody,” Nr. Holliday said.

For Mr. Scarbath, those closest to him always came first.

“My father was a big family man, very religious. He was a respectful man and very humble,” said his son, Blair. “We didn’t think of our father as a professional football player; we just thought of him as Dad. A lot of times you watch sports nowadays and the athletes are more inclined to be thinking of themselves more than the team — that was not my father. He was totally for everybody else first.”

In addition to his sons, Mr. Scarbath is survived by a brother, Richard Scarbath of Ocean Pines; six grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.


Service plans are incomplete.